Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bird of Paradise (1951)

This morning, FXM Retro ran the 1951 version of Bird of Paradise. As is their wont, they're going to be running it again soon, at 4:00 AM tomorrow. It's also available on DVD from FOX's MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with an expository scene. André Laurence (Louis Jourdan) is on a schooner going through the tropics which takes aboard a passenger who complains about the Polynesians. It turns out that André is on board with his best friend and college roommate Tenga (Jeff Chandler), who is three-quarters Polynesian: his grandfather had married one of the local Polynesian women before being forced to leave the island. André is going to visit Tenga's society.

Tenga, it turns out, is royalty. His father is the chieftain on this particular island, and Tenga has a kid sister in Kalua (Debra Paget). Tenga's family is grudgingly OK with having André on the island, although the local shaman Kahuna decidedly is not. He remembers previous whites who brought violence and disease to the island, and he fears having another white man on the island will be a curse. And Kahuna has some political power.

While Tenga's parents are grudgingly accepting, Kalua is rather more accepting. She's taking by the presence of a nice-looking white guy, while the feeling is mutual. However, the island traditions, strange to a white guy like André, mandate that he and Kalua not speak to each other until they're betrothed. There's also a bunch of other traditions that André doesn't get, although he does try to follow them conscientiously.

And there's the white guy who didn't try to follow them: he was made taboo and sent to a neighboring island. When André is sent there, the other guy warns him about trying to stay on the island with the natives. But André doesn't care, because he's just too damn much in love with Tenga.

Eventually André does marry Tenga, the Kahuna tries to curse the marriage, and Tenga is declared barren after a whopping three months! Somebody has to be punished. Especially when the volcano starts to erupt....

Jeff Chandler doesn't look Polynesian at all, although he didn't look like Cochise either, despite the fact that he had played Cochise a year earlier in Broken Arrow. Paget has also played an Apache in Broken Arrow, and at least the writers had the good sense to remind us of Tenga and Kalua's white grandfather when André wonders why she has blue eyes. Louis Jourdan is of course playing white, so his presence in the cast doesn't matter. The producers just wanted a bunch of eye candy, since the women are in sarongs and the men are shirtless from the moment they get to the island.

The story is OK, but more than the 1932 Joel McCrea/Dolores Del Rio version, this one gave me the vibe of trying to be sensitive to foreign cultures only to wind up all feeling a bit silly. I don't think the 1932 version was trying to have any grounding in reality; plus, it has the benefit of being a pre-Code movie. The 1951 version, for its part, had a title card in the opening about how it was filmed on location in the Hawaiian Islands, and how all the cultural traditions were based on real traditions.

Overall, this version of Bird of Paradise is good for one viewing, but not one I'm actively looking to add to my DVD correction.

1 comment:

Cara Merawat Tanaman Tomat said...

I watched that too, it's quite nice