His Majesty O'Keefe (1954)

88-89 or 92 mins | Adventure, Biography | 16 January 1954

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HISTORY

The title card reads: "Warner Bros. Pictures presents Burt Lancaster as His Majesty O'Keefe , Colour by Technicolor." After the opening credits, which list a primarily British crew, the following written statements appear onscreen: “This entire picture was photographed in the South Pacific…where for years the basic economy and wealth revolved around the dried meat of the coconut known as 'copra.' And on the island of Yap, the natives worshiped an exotic sacred stone they called 'fei.' We wish to acknowledge our gratitude to the Secretary for Fijian Affairs: to Ratu Penaia Lala Latianara Serua District Chief in Charge, and the wonderful people of the Fiji Islands.” Voice-over narration, by Burt Lancaster as “David O’Keefe” and Joan Rice as “Dalabo” is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       His Majesty O’Keefe was based on the life of nineteenth-century Irish-American adventurer David Dean O’Keefe, whose story was pieced together by authors Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green in their semi-biographical novel of the same title. According to the authors, several characters in the book, who were also depicted in the film, were actual people: Bully Hayes, Bart Harris, Alfred Tetens, Friedlander, Weber, Fatumak, Kakofel, Boogulroo and Inifel. According to legend and some historical documents, O’Keefe, believing he killed a man, fled his home in Savannah, Georgia to join a pearl-diving expedition in the South Seas. In 1871, a typhoon shipwrecked the expedition and O’Keefe was the sole survivor. As depicted in the film, O’Keefe was nursed to health by Fatumak, medicine man on the island of Yap, where two years earlier, the Germans had established a trading post managed by Alfred Tetens and where the Spaniards also claimed interests. On ... More Less

The title card reads: "Warner Bros. Pictures presents Burt Lancaster as His Majesty O'Keefe , Colour by Technicolor." After the opening credits, which list a primarily British crew, the following written statements appear onscreen: “This entire picture was photographed in the South Pacific…where for years the basic economy and wealth revolved around the dried meat of the coconut known as 'copra.' And on the island of Yap, the natives worshiped an exotic sacred stone they called 'fei.' We wish to acknowledge our gratitude to the Secretary for Fijian Affairs: to Ratu Penaia Lala Latianara Serua District Chief in Charge, and the wonderful people of the Fiji Islands.” Voice-over narration, by Burt Lancaster as “David O’Keefe” and Joan Rice as “Dalabo” is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       His Majesty O’Keefe was based on the life of nineteenth-century Irish-American adventurer David Dean O’Keefe, whose story was pieced together by authors Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green in their semi-biographical novel of the same title. According to the authors, several characters in the book, who were also depicted in the film, were actual people: Bully Hayes, Bart Harris, Alfred Tetens, Friedlander, Weber, Fatumak, Kakofel, Boogulroo and Inifel. According to legend and some historical documents, O’Keefe, believing he killed a man, fled his home in Savannah, Georgia to join a pearl-diving expedition in the South Seas. In 1871, a typhoon shipwrecked the expedition and O’Keefe was the sole survivor. As depicted in the film, O’Keefe was nursed to health by Fatumak, medicine man on the island of Yap, where two years earlier, the Germans had established a trading post managed by Alfred Tetens and where the Spaniards also claimed interests. On Yap, the form of currency used was a stone disk, called “fei” or “rai,” which the natives quarried from the island of Palau and hauled 280 miles to Yap in canoes. The value of each stone, which measured between approximately one and twelve feet wide, was determined by many factors, including the difficulty surmounted in obtaining it.
       A German trading ship took O’Keefe to Hong Kong, but he returned the following year, commanding a Chinese junk named for his American wife, Catherine. In exchange for copra and betel nut, O’Keefe began using his junk to haul fei to Yap for the islanders. Although the fei transported by O’Keefe was valued lower than that brought over by canoe, the increase of fei on the island allowed less wealthy people to own money. So popular was O’Keefe with the natives of both Yap and Palau, that they refused to do business with anyone else, and for approximately thirty years, he held a monopoly on the copra trade. Nicknamed “His Majesty O’Keefe” because of his regal lifestyle, he amassed a great fortune, and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about him. O’Keefe’s Kanteen, filled with memorabilia, still stands on the site of the trading post and bar that O’Keefe established in 1874. Although U.S. currency has become the standard on Yap, fei is still sometimes used to pay dowries or purchase land.
       An Apr 1951 LAT news item announced that Fred Zinnemann would probably direct the film and a Feb 1952 LAT news item reported that Frank Nugent was set to write the screenplay. However, Nugent’s contribution to the film, if any, has not been determined. An Aug 1952 DV news item described how an elaborate facility, possibly the largest outside of Hollywood at that time, was constructed by Warner Bros. on the Fijian Island of Viti Levu, where the film was shot. In addition, portions of the film were shot in the village of Goloa, where additional huts were erected by the studio. A Nov 1952 LAT article stated that Ratu Lala, the lineal descendant of Fijian kings, who is mentioned in the opening onscreen acknowledgments, assisted the production as liaison to the native Melanesians who served as extras and crew members.
       According to an Oct 1952 NYT article, before choreographing the dance sequences for the film, Daniel Nagrin lived in a Fijian village for a week while studying under Mokani, an old man who taught ceremonial dances to the children. Sep and Oct 1952 HR news items add the following actors to the cast: Harry Hambleton, Eric Sterling and Jack O’Malley, but their appearance in the film has not been confirmed. According to a Sep 1953 HR news item, Clark Dennis recorded music from the film on the Tiffany Records label. As reported in a Jun 1953 HR news item, after producing His Majesty O’Keefe , Hecht and Lancaster severed Norma Productions’ ties to Warner Bros., citing disagreements over budget and production concerns. In 1954, Hecht and Lancaster formed Hecht-Lancaster Company, which released films through United Artists. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
2 Jan 1954.
---
Daily Variety
28 Aug 1952.
---
Daily Variety
30 Dec 53
p. 3.
Film Daily
31 Dec 53
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1951
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jul 1952
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 1952
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 1952
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 1952
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Dec 1952
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 1953
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1953
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
14 Apr 1951.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Feb 1952.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Nov 1952
pt. IV, p. 1, 12.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
12 Jan 54
p. 2125.
New York Times
26 Oct 1952.
---
New York Times
6 Feb 54
p. 17.
Time
15 Feb 1954.
---
Variety
30 Dec 53
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus dir
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Dubbing ed
Recordist
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the novel His Majesty O'Keefe by Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green (New York, 1950).
SONGS
"Emerald Isle," music by Dimitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 January 1954
Production Date:
late July--mid November 1952
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 February 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4423
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
88-89 or 92
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16084
SYNOPSIS

