High Barbaree (1947) starring Van Johnson, June Allyson, Thomas Mitchell, Marilyn Maxwell
At it’s heart, High Barbaree is the story of a young man who gives up on his dreams, regrets it, and tries to turn around. As two World War II airmen are shot down, afloat in the ocean, one of them (Van Johnson) tells the other his story. The story of High Barbaree.
Review of High Barbaree
High Barbaree is the story of a near-magical island, told by a sailor uncle to his young nephew. As a boy, the nephew dreams of sailing there one day, with his best friend, a young girl. The boy also dreams of becoming a doctor, even running a “clinic” where he takes care of animals.
Much of the flashback story is both entertaining and sweet. The wandering uncle is played excellently by Thomas Mitchell. At one point, the three of them run away. The children think that they’re going to sail to High Barbaree. But the uncle is running away from a marriage proposal. When the uncle is jailed after a bar fight, the young boy tries to find a job to pay his bail. And he ends up joining a circus, doing a dangerous bike ride stunt.
Eventually, the girl moves away. They both grow up, and the adult man doesn’t fulfill his childhood dreams. Instead, he dropped out of medical school after two years. Then he took a job with his wealthy girlfriend’s father. He’s a pilot, and a vice president. And he thinks that he’s happy … Until his boyhood friend returns home for a visit.
He looks back on the choices he’s made. He’s not necessarily happy with them, but he’s determined to be a financial success. Unlike his father, a small-town doctor. Amid this and the romantic turmoil, a tornado strikes, and he’s forced to help his father save lives, since the father’s arm is broken.
Then, before he can tell his childhood friend about his decision, she’s gone. And World War II interrupts. Then his plane goes down, eventually floating to the supposed location of High Barbaree.
In short, High Barbaree is a very good movie, with fine acting all around, and characters that the audience cares about. I recommend it.
- Alec Brooke (Van Johnson, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, In the Good Old Summertime). The young man who looks back on the choices that he’s made, and regrets some of them. He’s abandoned his dreams and his calling for financial success. He’s engaged to:
- Diana Case (Marilyn Maxwell, The Lemon Drop Kid, Swing Fever). Alec’s beautiful, wealthy fiancée. She’s a nice lady … And she wants Alec to live his life to fit into her, and her father’s, plans. However, she’s not a villain. She’s simply someone who wants something for Alec other than his childhood dreams.
- Nancy Frazer (June Allyson, Woman’s World, Royal Wedding). Alec’s childhood friend, grown to adulthood. She’s become a nurse, and hasn’t abandoned her dreams. And so she becomes a living reminder to him of the path he didn’t choose. Then there’s the fact that she’s a beautiful woman, still in love with him … And she has a marriage proposal from some else, as well.
- Uncle Thad ( Thomas Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, Tales of Manhattan). A very interesting, and important, character. Alec’s seafaring uncle, who tells him stories of adventure … including High Barbaree. And during World War II, he’s working for the Navy, and meets with his adult nephew momentarily.
- Lt. Joe Moore (Cameron Mitchell, The High Chaparral). Alec’s fellow Navy man, whom Alec tells his story as they’re lost afloat in the Pacific ocean.
- Dr. William G. Brooke (Henry Hull, Werewolf of London, Master of the World). Alec’s father, a small-town doctor. He’s never famous, or rich, but he makes a large difference in his community. And in Alec’s life as well. Especially after the tornado strikes.
Editorial review of High Barbaree courtesy of Amazon.com
Adrift in the Pacific after their plane is shot down, WWII airmen Alec Brooke (Van Johnson) and Joe Moore (Cameron Mitchell) battle thirst and increasing desperation. To keep their spirits up, Alec weaves a story for Joe, his own story of daring boyhood adventures, of the pretty girl (June Allyson) he left behind and of his ne’er-do-well uncle’s tall tales of the uncharted island of High Barbaree. Then the downed men realize they’re drifting toward the supposed location of that fabled isle. Frequent screen costars Johnson and Allyson headline High Barbaree. A romantic drama aimed straight at the hearts of moviegoers whose lives were forever changed by the war. Based on a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, the authors of Mutiny on the Bounty, the film also boasts a fine supporting cast: Marilyn Maxwell, Henry Hull, Claude Jarman Jr. and famed character star Thomas Mitchell.
This is a film and book about hope, about perseverence, about childhood dreams that may, should (and will) all come true – and a spiritual book. I’ll not spoil it. The book, by Norhoff and Hall, is out off print but easily found and I urge you to read it and see if I’m not right!