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Based on the short story "Mr. Morgan" from "Return To Paradise" (James Michener's sequel to "Tales of the South Pacific"). Morgan (Gary Cooper), a drifter and soldier-of-fortune washes up on a Pacific island that is a small dictatorial state under the puritanic rule of Pastor Corbett (Barry Jones), a missionary. They conflict but Morgan stays on and carves out a cozy life. He has a child out of wedlock with island native Maeva (Roberta Haynes), but departs the island after her death, leaving the young daughter behind. He returns years later in search of his daughter. It is circa the early years of WW II, and he finds that his daughter has fallen in love with an American pilot who has crash-landed on the island. It appears that the pilot will do for the girl what Morgan did for her mother, and then depart. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Aspen Pictures, owned by Mark Robson and Robert Wise, bought two stories from James A. Michener's anthology "Return to Paradise." After Robson filmed one of the stories, "Mr. Morgan," as "Return to Paradise" with Gary Cooper, they ran out of funding and had to sell the rights to the other story, "Until They Sail" to Burt Lancaster. Some years later the it ended up with Charles Schnee at MGM. By then Wise was at Metro and requested to film the property. See more »
Return to Paradise's main problem is that Gary Cooper at 52 is way too old for the part of the hedonistic Mr. Morgan. The part should have been played by someone like Kirk Douglas, William Holden, or Burt Lancaster.
Having said that Coop does all right in the role of the man whose arrival on one of the islands of the Samoan archipelago changes all around him.
The story begins in the late twenties when Cooper is put ashore on an island that is ruled by a tyrannical missionary preacher, Barry Jones, who's got 'wardens' to make sure that his decrees about the island's morality is enforced. Instinctively he knows that Cooper's arrival means trouble for his social order and tries to order him off the island. He even has Cooper's fledgling grass hut torn down because he's working on the sabbath.
But Coop's independent ways spark the latent resistance growing in the population. His taking on the 'wardens' is all that's needed.
Cooper has also fallen in love with a young Samoan girl, the beautiful Roberta Haynes. When she dies in childbirth, he leaves and becomes a charter schooner captain. Years later he returns and has to face up to his responsibility as a father.
A lot of Return to Paradise is a test of wills between Cooper and Barry Jones and at first glance Jones's character almost seems a caricature of a fire and brimstone preacher. It's not by any means on several levels. In his later work Hawaii, author James Michener explores that whole angle of the American missionaries in the 19th century and their impact on that Polynesian culture.
As he says in the film, Jones's father was killed in a native uprising and his wife died in childbirth. It made him bitter at the world and resulted in his creating a Christian Taliban like state on the island.
But there's a lot more to Jones than that. It turns out that the natives really did want to hear the good parts of his gospel and did not slacken in church attendance. There's a scene in the film when he sees the natives coming into his church where instead of going to the pulpit, he sits in the congregation among the natives. It's more eloquent than ten pages of dialog.
Jones becomes a better man and a wiser preacher as a result of Cooper's rebellion. He turns out to be a wise counselor indeed, especially when Cooper returns to the island and faces a crisis about his now teenage daughter, Moira McDonald. Essentially Cooper and Jones heal each other of the flaws in their respective characters.
Return to Paradise boasted a nice title song that is heard throughout the film. Later on Bing Crosby also used it as the title track of an album he did of south sea music for Frank Sinatra's Reprise label. It was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington who last year gave Cooper that unforgettable theme from High Noon.
Filmed entirely on location on Samoa, it's a stunningly beautiful film to watch. You can't make a bad film from with that location.
It's one of Gary Cooper's lesser known works, but it's not a bad film and holds up well after over 50 years.
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