In 1870, a mutinous crew on the South Seas sets adrift Irish-American Capt. David Dean O'Keefe . Barely alive when his dory washes ashore on the island of Yap, O'Keefe is revived by German trader Alfred Tetens and medicine man Fatumak. Seeing abundant coconut trees growing on the island, O'Keefe dreams of making a fortune by harvesting coconut meat, called "copra," from which a highly sought oil is extracted. Tetens, who has lived on Yap for several years, tells O'Keefe that the natives cannot be induced to harvest the fruit, as they are uninterested in trade. O'Keefe remains confident that he will convince the islanders to help him, and learns that they greatly value "fei," a sacred stone they risk their lives to quarry on a distant island. Every year, the head chief, Boogulroo, challenges Tetens to a ritual combat. Although the German always declines by publicly acknowledging the chief's authority, O'Keefe accepts the challenge. Impressed by his prowess as a warrior, Boogulroo grants O'Keefe one "favor" and O'Keefe asks that coconuts be delivered to him. When a steamer arrives, bearing officials from the German company employing Tetens, O'Keefe sells his coconut meat and arranges for passage to Hong Kong. Before he leaves, O'Keefe bids a special goodbye to the native woman Kakofel, and Fatumak gives him a whale's tooth for remembrance, predicting they will meet again. In Hong Kong, O'Keefe looks for investors to buy him a ship, confident that he can make them rich from copra, but the big Spanish and German companies do not want him cutting into their trade. After O'Keefe refuses a partnership with slave trader Bully Hayes, Sien Tang, a wealthy dentist, offers ... +


