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Invitation to a Special Island


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Here are a few films that should take you away from our bright, guilty world. I hope that you'll add your own suggestions as well:


Bird of Paradise (both versions).


Bird of Paradise (1932)

This movie not only takes you away to the South Seas, but also to another time and remote world view. It was scandalous at the time of production for its naturalism.


~On the positive side it has a very beautiful Delores Del Rio in a pre-code movie, long before she seems to have evolved into a saintly Madonna, (see John Ford?s The Fugitive or Cheyenne Autumn, for examples of the latter). She spends most of the movie running around in a grass skirt and a lei and is a lovely sight. It also has a very young, and in his own way, lovely Joel McCrea as the Western lad. He swings around a lot like Johnny Weismuller in the then recent Tarzan flick. There?s a romantic eroticism here that many feel evaporated from Hollywood movies for a couple of decades. There is also a beautiful score by Max Steiner.


~ On the negative side, the 1932 version has some b&w location shots of Pacific islands along with some jarringly obvious studio work, and let?s not even get started on the implicit and explicit racism in this movie.


Bird of Paradise (1951)

This lushly beautiful color film is distinguished by deeper characterizations and a more respectful presentation of an exotic way of life and culture.


~ Positives here include the cinematography & location work (filmed in Hawaii), the actors, with, for once, a sincere and charming Louis Jourdan & an enchanting, believable Debra Paget as the trans-cultural couple. Jeff Chandler as Paget?s brother and sort of Jourdan?s tour guide is just dandy and very easy on the eye. Exemplary work is turned in by Everett Sloane as an outcast. Sloane steals each of his dark scenes, and even an erupting volcano has a tough time competing with this very great character actor.


~Interestingly, I?ve met a few people over the years from Samoa and Bali, and discussed this film with them. Each of them has said that the sprit of their society is captured quite well in this film?which also deals with the gulf between Westerners and Pacific Rim people in a matter of fact way that?s refreshing.


The following two seem to be completely unavailable and are never shown on cable or broadcast tv anymore. WHY?? Anyone who saw either of them at an impressionable age cannot forget them. Please, TCM or somebody---resurrect these beauties:


Our Virgin Island (1958)

This small, unpretentious fairy tale set in the British Virgin Islands tells the story of a young couple who surprise themselves with their own sense of adventure.


~ John Cassavetes and the lovely British actress Virginia Maskell (who,sadly, died far too young), meet, fall in love and impulsively set up housekeeping on a tiny Caribbean isle after Maskell literally leaps overboard from a cruise ship to join him. The light, the beauty, the simplicity, grand isolation and sensuality of the setting make the island and the sea and wind other characters in this story. A young, bemused Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee round out the tale as the couple?s friends.


The Blue Lagoon(1949)

No, not the Brooke Shields/Christopher Atkins version, but the British version with a seraphically beautiful teenage Jean Simmons and Donald Houston as the kid castaways. In this version, they survive a shipwreck, have a baby, dive for pearls, meet baddies Cyril Cusack as well as, if memory serves me, a giant squid. This is all presented in a dreamlike manner, with the two very young leads imbuing this story with an almost mythic, beguiling naivete.


~ Even though this is apparently a completely studio-made film, my vivid memory of it is that in watching it, the viewer can practically taste the sea salt in the air and feel the warm breeze on your arm. This may, of course, be an adolescent memory, but perhaps it was also due to the British cinematographers? capacity for manipulating color film to enhance a moviegoing experience.*


* Interestingly, I heard the estimable Robert Osborne declare recently that color in English movies had that dreamlike quality, (as in Black Narcissus) due to the mineral content of the water in which the film was prepared. Having read Jack Cardiff's bio a while back, I can't recall his mentioning this but I'm sure that there are more technically knowledgable souls reading this who can verify if that might be true. Anybody?

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