Bird of Paradise (1932)

“I make big sin, Johnny — they give me to Peli!”

Synopsis:
A young American (Joel McCrea) sailing the South Seas falls in love with a Polynesian princess (Dolores del Rio) doomed to a fiery fate.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of this “exotic South Seas romance” by director King Vidor, Peary notes that it’s “very stilted” and “doesn’t hold up as well as” either its thematic predecessor — F.W. Murnau’s Tabu (1931) — or Tarzan the Ape Man, released the same year. In typical Peary fashion, he argues that “the major enjoyment comes from looking at [the] healthy bodies of [the] two leads and hoping that the wind blows up the lei that covers Del Rio’s naked breasts” (!!) — a point which, to give him credit, is actually not that far from the truth. McCrea and del Rio (both just 27 years old at the time) are enormously striking young lovers, and — given the film’s pre-Code release date — their physical attraction to one another is presented in a refreshingly sensuous manner. Peary accurately notes that this early talkie is shot and scored (by Max Steiner) like a silent film; indeed, without too much effort, it could easily have been one. With that said, however, it’s refreshing to hear how Luana (del Rio) and Johnny (McCrea) are unable to communicate with each other verbally for a realistic period of time — that is, Luana doesn’t suddenly become fluent in English after just a few weeks in Johnny’s presence. Watch for the erotic and touching final scene between the two lovers, which also highlights the enormous cultural divide that exists between them.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sexy Joel McCrea and Dolores del Rio
  • Creative direction
  • Clyde de Vinna’s atmospheric cinematography
  • Max Steiner’s historically groundbreaking score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.

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