I am a big fan of Paulette Goddard… not like crazy obsessive fan when I say “big fan” I mean I adore her and love seeing her in any film she is not matter how bad it is (I sat through Paris Model and Vice Squad which were terrible but she was fabulous in her scenes in those films). In so many of her films I have seen Goddard is a spunky modern fast talking woman with a quick clever wit. When I found out that Goddard was in Reap the Wild Wind which a period piece I had to do a double take. Paulette Goddard this late thirties/1940s smart as a whip woman was in a period piece?! A period piece with Ray Milland, John Wayne, and Susan Hayward and directed by Cecil B. DeMille no less. I HAD to see this it was too interesting to pass up.
The film is set in the south in the mid-late 1800s in the Florida Keys. Off the coast of the Keys many ships have crashed off its reefs during storms or heavy fog. Special schooners go out to the wrecked ships and salvage them. One man named Cutler has been making these wrecks happen to salvage and make a profit off them.
One night a storm comes through and brings a ship to the reef. A young woman named Loxie Claiborne (Goddard) is on the roof of her house looking through her telescope at the ship. A man named Captain Phil comes to get her. Since her father died Loxie has taken on his business and became a salvager herself. She dons pants, a hat, a sweater, and rain gear and heads out to the wreck. Cutler and his men have beaten Loxie and Phil to the boat and her cargo but he says they can have the human cargo. The ship’s captain Jack Stuart (Wayne) was hit on the head and he cannot remember how or why he was. Loxie really likes Jack and he likes her too. A few days later he says tells Loxie that he is being sent away for a month and then dock at Charleston. Loxie is going to Charleston she can meet them there. Jack’s dream is to captain a ship called the Southern Cross for a man named Commodore Deveraux but a lawyer and the Commodore’s right hand man named Stephen Tolliver (Milland) stands in his way.
Loxie and her cousin Drusilla (Hayward) from Havana stay at the home of their aunt Henrietta (Hedda Hopper). At a party Loxie is asked to sing a Key West song. Loxie is a nice girl but she is not as proper as the Charleston girls so when she is asked to sing a Key West song she sings an old racy sea song that has some of the girls and their mothers on edge. The only one who likes the song and is completely entranced by Loxie is Stephen Tolliver who stands over the piano with dog in awe of her. When she learns who Stephen is she decides to play him up to get favor for Jack. Loxi and Stephen see each other a lot. One day she begins to bring up Jack and his captaining the Southern Cross but he stops her and says he wants to marry her and has already spoken to her aunt.
Jack has come back. His hopes of captaining the Southern Cross come crashing down when Deveraux says that he will not be on the ship because of the wreck of the Jubilee. It is brought to Deveraux’s attention that Cutler has been causing trouble in the Keys and purposely wrecking ships. A man from the US navy is there but he says he needs proof of Cutler’s crimes. Stephen says he will go and he has to take Jack with him.
At a party that night Loxie sees Jack for the first time in a month. He tells her he is to be second mate on a ship heading down to the Keys with Stephen. She is furious at Stephen and asks to see him out on the balcony. She asks him in front of her aunt and her aunt not knowing the situation gets excited and let’s slip that Stephen has asked to propose to Loxie. The rumor spreads through the whole party. Loxie lets Stephen have it and says that she loves Jack not him. Stephan then grabs her and spanks her behind! She runs into the party and everyone is congratulating her on her engagement. Stephen comes in too and everyone congratulates him as well. Loxie is upset so she stands on a sofa and announces the only man she will be marrying is Jack Stuart. She runs away with Jack and almost marries him on the ship but Stephen comes to break things up before she can say “I do.”
Jack has gotten down to the Keys by himself while Loxie and Drusilla have traveled with Stephan. Before Stephen even steps off the boat Cutler is already trying to have him killed. Cutler has a plan in place to have Stephen shanghaied - drugged, kidnapped, and put on board a ship that will be away for years- to a whaler. Jack and Loxie hear of the plan and get to Phil (who is also going to be kidnapped) and Stephen who are on a schooner. Cutler has his men attack the boat so the whaler can come and take them away. Cutler’s men come aboard but Jack, Stephen and with a little help from Phil hold them off. When the whaler comes Stephan sells the men to him for fifteen dollars each. Loxie and Jack find a letter in Stephen’s jacket pocket signed by Deveraux saying that Jack is to captain the Southern Cross. He gets mad at Stephen for holding this news back and punches the lawyer out. That night Jack goes to have it out with Cutler but Cutler plays mind games with Jack saying that the Deveraux has died and now there is no way h will ever captain the Southern Cross with Stephen the head of the company. Jack makes a plan to take the Southern Cross and wreck her.
