HIS MAJESTY O’KEEFE is based on the adventures of a true-life rascal, one David O’Keefe, who was shipwrecked on the Pacific island of Yap in 1871. Gorgeously photographed on location in Fiji (a Pacific-paltry 3340 miles away from Yap) , this is a rousingly fun free-for-all that action fans will eat up.
Burt Lancaster, 41 and still in his athletic prime makes a perfect good-natured freebooter, trying to build a copra business and convince the Yapese (a Polynesian society with a seven-tiered caste) to revamp their monetary system. His schemes have him contend with pirates (like the notorious ‘Bully Hayes’), the skeptical natives, their to-him-primitive customs, romance (natch).
Directed with the emphasis on muscularity by Byron Haskin, scored with typical vigor by Dimitri Tiomkin and written so as to stay packed with movement. No deep-thinking here, just old-fashioned rip-snortin’ of the carve-out-your-own-empire-with-fists & grin variety. The scenery is ridiculously nice.
It was a rain-battered shoot, costing $1,500,000 in 1954, returning a grateful $5,500,000 to Burt & pals. Mildew, bugs and dengue fever complicated the moviemakers hijinks. Lancaster’s quote: “There were times when the only thing idyllic about it was the Nadi airport, where fast and comfortable planes took off constantly— in a northeasterly direction, for Hollywood.”
Read more about O’Keefe, Hayes and that peculiar type of tropical nut in “Rascals In Paradise” by James A. Michener. Bully showed up in the person of Tommy Lee Jones in the overlooked and enjoyable 1983 outing Nate And Hayes.
This fest doesn’t waste time dawdling and runs a brisk 92 minutes, with Joan Rice, Andre Morell, Abraham Sofaer, Guy Doleman,Charles Horvath, Philip Ahn and Benson Fong.
For the record: Mr. O’Keefe’s fiddling with the Yap mode of money raised havoc with their economy. They traditionally used giant stone discs called rai, quarried and transported with great effort and peril from nearby Palau (‘nearby’ in regional terms at 243 nautical miles). Lugging rocks weighing tons in open boats over the Pacific Ocean: yeesh.