Dr Kersaint (Thomas Mitchell) is back in the South Seas, and from his vantage point on the deck of the ship he is travelling on he notes an island which looks barren, blowing it a kiss as he passes by. But it was not always so, and the doctor remembers the time when the place was full of life and he was part of the French authority there, looking after the natives and if necessary doling out their laws to those who had no concept of such things, not in a way that sentenced every misdemeanour to jail or hard labour. One such native was Terangi (Jon Hall), who was seen as a troublemaker by the Governor, DeLaage (Raymond Massey), though he was actually more of an innocent...
The heyday of the disaster movie, where an all-star cast would be assembled so they could be put through enormous hardship when some (usually) natural calamity occurred, was likely the nineteen-seventies, though they certainly made a comeback around the turn of the millennium when special effects designed on computers could match the imaginations of the filmmakers, but travel back a few decades and such resources were not available to them. Thus for films such as San Francisco, The Last Days of Pompeii and, well, this one, either extensive model work was used, or the creators really did topple buildings in a drive for realism and most of all, spectacle.
Therefore it was often hard to deny that the practical effects were more satisfying than anything dreamt up with pixels, and so it was with The Hurricane, whose main setpiece was a lengthy sequence where, as indicated by Mitchell before we flashed back to the start of the story, the region was ravaged by the forces of nature in an accomplishment which was never less than convincing, and no less impressive for that, handled by Stuart Heisler as John Ford was busy with the drama. You did have to wait for it, however, as much of the rest was taken up with a strain of Hollywood movies where the Pacific islands would be the setting for seething passions in a Paradise setting, as if the locals had tapped into something primal about living their lives, rendering such tales a fantasy for audiences who would never have a chance to see the real thing.
Step forward Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour as the encapsulation of these sensations in human form, playing the central couple and cast for their physical attractiveness rather than their acting ability. Lamour would go on to prove herself a decent actress and accomplished singer and comedienne when she left the sarong behind, but for Hall this was about as good as it got as he was stereotyped as the nature boy, though that did not prevent his admirers seeking out his movies and television shows: they just liked to look at him. Lamour played Marama, who Terangi wishes to settle down with on the island, so after a lot of frolicking and charging about the beach they get married, which in many of these movies would be the end of the story. Not so here, as upheaval is just around the corner.
Terangi has to return to his job as a sailor, which goes well enough until he encounters a bigot in a bar and breaks his jaw with one punch when the man strikes him. But he hit the wrong guy, as he was influential and sees to it that our hero is imprisoned, where he meets cruelty at every turn and fails in his multiple escape attempts. Those around DeLaage, including his earnest wife (Mary Astor) and the priest (C. Aubrey Smith) plead with him to release Terangi, but he won't hear anything but the law of the land, a theme about the natives likely getting on better without the harsh regulations of the white man emerging. By the point the prisoner succeeds in escaping, accidentally killing a guard in the process, the wind is picking up as if the natural world itself has been affronted and is about to exact revenge, not caring who gets in the way. It's hard to deny these scenes are the highlight, with the massively powerful elements - gales and waves - offering one of the most memorable finales to any movie this decade, but the message of forgiveness is interesting too.