Hurricane (1979) Review

Pago Pago, Eastern Samoa, in the Southern Pacific, the 1920s. The island is governed by Captain Bruckner. Arriving from Boston is his daughter Charlotte (Mia Farrow) and the two are soon in conflict over his treatment of houseboy Matangi (Dayton Ka'ne), a conflict that is heightened when Charlotte and Matangi, who has been crowned King of the Islands, become lovers.

The disaster movie was a popular genre in the 70s, hitting its commercial peak with The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and others. Five years after the latter, the genre had more or less played itself out. Hurricane (sometimes known as Forbidden Paradise) came in at the tail end of it. Shot for a then-huge budget of $22 million, it was a troubled production. Original director Roman Polanski fled the country to avoid statutory rape charges, and was replaced by Jan Troell. There were plenty of disagreements on set, and Farrow and DP Sven Nykvist had an affair. All for nothing, as the film was an enormous flop. It played outside the USA in a version cut by some twenty-five minutes, which by all accounts made a very dull film shorter but no less tedious.

It's not difficult to see why this film failed, as it must have seemed desperately old-fashioned in 1979, let alone now. Its source is a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which John Ford had previously filmed in 1937, a version I haven't seen. The film's status as a period piece doesn't excuse its datedness. It's expected with many disaster films to have to sit through an hour or more of soap opera before the visual effects (which were after all, what you paid your money to see) kick in, but Hurricane takes this to new levels of punishment. There's no chemistry between Farrow and Ka'ne, so the love story falls flat – not helped by implying incestuous leanings in Captain Bruckner towards his daughter. So it's a very long time before the winds begin to blow. This sequence, which dominates the last half hour, no doubt looked impressive on a big screen (especially when blown up to 70mm) but on DVD it couldn't come soon enough. Nykvist's Scope camerawork and Nino Rota's score are among the film's few plus points.

Jan Troell had earlier in the decade distinguished himself with the two-part, Oscar-nominated epic The Emigrants and The New Land (and where are the DVDs of those?). He had made Zandy's Bride in America, but the failure of Hurricane sent him back to his native Sweden, and all his subsequent films have been made there, to little international impact. Some films are rehabilitated by time, but others look worse. Hurricane was a turkey then and it still is.


Hurricane is one of a batch of films from the Paramount library to be released on DVD by Legend Films. The disc is encoded for Region 1 only.

The DVD transfer is interlaced, in a ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphically enhanced. It's a distinctly soft picture, and looking a little washed out. There is some minor damage, dirt and scratches at reel changes.

Hurricane was shown in its premiere engagement blown up to 70mm, and is an early example of a six-track Dolby Stereo soundtrack. This comprised of three front channels, a mono surround and two LFE tracks, which would in home cinema terms translate to a 4.2 track. (Split surround, resulting in a 5.1 configuration, had been trialled on Superman the year before but would be launched later the same year with Apocalypse Now.) There may have been 35mm prints with Dolby soundtracks, but I suspect they were few and far between if there were any at all, and most prints would have had a mono sound mix. That (in Dolby Digital 2.0) is the mix that is, disappointingly, on this DVD. Storms rage and winds howl, but it all remains solely in your centre speaker. One reason why disaster movies were revived in the 1990s was the greater possibilities of digital sound as well as of CGI. A film like Hurricane works, if it works at all, with a big soundtrack, and the fact that it hasn't got one is another strike against this DVD.

The only extra is the theatrical trailer, but that's at least one more extra than any other Legend title I've seen has had. This trailer is in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic and runs 3:33. It's grainy and scratched in places and gives away rather too much of the plot.

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