Love in a Hurricane (1937) 🇺🇸
Hollywood Technicians have usurped the powers of nature in making “Hurricane.” Here is the story behind one of the most amazing film productions yet.
by Jock Lawrence
Hollywood is accustomed to storms. They bob up at the slightest provocation, or with none at all, and range from tempests in teapots to knock-em-down and drag-em-out affairs involving fisticuffs and front-page publicity.
Hollywood, however, has never before seen such a storm as that which has been raging at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio for the past two months. The greater part of Hollywood, it is true, has not seen this storm. But all that portion of the picture capital within a mile radius of the Goldwyn plant has heard its ominous rumblings.
Goldwyn’s storm is the real thing, a compound of gale and wave rather than an explosion of verbal fireworks. The dean of Hollywood’s showmen has staged a hurricane.
With giant wind machines, cloud screens and hydraulic pumps which hurled hundreds of thousands of gallons of water down vast chutes and spillways, his technicians have made a desolate shambles of what was once a South Sea Island village.
This man-made storm, rivalling in fury those which too frequently roar through the South Seas, was brewed and photographed for the film version of the Charles Nordhoff-James Norman Hall novel. The Hurricane. It provides the spectacular climax to a production which has been in preparation a full year and before the cameras three months.
And incidentally, the storm’s own share in the million and a half dollar budget is an impressive 250,000 dollars.
The producer’s original intention was to have the entire production filmed in the story’s actual South Seas locale. Director John Ford was to take his complete cast, including Jon Hall, Dorothy Lamour, Mary Astor, Jerome Cowan, Raymond Massey, C. Aubrey Smith and Thomas Mitchell to American Samoa and come back with a finished production.
Analysis proved, however, that though more costly, it was more practical to transport a section of the South Seas to Hollywood than to take Hollywood to the South Seas. Weather was the deciding factor.
In Samoa, as in other South Sea Islands, it is considered a fair day if rain falls no more than six or eight hours of the twenty-four. And as for the climaxing hurricane, nature simply couldn’t be entrusted with the job. If she did it at all, of which there could be no certainty, she might do it entirely too well.
Goldwyn compromised by sending a camera crew to Samoa to film background action and by building a couple of South Sea Islands at his own studio for the work involving principals of the cast.
Eighteen technicians, under the direction of Stuart Heisler, made the trek to Samoa. Their location headquarters was Pago Pago on the Island of Tutuila, where they were accommodated by and received the co-operation of the United States Navy, governing power of the five islands which comprise American Samoa.
The location unit was absent from Hollywood for forty-six days. It brought back to the Goldwyn Studio 140,000 feet of exposed film. Naturally only a very small portion of this footage will find its way into the finished picture. The remainder will go into the stock library. And by shooting so much, the location company provided for every possible need in scenic background and shots of native life.
The company did not encounter a hurricane and did not expect to. Its members, however, had a couple of thrillingly narrow escapes from giant water spouts. These phenomenal meetings of cloud and sea were duly photographed while the crews of the camera boats were frantically manoeuvring to safety.
Amusing incidents, too numerous to list, were the lot of the locationers. Perhaps the topper came when, invited to a native feast, various members of the company were offered individual whole roast pigs as one of the courses. To their relief, they learned they were not expected to eat all the pigs. Etiquette merely required that they taste each course.
The main island setting at the studio was constructed to blend harmoniously with the actual Samoan background. Richard Day, Goldwyn’s art director, spent months in the South Seas taking photographs and conducting research upon which he based the designs of the setting.
Village and lagoon covered two and a half acres on the studio’s “back lot.” The lagoon covered an acre and a half and contained 981 ,250 gallons of water. The village stretched along one side and both ends of the lagoon in a rough semi -circle.
There were 18 native huts, a stout looking church, the bungalow residence of the French Administrator, a trading post and a priest’s home in the village. Some 50 coconut palm and parau trees fringed the lagoon shore and cast their sparse shade over the native huts.
All the buildings were complete structures, not the false fronts of the usual movie sets. Thus it was possible to film interior scenes in them, obviating the necessity of constructing many separate stage interiors.
Properties peculiar to the South Seas were imported in wholesale quantities. A fleet of some 20 outrigger canoes, ranging in size from bonita boats capable of carrying seven persons to one-man pao paos was one of the consignments. Twelve hundred coconuts encased in their porous coverings was another. The coconuts one buys at the corner grocery have been stripped of these coverings, hence wouldn’t do.
Goldwyn’s technicians also built a full-rigged trading schooner to cruise the limited confines of the big island’s lagoon. Another schooner, an actual veteran of the South Seas copra trade, was purchased by the producer and sailed from Seattle to Los Angeles harbour. It has been used extensively in action filmed at sea.
Adjoining the large island setting on the “ back lot” a smaller islet was constructed. It too boasted its own lagoon, a 100 feet square tank in which the water reached a maximum depth of seven feet. In the Nordhoff-Hall story, this is the honeymoon isle of Motu Tonga. The larger island is known as Manukura. Both keep their original names in the picture.
Motu Tonga had no village, but its heavy forest of palms and dense growth of green shrubbery made it a scenic gem.
It was the first to feel the stirring wrath of Goldwyn’s hurricane. To it comes the fugitive hero, Terangi (Jon Hall), after he escapes from the Tahiti prison where he has been a victim of the injustice of white man’s law. Re-united with his young wife, Marama (Dorothy Lamour) there, he finds it a place of refuge until, warned by the departure of the sea birds that “the great storm which overturns the land “ is coming, he goes to Manukura to spread the alarm.
Wind and wave made short shift of Motu Tonga. Three days of continuous beatings by wind machines and various devices best known to the miracle-working technicians of the movies reduced it to a strewn mass of wreckage.
Truly love in a hurricane as exemplified by the romance of Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour is a fairly terrifying business.
Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour. This is Hall’s first picture, but he is hailed as a find, and, as this still shows, has plenty of masculine sex appeal.
Above: Stuart Heisler supervising the shooting of a scene on location Samoa.
Source: Picturegoer, October 1937
Striking Scenes From Goldwyn’s “The Hurricane” (1937) 🇺🇸
At left, above — Terangi and Marama decide to take a chance to outwit the fury of the waters by climbing a parau tree.
Below — At left — Father Paul (Aubrey Smith) and Germaine de Laage (Mary Astor) tight their way toward the island church in the hope of finding refuge from the storm. At their right Terangi (Jon Hall), Marama (Dorothy Lamour) and Tita (Kuulei DeClercq), their child, sink their outrigger in order to preclude discovery.
On opposite page — Top, South Sea Island feast. Bottom, left, Reri, who attained fame as the native heroine of “Tabu,” South Sea Island production of the late F.W. Murnau and released in 1931 by Paramount, returns to the screen. Bottom, right, native girls congratulate Marama, the bride, and adorn her with blossoms.
Director of Photography, Bert Glennon, A.S.C.
Guy Coburn and Alex Kahle photographed the stills.
Source: American Cinematographer, December 1937