As a passenger ship sails by the bleak ruins of a deserted island, Dr. Kersaint (Thomas Mitchell) blows his former home a kiss. When a fellow passenger asks him about the place, he tells its tragic story, segueing into a flashback.
During the colonial era in the South Pacific, the natives of the island of Manakoora are a contented lot. Terangi (Jon Hall), the first mate on an island-hopping schooner, marries Marama (Dorothy Lamour), the daughter of the chief (Al Kikume). She has a premonition and begs him not to leave, or at least take her with him on the ship's next voyage, but he makes her stay behind.
Upon reaching Tahiti, the crew goes to a bar to celebrate. When a racist white man orders them to leave, Terangi strikes him and breaks his jaw. Unfortunately, the man has strong political connections, and the governor is forced to sentence him to six months in jail, over the objections of Terangi's captain, Nagle (Jerome Cowan). Back on Manakoora, Dr. Kersaint begs recently appointed local French Governor Eugene De Laage (Raymond Massey) to have Terangi brought home to serve his sentence under parole, but De Laage refuses to compromise his stern interpretation of the law, despite the pleas of Captain Nagle, Father Paul (C. Aubrey Smith), and even his own wife (Mary Astor).
Unable to bear being confined, Terangi repeatedly tries to escape, lengthening his sentence by another 16 years, much to the delight of a particularly harsh jailer (John Carradine). Finally, after eight years, Terangi succeeds in getting out, but at a terrible price: he unintentionally kills a guard. He steals a canoe and returns to Manakoora after an arduous journey. At the end, he is rescued from his overturned canoe by Father Paul, who promises to remain silent.
He is reunited with Marama and a daughter (Kuulei De Clercq) he has never seen before. Chief Mehevi recommends the family hide on a tabu island, where no one will look for them. However, De Laage discovers their preparations and commandeers the schooner to hunt them down.
Terangi turns back to warn his people after he sees birds fleeing the island, an unprecedented, ominous event that Marama had dreamed about many years before. A once-in-a-lifetime hurricane strikes the island. A few, among them Dr. Kersaint and his pregnant patient, weather the disaster in a canoe, while Terangi ties his family and Madame De Laage to a stout tree. The rest drown, and the island is stripped bare.
The tree floats away. Terangi later finds a war canoe in the water, which he uses to get his party to a small island. When they spot the schooner, Terangi signals it with smoke before fleeing in the canoe with his family. Governor De Laage embraces his wife, but then spots something far away through his binoculars. Madame De Laage insists it must be a floating log; suspecting Tarangi saved his wife, after a pause, he agrees with her.Dorothy Lamour as Marama
Jon Hall as Terangi
Mary Astor as Madame Germaine De Laage
C. Aubrey Smith as Father Paul
Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint
Raymond Massey as Governor Eugene De Laage
John Carradine as Warden
Jerome Cowan as Captain Nagle
Al Kikume as Chief Mehevi
Kuulei De Clercq as Tita
Layne Tom Jr. as Mako
Mamo Clark as Hitia
Movita Castaneda as Arai
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning in the category for Best Sound.Best Sound Recording - Thomas T. Moulton
Best Supporting Actor (nomination) - Thomas Mitchell
Best Music, Score (nomination) - Alfred Newman
New York Times critic Frank S. Nugent praised the climactic special effect created by James Basevi, stating, "It is a hurricane to blast you from the orchestra pit to the first mezzanine. It is a hurricane to film your eyes with spin-drift, to beat at your ears with its thunder, to clutch at your heart and send your diaphragm vaulting over your floating rib into the region just south of your tonsils." He complimented the performances of all of the principal actors with the exception of Hall, whose Terangi was described as "a competent Tarzan". Nugent also faulted the uneven pacing, but in the end, characterized the film as "one of the most thrilling spectacles the screen has provided this year."
A remake of this movie was released in 1979, directed by Jan Troell and starring Jason Robards Jr. and Mia Farrow.
The Hurricane was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in November 2015.