(Average=3.55 out of 5; Total Number=11)
Strange, Engrossing (rating=3)
Strange and amateurish in many regards, yet fascinating and engrossing in its own way, this David O. Selznick production is the original "Bird of Paradise" -- not the 1950s remake starring Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan, which will make for an interesting comparison if it's ever released on DVD.
The stars of this one, Joel McCrea and Delores Del Rio, make quite a strange pair. Joel seems like a hayseed just off farm (his dialogue is peppered with "huhs?" and "whats?" as he seeks to communicate with the mysterious island beauty, Delores). As for Dolores, she seems to belong in a different, and probably more interesting, movie than this one. And even her fabled nude swim scene is pretty tame and unimpressive.
The movie was filmed on location in 1930s Hawaii. Although the focus always seems a bit off, the scenery is still beautiful -- and a good reminder of what Hawaii must have been like before "they paved paradise and put up a pink hotel (the Sheraton Waikiki by the way)." There's also quite a bit of underwater photography, which is pretty impressive given that this movie was filmed approximately 70 years ago.
Cheap and fun, this "Bird" is worth looking into if you're interested in old movies, and if you'd like to see what David Selznick was up to just a few short years before filming his masterpiece, "Gone with the Wind."
One Film's A Turkey, The Other's Kinda Fun (rating=3)
This DVD gathers two little-known, lesser films of the early sound era. "BIRD OF PARADISE" is an incredibly offensive exercise in exoticized racism, charmingly set in the Hawaiian Islands, and featuring a callow young Joel McCrea as the studly white guy who hooks up with the local chieftain's "tabu" daughter (played by Dolores Del Rio, who I find kind of icky). It's the same sort of dazzle-them-with-modern-gadgets-before-they-throw-us-in-the-volcano plot that was explored a few years later in "Waikiki Wedding" (which is a much more charming movie...), here handled clumsily by director King Vidor. (And I'm not being touchie-feelie or overly sensitive in a hyper-PC way, the racism of the script is very explicit, particularly in the dialog, but also in the plotline...) There's a modicum of interesting, reasonably authentic Polynesian dancing (some of which was choreographed, unremarkably, by Busby Berkeley), and the indigenous cast speaks in real Hawaiian, but in the main part this is simply an exploitative and unentertaining film. By contrast, "THE LADY REFUSES" is a B-movie with a heart of gold, featuring Betty Compson as a London streetwalker who enters an aristocratic family torn apart by a Jazz Age generation gap. Although the script contorts wildly to avoid offensive language, the underlying content is pretty raunchy, and pretty overt. Compson had an unusual onscreen presence -- compelling, although not as picture-perfect pretty as the starlet that would later flood Hollywood. Gilbert Emery, as the family father, Sir Gerald Courtney, is also quite charming. For folks looking for fun pre-Code material, this is a film worth checking out.
Hope I Like It (rating=5)
I have only seen the 1951 remake of Bird of Paradise when I was a lot younger and I loved it then! I have been relentlessly searching for the 1951 version, but to no avail. Apparently, it was never made on VHS or DVD...I just ordered the 1932 version and hope it is like I remembered. I'm sure it will be slightly different than the one with Debra Paget, but if the storyline is the same, I will enjoy it just as much. I would still like the 1951 version. Chip Kaufmann in his review seems to be very knowledgeable in the movie industry even though he thought the other version was "lame". If anyone knows how I can get a copy of the '51 version, I would be very interested.