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ALOMA OF THE SOUTH SEAS is typical of a series of pictures made by Paramount Studios during the late '30s and early '40s, set on some far-off tropical island paradise with a sarong-clad Dorothy Lamour. While these features may have wanted for sophistication and better production values, box office returns clearly indicated that American audiences, weary of a debilitating depression and a demanding war effort, were more than willing to buy tickets to a proxy Polynesia for an hour and a half's escape from reality.
Escape from reality is right, because these movies were as far removed from reality as the Oort Cloud is from the Earth. But they were popular enough to make the unpretentious Miss Lamour one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood at the time. In fact, she is the main reason I purchased a copy of this film from an online source, though more for its historical value than for any erudition one might expect. As a movie collector, I wanted to have at least one Dorothy Lamour sarong picture in which she was not accompanied by Crosby and Hope and this - THE HURRICANE notwithstanding - is the one I liked best.
Not that it is a good movie. It isn't but, to be enjoyed at all, it must be viewed within the context of its time. The plot is almost non-existent. It's the old eternal triangle in which two erstwhile boyhood friends Tanoa (Jon Hall) and Revo (Philip Reed) vie for the hand of Aloma (Lamour). That's it! There is a faint hint of some kind of island revolt but it never materializes, so the only question is who will be left to embrace Aloma at the fadeout. Incredibly, the situation is resolved not through the efforts or ingenuity of any of the principals, but by a convenient geological cataclysm: a spectacular volcanic eruption that's actually worth waiting for (and explains my overly generous rating of 8).
Dorothy Lamour does well enough in her lightweight role as the island maiden, but Jon Hall is too beefy to pass for the virile Polynesian native chieftain in a skimpy wrap-around. He is also betrayed by the script. As a leader of his people who had studied in America (including Harvard, of all places) he has absolutely nothing to do except moon over Miss Lamour (Nice work, if you can get it!). As for the islanders themselves, they come out in droves for the ritualistic dances but, at all other times, are noticeably absent.
Yet, even left as is, ALOMA could have benefited immeasurably from actual outdoor locations, as did the silent 1926 version which was shot in Puerto Rico and Bermuda. By confining filming to a sound stage, Paramount left us with a claustrophobic effect that looks more like the interior of a lush greenhouse than sultry island.
In her autobiography, "My Side of the Road," Dorothy Lamour recalled, with some amusement, a harrowing experience while filming ALOMA. "During the volcanic explosion, I was supposed to swing across a gorge from one ledge to another. I didn't push off hard enough and was short of my target. Then, as I swung back, I couldn't reach the other ledge either. The crew urged me to jump but it looked like too far a drop so I clung to the vine for dear life. As I struggled to stay on, I felt my sarong coming loose and it finally slipped off. Everyone was laughing but I wouldn't dare let go of the vine until I was rescued." The scene was reshot with Lamour clinging to Jon Hall.
ALOMA OF THE SOUTH SEAS is a movie that can be enjoyed, but only if viewed as a diversion; otherwise, it will seem antiquated and silly.
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