Bird of Paradise (1932) Poster

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Passionate romance in tropical setting
arneblaze6 April 2003
I despair of non-romantics taking the time to denigrate with their reviews ultra-romantic films, such as this. BIRD OF PARADISE is a masterwork - superbly photographed (the lighting, composition and mobility of the camera are astonishing), lushly scored (Max Steiner's score is the first ever to run from beginning to end of a talking film), and lyrically directed. Del Rio's performance is perfection - a native woman whose only future is to be sacrificed to Pele, the God of Volcanos, who finds true love with a white man who visits her island and chooses to stay. For romantics, this is a classic tear-jerker and an exercise in sheer visual beauty. The underwater swimming scene between a nude Del Rio and a McCrea clad only in the thinnest of briefs is unique in cinema. Perhaps the Academy's shut-out of this work is due to its coming on the heel of the semi-documentary Murnau TABU, the year before which explored similar themes. No reason however not to nominate it for Del Rio's performance, the cinematography and the score. One of the most visually beautiful films ever made and a must-see for romantics.
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sexy precode
blanche-221 August 2011
One really couldn't ask for more than hunky Joel MCrea and gorgeous Delores del Rio as eye candy in "Bird of Paradise," a 1932 film - which makes it precode and quite sexy. McCrea plays a young man on a yachting trip who is saved from a shark by a South seas beauty named Luana; he decides to stay on awhile. When it becomes clear to him that she is to be sacrificed to the volcano Pele, the two escape to an island, where they lead an idyllic life together. Eventually his friends return for him, and he assumes Luana will go with him. Not a huge amount of dialogue, but lots to look at in this King Vidor film, which has jungle choreography by Busby Berkley and music by Max Steiner, both pre-Warner Brothers. Del Rio doesn't wear much; in fact, she has a nude swimming scene. McCrea here is very athletic. Amazing what they were able to do precode that in a couple of years would be taboo. Worth seeing. Del Rio was one of the most beautiful stars ever, and McCrea one of the most appealing.
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Interesting In a Number of Respects, & Del Rio Is Dazzling
Snow Leopard3 February 2006
This feature is interesting in a number of respects, both in its techniques and in its subject matter. And if neither of those is enough, Dolores Del Rio has a role that allows her to dazzle the viewer with her beauty and her screen presence. A young-looking Joel McCrea, as her co-star, is himself earnest and likable, though he is overshadowed by Del Rio in their scenes together. The story starts off with McCrea, as a sailor on a yacht, being rescued from a shark by Del Rio, as the daughter of the king of a native tribe. Romance develops from there, with McCrea's character dreaming of taking her back home with him when his trip is done, but having his plans hindered by the responsibilities she faces as a king's daughter. (Why any man, given the opportunity to live alone with a woman like Del Rio on a tropical island, would yearn for 'civilization', is also a pretty good question.) The story features some rather sensitive themes in the running contact between the two cultures. If it does not always face them comfortably, at least it is relatively even-handed much of the time. Although some 'primitive' beliefs are ascribed to the natives' culture, they are portrayed as sincere beliefs. There are also a number of points of interest on the technical side. Most obviously, there are the wealth of atmospheric shots of the tropical setting. But beyond that, there are a few interesting attempts to offer some interesting views with the camera, such as the water-level shots in the opening sailing sequence. One particularly interesting idea is that, for a long time, the language barrier is allowed to stand realistically between the characters, especially in McCrea's efforts to communicate, instead of using a stock device to get around it. Only much later is it assumed that Del Rio's character has learned enough English to be able to communicate. Certainly, there are times when this feature shows a little of its age, and in some respects it's not completely successful. But it would probably be worth watching to see Del Rio alone, and the rest of it contains several interesting aspects.
