Steve Braunias had some fun watching the 1947 Hollywood
film Green Dolphin Street on a Sky movie channel recently,
and wrote about it for Sunday magazine. I haven’t seen the
film but I happen to have on loan from the public library a
copy of the Elizabeth Goudge novel on which it was based,
and it’s a shocker—as overripe as a rotten peach. Published
in 1944, a daunting 500 pages of romantic fiction in small
type, it revels in the variations on he said/she said so loved
of novelists in the first half of the 2oth century. For
instance, opening the book at random I find (my italics):
‘Let’s leave it for tonight and decide tomorrow,’ hedged William.
‘I am a great sinner,’ stated Samuel with grief.
‘South Island?’ ejaculated William.
Much of it is set in New Zealand during the land wars,
though Goudge cheerfully admits in a note at the start
that ‘To all lovers of New Zealand it will be immediately
obvious that the writer has never been there, and she
most humbly asks their pardon for the many mistakes she
must have made.’ The film-makers never came near these
shores either: as Steve says, Mexicans, Hawaiians and
American Indians do duty for the Maori characters, star
Lana Turner is nearly burned at the stake by Maori, and the
key role of the New Zealand bush is played by redwood
forests in Oregon.
The Listener’s film critic at the time, John Maconie, was
distinctly unimpressed. His review, headlined THAT WILL BE
ALL, HINEMOA! (a line delivered by Turner to her maid),
found the film ‘phony from beginning to end.’ The ludicrous
depiction of an earthquake (Braunias: 'Geysers bubble and
spurt, kauri topple like redwood') apparently got the
loudest laughs from the Wellington audience Maconie saw
it with. However, he wrote,
the money will have been well spent so far as the
New Zealand filmgoer is concerned if it helps him
to realize that when the critics damn Hollywood
for the insincerity of its productions, for its
sacrifice of truth to spectacle...and in general for
its refusal to face up to the facts of life, they have
some justification for their criticisms.
Ah, Hollywood. Even today, the IMDb website billing for
Green Dolphin Street begins ‘A Fiery Girl Who Dares The
Dangers Of The Sea And A Savage Land.’ Readers will also
recall the equally implausible 1961 movie Two Loves,
based on Sylvia Ashton-Warner's novel Spinster, filmed
entirely in a Hollywood studio and starring Shirley
Maclaine and, yes, Juan Fernandez as 'Chief Rauhuia.'
Bring on the enchiladas and puha.
Trivia note: Sebastian Faulks's novel On Green Dolphin
Street was inspired by music written for the 1947 film but
otherwise there is, mercifully, no connection.