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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
After a long absense from the island, Chester Tuttle returns to Tahiti to find that little has changed. His large family, particularly his scheming Uncle Jonas, would rather dance and romance than earn a living. When Jonas loses the family plantation in a cockfight, Chester saves the day by towing in a large ship abandoned at sea and claiming the salvage. But opening a joint bank account in the name of the Tuttle clan may not have been a wise decision.... Written by
Chris Stone <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In his third trip to the South Seas Charles Laughton plays the head of the Tuttle clan in The Tuttles Of Tahiti. This was definitely a more pleasant time than the first trip.
Laughton as we know was the infamous Captain Bligh in Mutiny On The Bounty the first time he was in the Pacific. His second role was as a lazy beachcomber reformed somewhat by missionary Elsa Lanchester in the film of the same name.
But if Elsa thought Charles was a challenge in The Beachcomber she'd flee back to England if she had to deal with The Tuttles Of Tahiti. Imagine a whole family of Ginger Teds, Laughton's character from The Beachcomber. This is a family of them, but even for them Laughton is a trial.
Even in the idyllic life of the South Seas there is a minimum amount of work to be done. In fact at one point the Tuttles are doing just that, fishing, and not just for everyone's individual dinner. But as they come upon a school of fish, their boat runs out of gasoline they thought they had. It seems as though Laughton emptied the tank and sold the gas to bet on a cock fight.
That scene also illustrated to me the inevitable tide of civilization even in small ways. For myself I was wondering why the Tuttle clan just didn't revert to the outrigger canoes of their culture and fish from them? Maybe in fact they'd lost the ability to use them though I find that hard to believe.
A certain ring of authenticity was present in the film with the casting of Jon Hall as the young scion of the Tuttle clan whose return home opens the film. Hall was in fact of Polynesian ancestry on his mother's side. And in the Dorothy Lamour role probably because RKO couldn't borrow Lamour from Paramount is Peggy Drake.
Laughton's best scenes are with Florence Bates who is the dowager queen of another clan which has a good natured rivalry with the Tuttles. They seem however to be grounded a bit more in reality. Bates while good might also have been a second choice as probably RKO would have wanted Elsa Lanchester.
Curt Bois has an interesting part as a local merchant and a real sneak besides, a typical role for him. He seems to delight in keeping the Tuttles consistently in his debt.
The Tuttles Of Tahiti flopped badly at the box office. Probably because in 1942 the South Seas was being invaded and America was sending its young people to chase the invaders away. Such fantasy films like The Tuttles Of Tahiti would have no place that year. Two years earlier and RKO and Charles Laughton might have had a hit.
Still viewed today it's a nice work and Laughton is brilliant as usual.
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