Stephen figures out that something is going to happen to the Southern Cross which is currently in Havana. He figures because the price of good the ship would be carrying goes up as if there was a sinking already. He has Phil commandeer the Claiborne, Loxie’s ship so they can get down to Havana in time to stop Jack. Loxie is on the ship as well. She will not listen to Stephen when he says Jack is planning something. She refuses to believe the man she loves would ever purposely sink a ship. Loxie goes crazy and cuts down the ropes to the masts setting the ship back a few hours.
Meanwhile down in Havana, Drusilla is desperate to get back to a man named Dan in Florida who happens to be Cutler’s brother. She asks Jack if she can go on his ship but he says he is not taking passengers. Desperate to get back to Dan she stows away without Jack knowing she is on board.
Out at sea, Phil and Loxie hear the horn of the Falcon Cutler’s ship standing by waiting for the Southern Cross to crash on a reef. Loxie, Phil, and Stephen see the beautiful ship crash and sink. Loxie with all her might and love calls out to Jack begging him not to do it.
Jack is put on trial for salvaging and is represented by Cutler and Stephan represents his company. The trial goes all over the place. A key witness is murdered by one of Cutler’s men so Stephan calls in another witness that no one knew about. He was a freed colored man who worked on the Southern Cross. He says he was below deck when the ship the reef and that he heard the scream of a woman. They come to figure out that Drusilla was a stow away on the ship and was killed. Dan is furious that the woman he loves was killed and almost fully testifies against his brother. Stephen and Jack are sent to dive down to see if they can find proof that Drusilla was on the ship.
Cutler wants Jack to Stephen when they get down into the ship. Phil knows Cutler is planning is something to get rid of Stephan and has eyes all over Cutler. Down in the ship Jack almost goes through with killing Stephan until a giant squid comes (yes you read right a giant squid) and almost takes Stephen away. Jack winds up saving Stephen’s life.
The story was not my cup of tea but it was good. I am not a fan of period pieces they bore me something fierce… except for Gone With the Wind that is something else entirely. Films that take place out at sea in the 1800s really do not have too much appeal to me. Actors or actresses I like have to be in period pieces for me to sit down and watch them… case in point this film.
I have no complaints about the acting everyone was perfect. Paulette Goddard I was worried about but she was great. Goddard was this close to having the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and it is not hard to see why (apparently she could not produce a marriage certificate saying she was married to Charlie Chaplin at the time and once Vivien Leigh came on the scene no actress stood a chance). Loxie is another Scarlett O’Hara in attitude. Her modern spunkiness and feisty attitude fit Loxie perfectly. No one but Goddard could have played Loxie Claiborne better. John Wayne was not a good guy in this film. He started off nice and sweet and once he went with Cutler he turned into an idiot. But nevertheless Wayne was great. I really liked him and Paulette Goddard together there was something about them that worked as a couple. Ray Milland I am liking the more films I see him in. He was a good dramatic actor as well as a comic actor. He and Goddard made four films together some of which I have seen and they have very good chemistry together they were very popular together. Susan Hayward was ridiculously outrageously adorable. She was twenty-five and really just starting her major film career. This was not Hayward’s first film but it probably gave her career a huge push. Hayward would be paired with John Wayne in two more films The Fighting Seabees and the god awful and terribly hilarious The Conqueror.
Cecil B. DeMille is in no doubt one of the greatest directors ever. For 1942 this film was no small feat. But this type of epic film was probably nothing new for DeMille who directed great epics like the original Cleopatra and the original silent version of The Ten Commandments.
Reap the Wild Wind is a very good film even if I am not too crazy about period pieces. The story was good, the acting was great and you cannot go wrong with the direction. Besides the story being a period piece I have no complaints about Reap the Wild Wind. If you happen to catch it on TV or know where to find the film I recommend seeing it.