Bird of Paradise (1951)

Article 2470 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2008
Posting Date: 5-17-2008
Directed by Delmer Daves
Featuring Debra Paget, Louis Jordan, Jeff Chandler
Country: USA

A Frenchman comes to a Polynesian island with a returning native and decides to stay there when he falls in love with the chief’s daughter. However, he has to be careful not to break the tribal taboos, and he has to contend with the Kahuna, the local witch doctor who does not approve of him.

I’ve heard this movie denigrated quite a bit, primarily for two reasons. The first is that the story is old-fashioned and hokey, and, what with the maiden sacrifice to the volcano, I suppose it is. The other is with the casting, with Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget and Yiddish stage actor Maurice Schwartz as Polynesians. But anyone who has enough experience with older films should be able to get around the latter problem, and, as far as I’m concerned, the actors do a convincing enough job so the illusion is not broken. For me, the movie has one thing really going for it; the native dances and rituals are extremely convincing, and the opening credits claim they were based on real Polynesian dances and rituals. This gives the movie that extra sense of verisimilitude, and I really felt like I was being transported into another culture, which is something I always enjoy in a movie. The fantastic content is that some of the native beliefs have a reality in the story; a woman walks across hot coals without burning herself, a waterfall turns red with blood at one point, and the solution to the problem of the erupting volcano seems to work.



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