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South Of Pago Pago(1940)


ERROL23
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South Seas 1875.Bucko Larson(Victor McLaglen)head of a gang of pirates meets Manuel Ferro(Abner Biberman)another pirate, with word of an island with a fortune in pearls.Bucko decides to find the island bringing along Manuel who knows where the island is.The pirate also takes along Ruby Taylor(Francis Farmer)a barrom tart who Bucko feels might come in handy.

Once at the island,Manuel is killed.

The island chief,Kehane(Jon Hall)welcomes the pirates when they shower the people with gifts.Kehane and Ruby fall in love much to Buckos delight.Soon the couple go to a nearby island for the wedding ritual,Bucko and his men force the island people to dive for the jewels senselessly injuring and killing many of them.When the village doctor(Gene Lockhart)objects,he to is murdered.

Ruby and Kehane return,and the chief forbids his people to do anymore diving starting a war with the pirates.

 

 

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Mongo, you and I share a love of island movies. And I absolutely love "Bird of Paradise." Debra Paget made such a wonderful island girl. Another that I remember from my childhood is "East of Sumatra" with Jeff Chandler, Marilyn Maxwell, and the beautiful Suzan Ball, who was discussed earlier in the TRagic Lives forum. It was fun.

 

Terrence.

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Yes, I also enjoy South Sea island movies and like SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO. It's not in the same class as THE HURRICANE which is a better and more complex drama as well as adventure.

 

But as melodrama SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO works well on its own terms. It's interesting that at that time the Polynesian natives were shown as the good guys and the white characters are essentially the villains, or the real savages if you will. It should be pointed out that in those days Polynesians were usually depicted more sympathetically than Indians or black Americans and racism and exploitation against them could be attacked. Think of THE PAGAN (1929) or THE LAST OF THE PAGANS (1935).

This movie does carry things a little further. If the Polynesians are still stereotyped as childlike they are also seen as the embodiment of innocence. The pirates try to corrupt them with cheap consumer goods such as Western clothes, shoes, and knick-knacks but once recognizing the price they must pay for them, the natives reject them.

 

Balancing things out, the natives are seen as weak without their leader and not immune to pettiness. And the pirates are also bold in daring the odds.

 

 

Caught in the middle is Ruby played by Frances Farmer. She's essentially another cliche, the tart with the heart of gold but the movie sensitively shows how her goodness and lost innocence is revived by the islanders and the naive Kehane (Jon Hall). And Farmer rises to the occasion both as character and star. Both she and the native heroine (Olympia Bradna) play a role in getting the hero back on the right track.

 

 

Without going on too long here, let me just say despite its happy ending the movie still suggests darkly that the innocence of the island is doomed or an unusual exception. And while the natives leave a warning to white men who may find the ship were the pearls also left onboard?

 

 

If it's not as good as THE HURRICANE, SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO does show a little more of reality than the Maria Montez and other Dorothy Lamour sarong vehicles.

 

 

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>FredfronNJ writes:

>in those days Polynesians were usually depicted more sympathetically than Indians or black Americans

 

This is because Polynesians and Micronesians (but not Melanesians, for obvious reasons) were considered, if not Caucasian, at least descended from them.

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Polynesians may be descended from Caucasians and look more "white" than other groups but in these movies they are still pointedly referred to as not being white and since they refer to Westerners coming to their shoes as "white" they apparently do not consider themselves white either. I also think that another reason why they were portrayed more sympathetically is that Polynesians were relatively few on the U.S. mainland and existed in the popular imagination as being in some far-off exotic locale.

 

Still, it is striking how in this movie the Manoan natives rise up en masse and wipe out the white men who have exploited and tormented them and the 1940 audience is totally on their side.

 

And for her defense of Kehane, Ruby is ultimately recognized and honored as not being one of the white people but in her heart "one of us."

 

 

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Europeans and Americans viewed pacfic populations as descended from Caucasians, but inferior to present day whites. It fit in with convenient romantic fancies. There is some dim historic evidence that can be interpreted as supporting this theory. It was not entertained by the Polynesians themselves. I do not know if genetic testing has established any connections between Pacific populations and populations on the Asiatic continent.

