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Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

On the South Pacific island of Bora Bora, a young couple's love is threatened when the tribal chief declares the girl a sacred virgin.



(told by), (told by) (as R.J. Flaherty)

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Matahi ...
The Boy
Anne Chevalier ...
The Girl (as Reri)
Bill Bambridge ...
The Policeman (as Jean)
Hitu ...
The Old Warrior


In his final film, F.W. Murnau presents the tale of two young lovers on the idyllic island of Bora Bora in the South Pacific. Their life is shattered when the old warrior declares the girl to be the Chosen Maid and it is forbidden for any man to even look upon her. Refusing to accept a life apart, they run off to another island, one that is decadent and westernized. The boy works as a pearl diver but not quite understanding the concept of money, is soon in debt. When the old warrior tracks them down they again plan to run away but in a desperate attempt to pay off his debts, the boy dives for pearls in shark-infested waters. The boy is successful but fate seems determined to keep the two lovers apart. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Release Date:

19 March 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tabu  »

Box Office


$150,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(R.C.A. Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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Did You Know?


Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »


The Girl: [writing a goodbye letter] I must go. Hitu is here and waits for me. You will die if I do not obey. I will go so that you may live. The tabu is upon us. I have been so happy with you far more than I deserved. The love you have given me, I will keep to the last beat of my heart. Across the great waters, I will come to you in your dreams when the moon spreads its path on the sea. Farewell.
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Referenced in Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film (2003) See more »


(1827-46) (uncredited)
Written by Frédéric Chopin
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User Reviews

Murnau's final film is a fitting reminder of his genius
9 April 2003 | by (Southern California) – See all my reviews

For discerning fans of classic filmmaking, the surviving work of director F.W. Murnau remains some of the most significant and stunning of the silent era. Filmed entirely in Tahiti, `Tabu' would prove to be Murnau's last film (he died in a tragic car accident on March 11, 1931, just weeks before the film's premiere) and most unusual - he actually collaborated with director Robert Flaherty (`Nanook of the North') in this tale of two doomed lovers that unintentionally transports `Romeo and Juliet' into the South Pacific. Unlike his landmark expressionist titles such as `Nosferatu' and `Faust,' Murnau's `Tabu' is set mostly outdoors and features dazzling images of beautiful young native men and women at home in their Polynesian paradise in the first part of the film, with haunting images used to chronicle tragedy and paradise lost in the second half of the 81 minute classic.

Although no members of the cast were professional actors, the performances by Matahi (as a young pearl fisherman) and Reri (as the `tabu' island girl) are moving. More than 70 years after its release, `Tabu' remains essential viewing, and UCLA's restoration of this classic has been a highlight of the schedule of new DVD releases in 2002. In fact, the film's luxurious black-and-white cinematography garnered cameraman Floyd Crosby an Oscar. DVD extras include audio commentary by UCLA Film Professor Janet Bergstrom; outtake footage; theatrical trailer; still gallery; short film titled `Reri in New York.'

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