Bird of Paradise (1932)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
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Critic Reviews for Bird of Paradise
If Bird of Paradise had used a director that knew how to loosen up but still become involved in the story, it might have had a more sensual, romantic feel in addition to its exoticism.
Audience Reviews for Bird of Paradise
It seems that there were two strands of films in the early 30's. Some embraced the challenges of creating dialogue driven films while others still pursued the privilege of images over dialogue. This film falls under the category of images. It does focus on presenting images above plot. In an early scene Dolores del Rio is swimming on her back alongside the boat of the new visitors from the west. Quite a physical feat, but understandable when viewed under the film's focus on images over plot.
A boat from the west is for some reason sailing along the Pacific ocean with Joel McCrea on board. Joel's character falls in love at first sight with Dolores' character. Much of the film also takes advantage of the inability of the characters to communicate to focus on creating images. In this case, it focuses on creating sexual images as far as it is allowed. Dolores does not wear much throughout the film, performs sensual dances and there is one swimming under water sequence where she is shown naked from the rear end. Dolores is a princess in the island and Joel is supposed to stay away from her because only a native prince can court her. When there is trouble, the natives determine that Dolores is supposed to be sacrificed to the island's volcano to appease it. Joel kidnaps her and they try to live together in a nearby uninhabited island.
The biggest drawback with the film is the use of so many stereotypes. The island natives are portrayed as "savages"; the princess is a sexually seductive foreigner that even goes out swimming naked near the boat of foreign visitors. The notion that they need a volcano sacrifice is such an erroneous and superficial view that makes the plot all the more anti-climactic. Looking back, such a plot makes sense in its 1932 context when misperceptions and stereotypes abounded concerning foreign societies. Although today there is still quite a bit going on given the recent lingerie advertising debacle and fraternity parties at universities where foreigners are viewed as mysterious and backwards. In a sense, we are still guilty as a society of the same stereotypes. At least in this film, the two protagonists take seriously their intentions of trying to make their relationship work despite the cultural gap (which is widened through stereotypes for heightened effect) that separates them.
This is a film that may have sinister anthropological contexts but is overall an interesting, romantic, and very well-done film for this era. I was impressed with the marked difference between this film and the 1932 Tarzan and wondered why this film was only moderately successful at the time...
This is a hard film to look at. On the one hand with modern sensibilities it's very easy to just cringe and toss this movie out as typical of the casual racism of the 30's and never look at it again. After all this movie was not lovingly kept in the archives. The DVD print I watched was falling apart and at times almost inaudible...
But there's something quite contrary when one puts on their 1932 cap. Just 2 years from this movie's make the puritanical Hayes Code would step in and make the very concept of an interracial relationship against the rules. The very fact that in 1932 an audience could go to the cinema and see a movie with all-American white Joel McCrea and Mexican star Delores Del Rio (who Orson Wells said was "the most interesting woman" he'd ever met) fall in love and act upon said love is insane at the very least. That kind of thing begs another look from this almost forgotten movie.
Let's not forget the insane eroticism of this movie. Del Rio walks around with a very carefully placed Lei and grass skirt... and not much else. According to film lore she was naked in the underwater shots but due to lighting and film degradation it's impossible to tell. McCrea (a damn good looking man) walks around towards the end of the film in little more than a big loin cloth. The scene where McCrea and Del Rio feed each other coconut milk and it slops over their mouths is practically a sexual encounter and all the other little instances make this the most sexualized pre-coder I've ever seen.
If nothing else see it for the fact that it is one of the few American talkies Del Rio ever made before the Hayes Code destroyed her career and she went back to Mexico.
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