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Just reflecting a bit more on the climax of the 1940 SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO, it strikes me that I can't recall anything like that in a movie up to that time. Was there a film where the natives wipe out a whole ship load of white characters and are shown to be totally in the right? The happy epilogue shows the natives celebrating Kehane's wedding with not a white man in sight although his bride concedes that in some things the white men are right. (They kiss.)

 

In films like WHITE SHADOWS OF THE SOUTH SEAS, the Polynesians suffer injustice from whites but are powerless to stop it. In THE PAGAN, Ramon Novarro is able to rescue his lover (and fellow "half-breed") from the clutches of a villain who wants to Europeanize her but this is the case of a couple defeating a single white baddie. Is there a case of natives, again with complete justification and no ambiguity, wiping out a large contingent of white oppressors.

 

I suspect that there are some silent films where the Indians are shown justifiably massacring a group of whites but I can't identify one offhand.

 

Does anyone recall a similar ending in that time frame in a Western, South Sea adventure, whatever?

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Although HIS MAJESTY O'KEEFE came over a decade later with increasingly more liberal attitudes on race, I think you raise an interesting point. Burt Lancaster, a white hero, leads the fight for liberation here. In this he is aligned with various other white heroes who take the leadership role in the natives' struggle for freedom, most recently in AVATAR.

 

 

However, going back again to SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO in 1940, the uprising is led by the Polynesian chieftan played by Jon Hall. There is one white man in the island who does try to pre-empt him in leading the natives to fight back but he is a dissolute, drunken figure played by Gene Lockhart whose attempt while well-intentioned is ineffectual. So it is the natives, who essentially without white help, attack and do away with the white pirates despite their modern weapons. The only white assistance comes from a woman, the prostitute Ruby, who takes the bullet meant for Kehane. So SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO is by today's standards very politically correct although it must have been seen as politically incorrect at the time. But that's what makes it interesting when a movie goes against the grain. And even compared to a contemporary film like AVATAR, SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO took a more daring route.

 

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Films like His Majesty O'Keefe and Avatar, while less racist than other films, are still patronizing in their attitude. Only the white people are powerful agents for evil, or good. To find a comparable film you may have to look at other places around the world where European culture comes into contact with natives; the American West, or Africa, perhaps. I can think of Little Big Man, for one.

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Yes and even LITTLE BIG MAN was seen completely through the eyes of a white character although the mvoie does challenge the sense of where one's identity lies.

 

So for a relatively unheralded film, SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO was distinctive especially for its time. It did help that the Polynesian hero Jon Hall was very appealing to female viewers in his loincloth.

 

But I also believe Hall said he had some Tahitian ancestry.

 

 

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I'd say that *Little Big Man* is largely from the point of view of the Indians, but related to us by a white man living as an Indian. There is a difference. Also, in *Little Big Man*, Jack Crabbe is not some sort of hero-leader that the Indians need to follow, unlike the other patronizing films mentioned. I actually happened to read the book Little Big Man before the film came out. The book is a great read, and the film is rather faithful to it.

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Valentine,

 

 

I do quite agree with your point that in LITTLE BIG MAN, Jack Crabbe does not become a white hero-leader as in other films. However, I can't subscribe to your statement that the story "is largely from the point of view of the Indians, but related to us by a white man living as an Indian."

 

First of all, both in the movie and novel by Thomas Berger the story is told by a man over one hundred years old, not living with Indians but, as cited by the book, in the Marville Center for Senior Citizens. So everything related occurred long ago and it is left to the viewer or reader to determine how accurate Jack's memory is of these long past events.

 

Also, both in book and movie the protagonist moves back and forth from living with whites to living with Indians. There is a shift in tone each time, perhaps particularly in the movie which I remember more vividly. When Jack is in white society, nearly everything has a satiric edge. When he is with the Indians, nearly everything is idealized.

The movie certainly makes valid points about the appalling mistreatment of Native Americans. But by this breadown between the "idealized" and the "satiric," the Sioux "are portrayed less as flesh-and-blood characters but as "noble redmen" to point up the shortcomings in white society. This point of view while sympathetic does not really give us the Indians' viewpoint. The audience's identification is certainly with this white character, and he is there even at Custer's Last Stand to have our sympathy and survive the battle.

 

 

LITTLE BIG MAN was certainly ambitious as both film and novel. And this again brings us back to SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO which was certainly not viewed at the time as an ambitious film but as just another exotic Hollywood melodrama. And yet it seems to have broken rules that other movies at the time did not and that even ambitious films of later eras would not cross.