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Where Were Those Missionaries?
bkoganbing12 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This was a scandalous picture for 1932, an interracial romance with a nude Dolores Del Rio. Bird of Paradise has Del Rio as the daughter of the chief of a South Sea Island where a schooner lands that has Joel McCrea in the crew. McCrea has left the Depression ridden USA behind and now wants to stay on the island. He's decided to see if all the stories are true about the hedonistic natives. What he doesn't bargain for is falling for Del Rio. But she being the daughter of the head guy is spoken for. Nevertheless they elope in a manner of speaking and start kanoodling on another island. You can see why this film was such a big hit that year. With so many young men out of work, who wouldn't want to take off to the South Seas as Joel McCrea did? I say young men because women for the most part were not considered part of the work force. I think the problem later on with this film after the Code came in was not the alleged nudity, you can't tell in any event. Both McCrea and Del Rio spend a lot of time in various stages of undress. Nor is it the interracial romance, Dorothy Lamour later carried on with a lot of anglo visitors in the South Seas with the Code in place. I think the real problem is that the film in its way respects the animist traditions of the native religion. They worship the volcano on that island and no missionaries are around to tell them different. After 1935 you would NEVER see Del Rio making ready to throw herself in the volcano to save her man and his friends. And this is in fact accepted. I'm sure Joel must have wished the missionaries had been there and had converted the natives. Bird of Paradise is dated, but still moderately entertaining.
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Wonderful pre-Code eroticism
laursene29 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Bird of Paradise must have been made to cash in on the success of Tabu, as well as the appetite the first of Weismuller's Tarzan movies stirred up for all things jungle (see Joel Macrea in a loincloth, swinging from tree to tree!). It's just as full of the era's embarrassing casual racism, in both dialog and the characterization of South Sea Island "natives." But King Vidor was the director, and together with his crew put together a beautiful visual piece that includes one fabulously erotic sequence. Toward the end [POSSIBLE SPOILER] Macrea's sailor is lying sick back in the ship's cabin. The chieftain's daughter (Del Rio) comes in and revives him by cupping her hands in water and letting it run into his mouth. In a VERY closeup shot, observe the quietly passionate expression on Del Rio's face. Just as he revives, she leaves the cabin to meet her fate. Hollywood wouldn't dare to infuse this much eroticism into an interracial relationship again for many years. Of course, the story here is pretty hackneyed: the "native" maiden's doomed discovery of love and her own otherness in the presence of the white man. But movies are about sight and sound, and such cliches become compelling when outstanding filmmakers are at work. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Del Rio fell out of favor after the Code came in: The Code was as much about race as about sex, and Del Rio's mere presence as a (light) brown-skinned woman in such a scenario was just too dubious, no matter how well-clothed she might be. Henceforth, we would get Dorothy Lamour in a sarong instead of the actress who Orson Welles called the most beautiful in the world. Back to Mexico she went.
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"You certainly make civilization look silly"
Steffi_P7 March 2010
There was a certain kind of picture in the "pre-code" era, in which the licentiousness of the times would throw up any kind of strange fantasy. In the most significant period of sexual liberation before the 1960s, and still in an era where plucking a bride from a primitive culture did not seem a bit dodgy, a picture like Bird of Paradise could exist. A yarn like this would be the stuff of corny B-flicks a few decades later, but back in 1932 it was acceptable A-feature material. So what we have here is a rather odd dichotomy. A daft storyline, yet one pulled off with panache. The producer and director is King Vidor, one of the most uniquely talented filmmakers of all time, and what's more he appears to have taken Bird of Paradise very seriously. His camera set-ups give an almost documentary feel to the proceedings. He doesn't force us in with point-of-view shots, or make us coldly objective, but often has us peeping over shoulders or from behind props, like an extra amid the action. This not only gives us the feeling of being there, it is also incredibly vivid and dynamic. He directs with a mixture of realism (most of the extras were genuine Polynesians) and bizarre stylisation, culminating in rituals which become macabre and frenzied riots. Bird of Paradise also includes a couple of "before they were famous" curios. Those wild tribal dances are choreographed by Busby Berkeley. His stark, abstract formations are already evident, and nicely suit the feel of this picture. Then there is music by Max Steiner, composing what happens to be one of the earliest examples of an orchestral backing score in a talking picture. Steiner's score is a little awkward in its mixing, but melodically it is fine, establishing themes for different characters, setting tones, matching action but never once threatening to upstage the images. Berkeley and Steiner would soon take up residence at Warner Brothers, and the rest would be history. Oh, and there's one more curio, in that you several times clearly hear the Hawaiian word "wiki", nearly seventy years before anyone thought of joining it to "pedia". The cast of Bird of Paradise are a rather odd bunch, but it doesn't seem to matter. The ship's crew members are filled out with a number of comedy supporting players, like 'Skeets' Gallagher and Bert Roach. They make the onboard scenes a little more interesting, but their appearances are fleeting and their performances muted enough that they never threaten to overbalance the picture or make it too farcical. Lead man Joel McCrea was a competent rather than an exceptional actor, but he has the ideal physique and manner for the character. Importantly he is also a generous player, who never attempts to steal the scene. And finally we have Dolores del Rio, of course looking far more Hispanic than Polynesian, but nevertheless convincing as a native woman, and certainly vivacious. In spite of, or perhaps because of the talkies being firmly established and no longer stilted, Bird of Paradise seems more than anything like a silent picture. It does not make do without dialogue, but what dialogue there is tends to be superfluous, the images speaking eloquently enough. In other words, you could have released it as a silent, and not needed many title cards. With its mystical, exotic tone we do not really need to hear the actors rabbiting on to retain a sense of naturalism. And yes, it does contain many moments that are somewhat laughable (such as Joel McCrea riding a turtle like it was a surfboard), but thanks to its inventive direction, spot-on casting, and professional production it manages, against all odds, to salvage some dignity.
