WIZ’s Birthday Retro Review: Typhoon

Typhoon poster3

Today is WIZ’s third birthday, and we’re in the mood to give gifts to our loyal readers.   For its giveaways, WIZ chooses flicks that feature nature in some way.   Our featured movie this time: Typhoon, starring Dorothy Lamour and Robert Preston.

This movie comes from an age when Hollywood trotted out the tropics when it needed an idyllic backdrop to frame one of its golden-throated beauties. Because, you know, nothing makes nature look better than a sarong-clad peach.     Typhoon contains several formulaic parallels to The Jungle Princess (reviewed here on WIZ), the movie that launched Lamour’s acting career.   Typhoon is another eye-and-ear candy adventure-romance starring Dorothy Lamour and animal friends along with a young Robert Preston in a screenplay that features cutting-edge special effects for 1930s-era films (Typhoon was released in 1940).

The story: Little but wise-beyond-her-years Dea (Norma Jean Nelson) has spent her childhood taking care of her sea captain father (Paul Harvey) during his bouts of drunkenness.   When a storm swamps the ship on which she and “Pop” are sailing, he puts her on a raft to save her life but sinks to Davey Jones’ locker himself. All alone now, Dea beaches on a deserted island, where, thanks to her can-do spirit, she makes a good living for herself.   Years pass and with the help of her chimpanzee friend Koko, older Dea (Lamour) happily rules the island where she was marooned–or so she thinks ’til she finds handsome Johnny Potter (Preston) lying on her beach, thoroughly soused.   Johnny was shanghaied to navigate a doomed submarine skippered by comedic Joe (Lynne Overman, who played a similar role in The Jungle Princess) and his slapdash native crew headed by the ridiculous Mekaike (J. Carrol Naish). Mekaike’s poor seamanship has stranded the whole gang on Dea’s island.   Mekaike commits mutiny and commandeers the sub, but he and his crew die in an act of painful stupidity. I’ll leave the nature of the accident for you to discover for yourself, gentle reader, because it really is over-the-top (pun intended).

Anyway, all the practice Dea received drying out Dad comes in handy as, instantly, she recognizes Johnny’s symptoms of alcoholism and spirits him to her tree house hideaway. There she launches a Jungle Princess style intervention: woman-in-control nursing techniques; childlike forwardness; intense, all-eyes-on-the-only-available-male attention; all mixed with music.   As in Jungle Princess, where Ulah (Lamour), in an interesting role-reversal, nurses animal trapper Chris (Ray Milland) back to health after he suffers a sprained ankle from a tiger attack, Dea cures vulnerable (and at times grouchy) Johnny and makes him human again. Romance blossoms, love songs are sung, but, like Chris, Johnny resists Dea’s considerable charms because, you see, he believes he has only four months to live.   Nobly, he restrains himself for fear of breaking Dea’s innocent heart. But that’s okay–life’s still looking pretty good for Johnny, until Paradise falls when a furious Kehi (Chief Thundercloud) arrives to exact revenge against Joe and his crew for stealing his black pearl earrings. Somehow, Kehi manages to set fire to the lush jungle island and the whole place starts to go up in flames, but then a typhoon blows up, threatening everyone’s lives.   Typhoon garnered an Oscar nod for its climactic fire-and-flood special effects sequence.

I’d like to talk about Robert Preston a little bit. The first time I saw Preston was when he played Professor Harold Hill in the wonderful 1962 screen adaptation of Meredith Willson’s Broadway play, The Music Man.   I was wowed.   I’d never seen anything like him before–his energy, his voice (which Richard Burton described as “golden thunder”), his timing with both spoken lines and when singing completely dazzled. Somehow, I made it into my 40s without ever seeing The Music Man.   When I finally did, I do believe I fell in love.   Preston’s performance in Typhoon doesn’t carry anywhere near the brilliance of his Music Man showmanship but is interesting for fans, nonetheless. I liked him much better as a leading man to Dorothy Lamour’s nature girl role than I did Ray Milland in Jungle Princess.   By the way, Typhoon is in color and runs for 71, pure-escapist-fare minutes that include a splash of disaster.

The giveaway: Would you like a free Typhoon DVD?   This movie is 72 years old and suffered neglect, so the quality of this print is not all high-tech and glossy as what we’ve come to expect of contemporary movies.   But it’s still quite watchable.   Leave a comment, and I’ll contact you to request your address and send a Typhoon your way.   You’ve hung in there with WIZ all this time. You deserve a tropical island mini-vacation.

This offer is good for February 24, 2012–March 24, 2012 only.


5 thoughts on “WIZ’s Birthday Retro Review: Typhoon”

  1. No, I’m giving away as many as are asked for before Mar. 24. So you’re in, Chanel! I’ll contact you for shipping info.


  2. I know you all thought I forgot, but after two years I am finally ready to post a review.

    This movie was old, improbable, racist and had a monkey in it. It was a very different experience than, say, watching The Avengers, but still a worthwhile one. It started rough, but after I got used to the strangeness of the cinematography, music and sound/picture quality it felt very normal.

    I was surprised by how simple the story and characters were. I imagine if the movie was made now it would be full of twists and turns and I would always be guessing who would turn up next and whether or not certain characters were harboring deep secrets. This movie told a story, it didn’t try to blow my mind, and that was nice.

    I’d recommend it, I’ll probably watch it again. It isn’t very often I watch a movie this old, but I enjoyed it.


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