Green Dolphin Street is one of numerous adaptations of epic best-sellers throughout the 1940s. The type of event movie where everyone and their sister read the novel, now watch Hollywood’s most beautiful actors star in a sweeping tale of land grabbing, corruption, and love. Think of it as a decade of attempts to recapture the success of Gone With the Wind (1939). Actually, more movies ended up being like The Razor’s Edge (1946) which I thought of a lot while watching all 2 hours and 21 minutes of Green Dolphin Street. I certainly liked this more than that Tyrone Power-starring drama but it’s hard to get through in one sitting.
Green Dolphin Street is many tales, one of about the cyclical nature of falling in love with a man you can’t marry. As we meet our characters they’re bound by one immediate commonality: that their parents were once in love with each other but, due to the requirements of the era, they couldn’t be together. So it’s no surprise when the daughters of Sophie Patourel (Gladys Cooper) meet the son of Dr. Edmond Ozanne (Frank Morgan), that another series of star-crossed matches is at hand. In this case, the ambitious Marianne (Lana Turner) and her shy sister Marguerite (Donna Reed) both fall for William Ozanne (Richard Hart).
It’s weird how the Patourel/Ozanne relationship is the catalyst for the entire movie, but Cooper and Morgan are dumped fairly quickly for the more photogenic trio of Hart, Turner, and Reed. That being said, there’s a clear-cut favorite of this trio, by far. This is Turner’s movie, with Van Heflin as Timothy Haslam, close behind. Maybe in the original book Marianne is a more hardened and cynical woman, but if that’s the case you need someone like Bette Davis to play her. Turner is fine but plays the character more petulant than calculating with a flair for the fashions that threaten to turn her into a clotheshorse.
The brunt of her storyline feels similar to Jezebel (1938), wherein the presumably selfish and conniving Marianne is softened and chastened by love and domesticity. But where Davis had Henry Fonda to humanize her in that William Wyler film, Turner has the bland one-two punch of Van Heflin and Richard Hart. Sorry to all the Heflin lovers out there but I’ve never bought him as a romantic lead and this movie didn’t change my opinion. Richard Hart didn’t have a big career and ended up dying young in the 1950s. Here, though, he’s just not believable as a man two women would be fighting over. He’s neither good nor bad, just there.
As for Donna Reed, she gets an interesting arc that sees her having a literal “Come to Jesus” moment and becoming a nun. However, the movie is so long that these moments feel less like a B-plot and more like a C-plot; that’s to say they just show up to give her something to do.
If you’re wondering what I was dazzled by it’s the amazing earthquake/flood sequence that ends up happening. If you’ve watched TCM you might have caught the mini-documentary on how the effects were achieved back in 1947. That certainly gives the movie some much needed dramatic action (sorry, the Maori uprising and the fear of violence against the white women didn’t do it for me).
Green Dolphin Street is best for those really into adaptations or who are big fans of Lana Turner who is drop-dead gorgeous and tries her hardest to make this work. The film no doubt looks expensive, but by not going with big name leads who can carry drama in all the roles the film works in fits and starts.
Interested in Learning More About Us??
Interested in supporting us? Check out our Patreon Page! Perks include giveaways, early access and additional bonus content!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.