 

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Acute analysis. In the same line of Little Big Man, where there is sympathy for the aboriginal population, yet still the Western perspective, with Western protagonists, there is Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad. (It has just occurred to me that, despite Conrad's greatness as an author, his works have not often been adapted for film, a glaring oversight.)

 

I have not seen Aguirre in a long time, but if I remember correctly, the destruction of the Europeans is the result of both their internal decadence, and attacks by the Amazonians. They remain, however as an impersonal source of danger and death, the story still being all about the Westerners and their magnificent tragedy.

 

Lord Jim is a little more complicated, in that there are Europeans contesting against each other, along with native populations and warlords. But here at least the Malayans are in the foreground equally with the Europeans, even though the Europeans still remain the protagonists. Although the natives succeed in their struggles against indigenous and foreign tyranny, the ending on a personal level is ambivalent, as is usual with Conrad whenever he leaves the sea and ventures upriver, or inland.

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You make some valid points. But, I still maintain that Jack Crabbe, while an individual, and a white man, at least saw things from the Indian's point of view, and was trying to relate that. Certainly, that is the way it comes across in the movie, which I have seen often, and far more recently that I read the book. Yes, there is idealization of the Sioux, and satiric, acerbic views of the whites. But, I would say that comports with the Sioux's views. Jack can just add more detail about the whites, since he was one.

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Valentin, I think you also make some valid points. Jack Crabbe does give us many aspects of the Sioux point of view. However, he does have the ability to go back and forth between the two worlds without much trouble, something which the Sioux of this time could not do so his viewpoint cannot be exactly the same as that of the Sioux.

 

Without try to parse the differences in greater detail, I think the major point here is that it was still necessary to have a white character translate the Sioux viewpoint to us rather than let us simply see it through the Indians' own eyes.

 

Of course, this is not necessarily easy. One might even take the viewpoint that unless the writers, director and actors are Native-Americans, then it cannot be from the Indian point of view. And being able to do this in a commercial film is even more difficult.

 

I also appreciate slaytonf's observations which demonstrate that this is not just a "Hollywood problem." Even in the literary world and even with a great writer like Conrad, the thorny problems of identity remain.

 

 

Again going back to SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO, which seems to be getting lost in the shuffle, it was a film with no pretensions of making a political statement or of having some ethnographical value, just being an escapist adventure story. But it did use some interesting strategies.

 

The first part of the film back in Shanghai is, of course, completely from the viewpoint of the white characters. In fact, the pirates initially seem sympathetic as they save Ruby from the abuse of an obnoxious drunk.

It's only when they arrive at the island of Manoa and the pirates commit heir first heinous act, killing the man who told them about the island and its pearls, that the viewpoint suddenly shifts to the islanders. It should also be noted that when the man is murdered, Ruby is the only one on the boat who openly acknowledges that something wrong has happened.

After we get to meet the native leads, Kehane and Melahi (Hall and Olympia Bradne), Ruby becomes our focus of identification on the white side and through her eyes we get to appreciate the goodness of the natives.

Later, we get to meet Lindsay (Lockhart), the white man who lives on island and is grateful for not having seen another white man for years.

 

It is later when Lindsay is dying from a run-in with the pirates, that he makes the observation that there were other islands like this ruined by their encounter with civilization. Ruby is now the audience's chief source of identification although the audience has also been permitted to emphathize with Melahi who thinks she is losing her man to the white woman.

 

So when Ruby makes her sacrifice to let Melahi take back Kehane we are seeing the story from the viewpoint of the two women.

 

Later as Kehane rallies his people to fight the pirates, he becomes the primary point of view and this continues through the action scenes.

 

By the time of the battle and its aftermath (save for a brief scene with Ruby) the audience has been given over completely to the viewpoint of the natives. And this holds to the happy ending with its wedding celebration. Unlike the previous wedding there are now no white people in sight.

 

It is interesting how these shifting viewpoints manage to maintain the audience's sympathies so that they will be content with the end of the film.

 

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I've noticed that not only SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO but a a good number of the Edward Small productions of the 1940s have not been visible on TV or video for years.

 

 

Does anyone know of any current legal or rights problem involving those pictures.

 

I suspect that if there is not a dispute, whoever has the rights may be just sitting on the films for some reason.

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