In 1870, a mutinous crew on the South Seas sets adrift Irish-American Capt. David Dean O'Keefe . Barely alive when his dory washes ashore on the island of Yap, O'Keefe is revived by German trader Alfred Tetens and medicine man Fatumak. Seeing abundant coconut trees growing on the island, O'Keefe dreams of making a fortune by harvesting coconut meat, called "copra," from which a highly sought oil is extracted. Tetens, who has lived on Yap for several years, tells O'Keefe that the natives cannot be induced to harvest the fruit, as they are uninterested in trade. O'Keefe remains confident that he will convince the islanders to help him, and learns that they greatly value "fei," a sacred stone they risk their lives to quarry on a distant island. Every year, the head chief, Boogulroo, challenges Tetens to a ritual combat. Although the German always declines by publicly acknowledging the chief's authority, O'Keefe accepts the challenge. Impressed by his prowess as a warrior, Boogulroo grants O'Keefe one "favor" and O'Keefe asks that coconuts be delivered to him. When a steamer arrives, bearing officials from the German company employing Tetens, O'Keefe sells his coconut meat and arranges for passage to Hong Kong. Before he leaves, O'Keefe bids a special goodbye to the native woman Kakofel, and Fatumak gives him a whale's tooth for remembrance, predicting they will meet again. In Hong Kong, O'Keefe looks for investors to buy him a ship, confident that he can make them rich from copra, but the big Spanish and German companies do not want him cutting into their trade. After O'Keefe refuses a partnership with slave trader Bully Hayes, Sien Tang, a wealthy dentist, offers O'Keefe a junk to sail. With a new crew and Sien Tang's nephew Chou as first mate, O'Keefe sails toward Yap. When bad weather slows them down, O'Keefe and his men are forced to stop at an island for provisions, but hostile natives attack, injuring O'Keefe. At the next island, Palau, the sailors spend several days with the hospitable natives and Australian trader Bart Harris. When Harris mistakes O'Keefe's courtship of his half-caste daughter Dalabo for seduction and threatens to shoot him, O'Keefe, who is in love, asks to marry her. Although the inexperienced Dalabo is unsure of her love, she agrees to be married after O'Keefe explains that the best kind of love grows slowly. When Fatumak and other men from Yap show up in their small crafts, O'Keefe realizes that Palau is the island where fei is collected. Using explosives, he helps them quarry the stone more quickly, then carries the unusually large load back to Yap in his ship. However, O'Keefe refuses to unload the fei until his ship and several storehouses are filled with copra. After accusing O'Keefe of trickery, Boogulroo returns with his men to Palau to gather more fei, claiming that only what is gathered in the old way has value. Inifel, a lesser chief, has his men supply the copra, and O'Keefe is soon sailing back to Hong Kong. There, Sien Tang provides an elaborate Chinese wedding for O'Keefe and Dalabo, but the next day, when they embark for the islands, Dalabo realizes that O'Keefe's mind is filled with visions of fame, riches and power, leaving little room for her. Meanwhile, Hayes and his men attack Yap and capture the villagers. O'Keefe returns in time to free them, retake the village and capture Hayes, but convinces the islanders to let Hayes's crew leave to spread the story of his defeat, so that future bullies will be deterred. Acknowledging his wisdom and leadership, the villagers crown O'Keefe as king. During the ceremony, Boogulroo returns from Palau and attacks O'Keefe, but the people believe that the gods are with O'Keefe, and the chief and his men are banished. Dalabo, who is aware of O'Keefe's greed and his on-going dalliance with Kakofel, is unimpressed with his rise to power, and sarcastically calls him "his majesty O'Keefe." When the Germans return, they refuse to accept O'Keefe as head of the island. After luring him off the island, they circle back, and with Boogulroo's help, take over the village. Tetens is killed in the skirmish, and while O'Keefe fights to reclaim the village, a German officer dies. Realizing that the islanders divided cannot survive, O'Keefe, with Fatumak's help, tells Boogulroo and Inifel to choose a new king to reunite the people. Because the manner of gathering fei has also become a dividing issue, O'Keefe announces that Boogulroo was correct in saying that only fei gathered in the old way has value. Then, expecting to be hanged, O'Keefe gives himself up to the Germans. However, as they try to arrest him, Boogulroo, speaking for all the villagers, asks, "Where are you taking our king?" The Germans give up and O'Keefe, who has regained Dalabo's respect, remains on the island.









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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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