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Love, Romance & A Volcano
Ron Oliver2 June 2000
A young man, sailing the South Seas with friends, is saved from a shark by a lovely chief's daughter. They fall madly in love, only to have him learn that his beautiful BIRD OF PARADISE is destined to be sacrificed to Pele, the volcano god. Essentially a piece of fluff, this film is enhanced by the performances of Dolores Del Rio & Joel McCrea. They handle the romantics quite nicely (her skinny dip providing proof this is a pre-Production Code movie). The rest of the cast, which includes Lon Chaney Jr. & 'Skeets' Gallagher, exist purely to provide support to the stars. Location filming in Hawaii and a beautiful, evocative score by Max Steiner emphasize the languid mood of the plot.
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Beautiful photography and music
earlytalkie15 May 2012
Bird of Paradise is based on a 1912 play and the story of the beautiful native girl being sacrificed to a volcano is probably familiar to most moviegoers, but it was done here first and it showcases it's beautiful stars, Dolores Del Rio and Joel McCrea. It features some of the most beautiful black-and-white photography I've ever seen, and the music by Max Steiner is lovely. This piece of exotica has gotten a bum rap by many reviewers in the past, but it stands as a pleasant time-waster that will pass about an hour-and-a-half painlessly enough. The Alpha DVD print shows scratches and wear, but not enough to mar the enjoyment of the film.
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An Enjoyable Way to Spend An Hour
timothymcclenaghan6 April 2007
While the plot of this film may seem trite to us today, it was fresh and original in 1932 when it was made. This may well have been the first "throw the girl into the volcano" movie. Considering the technical limitations of film-making in 1932, the photography and special effects are quite good: the whirlpool, the erupting volcano and the river of lava. Contradicting other postings to this website, I did not see a "rape" scene. What I saw was the male lead chase the female lead after she had been teasing him, then he wrestled her and pinned her down to introduce her to Western-style kissing. A rapist doesn't kiss his victim, and a rape victim would not want her attacker to continue kissing her. The action of the plot moves quickly and is never bogged down by the dialog. This is an entertaining film, which you could view as you would any antique: it's charming for the era in which it was created.
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Pre Code Hollywood
sbibb124 January 2004
This film is a good example of Pre-Code Hollywood Essentially the story of a sailor who falls in love with a native girl, this film has numerous examples of how Hollywood flourished before the production code set in some 3 years later. In most of the film Dolores Del Rio runs around in a straw skirt with nothing but a lei covering her breasts. In scenes where she is swimming, she appears to be totally nude with just some distortion in the water keeping us from seeing her totally naked. Also co-star Joel McCrea spends a good deal of the film walking around in his bathing suit. The love scenes between McCrea and Del Rio vary. The first time it looks like rape, and Del Rio looks like she is visibly in pain. 3 years later the production code would not permit a white man to wed or be romantically involved with anyone but a white woman. Among the crew of the ship is Richard "Skeets" Gallagher, who plays a stereotypically gay role, along with another sailor on the ship. This film is now in the public domain and can frequently be found on television, and is available on DVD.
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