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Sunday, 1 April 2007

Bird of Paradise (1932) King Vidor

Here's about the most perfect example of complete nonsense I've ever seen in film that has the one redeeming factor of somehow still somehow entertaining for no reason that I can define. Johnny Baker, in the manly form of Joel McCrea, is travelling around the South Seas with a bunch of rich idiots, when they come upon a new island populated by what seem at first glance to be friendly natives. While the crew are busy throwing their alarm clocks into the ocean for no apparent reason, Baker gets to be active and try to catch the newly arrived shark. He gets caught up in the line instead and so takes a tumble into the water but is quickly rescued by a beautiful native girl played by Dolores del Rio, the most beautiful woman in pictures at the time.

She gets to dance around a lot and swim about a lot but not get touched by anyone because she's sacred and is to be married to a local prince. Baker is going native though very quickly indeed so that he looks and sounds far more like Tarzan than Joel McCrea and he carries her off to Paradise Island, not wondering about why the rest of his party has just sailed back off into the sunset. Luana, del Rio's character, gets to carry on looking beautiful in her immaculate native makeup, while Baker builds them a house. She is a pretty good spear fisher though, it seems, while he can climb the trees and throw down coconuts.

There's another real character in the film beyond Baker and Luana, and that's Pele the volcano god who must be fed a sacrifice in order to dissuade her from being so violent. No guesses as to who the sacrifice is supposed to be. You see, life isn't all about chasing wild pigs, wrestling turtles and catching flying fish with a tennis racket. It's about having your stolen girlfriend fed to the volcano god. There are plot holes everywhere you look here and nothing makes any sense at all, but it all looks fine and even the underwater scenes are shot very well. It's also embarrassing in the way the western civilised folks deal with the natives.

To be honest, there's so little dialogue here, and what there is makes so little sense, that it would have been much better as a silent film. That's backed up by the fact that this was the very first sound film to have a complete symphonic score. McCrea and del Rio are the only two names here, though I watched out for and failed to find Creighton Chaney, who hadn't yet become Lon Chaney Jr and was still further away from becoming just Lon Chaney to further capitalise on his father's name. He was in here somewhere, as a character called Thornton, but I couldn't find him.

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