AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Bird of Paradise
Director: King Vidor (Dir)
Release Date:   12 Aug 1932
Duration (in mins):   80
Duration (in reels):   9
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Cast:   Dolores Del Rio (Luana)  
    Joel McCrea (Johnny [Baker])  
    John Halliday (Mac)  
    Richard "Skeets" Gallagher (Steve)  
    Bert Roach (Hector)  
    Creighton Chaney (Thorton)  
    Wade Boteler (Skipper Johnson)  
    Arnold Gray (Walker)  
    Reginald Simpson (O'Fallon)  
    Napoleon Pukui (The King)  
    Agostino Borgato (Medicine man)  
    Sophie Ortega (Native woman)  

Summary: While cruising the South Seas Islands in a yacht, Johnny, a virile young sailor, encounters Luana, the beautiful daughter of an island native chief. Mesmerized by Luana's sensuous charms, Johnny decides to spend a few weeks on her remote volcanic island and bids his shipmates goodbye. Although he has been warned that she is "taboo" and cannot be "touched" because she is promised to a neighboring native prince, Johnny pursues Luana, and she encourages his advances. After she is caught kissing Johnny, Luana is dragged back to her camp by her angry father and the tribe's medicine man. Later, a sympathetic native woman informs the banished Johnny that Luana's wedding is about to take place. Johnny follows the wedding party and, during the pre-nuptual dancing, snatches Luana and carries her off to another island. On "Paradise," their private island refuge, Johnny and Luana live in romantic bliss for several weeks. However, while Johnny is dreaming of showing Luana the lights of San Francisco, Luana begins to worry about the curse of the volcano Pele, which stipulates that when Pele erupts, she must be sacrificed. As feared, Pele begins to erupt, and tribesmen, led by the medicine man, come to claim Luana. Johnny pursues Luana and, after nearly drowning in a whirlpool, is seized by tribesmen, who pierce him with a poison arrow. Tied to a stake at the mouth of the bubbling volcano, Johnny is about to die with Luana when his shipmates arrive and rescue them. Nobly accepting her fate, Luana, who believes that Johnny will die from fever unless she sacrifices herself, leaves the white men's boat with her tribesmen and gives herself to the fiery volcano. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: King Vidor's Production
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: King Vidor (Dir)
  Lucky Humberstone (Asst dir)
  Fred Fleck (Asst dir)
Producer: David O. Selznick (Exec prod)
Writer: Wells Root (Scr)
  Wanda Tuchock (Scr)
  Leonard Praskins (Scr)
Photography: Clyde DeVinna (Photog)
  Edward Cronjager (Photog)
  Lucien Andriot (Photog)
  Edward Pyle (Cam op)
  Charles Burke (Asst cam)
  Charles Stumar (Asst cam)
Art Direction: Carroll Clark (Art dir)
Film Editor: Archie F. Marshek (Film ed)
Music: Max Steiner (Mus)
Sound: Clem Portman (Rec)
Special Effects: Lloyd Knechtel (Photog eff)
Dance: Busby Berkeley (Choreographer)
Production Misc: John E. Burch (Prod supv)
  Robert Coburn (Still photog)
Country: United States

Source Text: Suggested by the play The Bird of Paradise by Richard Walton Tully (New York, 8 Jan 1912).
Authors: Richard Walton Tully

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO-Radio Pictures, Inc. 20/8/1932 dd/mm/yyyy LP3215

Physical Properties: Sd:

Genre: Adventure
Sub-Genre: Island
Subjects (Major): Americans in foreign countries
  Love affairs
  South Sea islands
Subjects (Minor): Abduction
  Cultural conflict
  Medicine men
  Rites and ceremonies
  Tribal chiefs
  Yachts and yachting

Note: Onscreen credits call the film "King Vidor's Production," but Vidor is not given a separate directorial credit. HR reported that RKO purchased the Tully play for $375,000. RKO borrowed King Vidor from M-G-M for the production. An early pre-production news item in FD announced Herbert Brenon as the assigned director. According to modern sources, M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer was persuaded to lend Vidor to RKO at the special request of his son-in-law, David Selznick. A May 1931 FD news item announced that Bird of Paradise was to be shot in the "recently improved Technicolor process." This plan was apparently abandoned, however. According to studio production files, some of the exteriors of the film were shot on the Hawaiian Islands. Location shooting, which was plagued by a drenching, windy "Kona storm," began on 7 Feb 1932 and was completed on 8 Mar 1932. The weather was so stormy and unpredictable that much of the script was abandoned or rewritten to accommodate the changing shooting conditions. Production supervisor John E. Burch complained in Western Union telegrams and letters to RKO executive Val Paul that none of the Hawaiian locations were "primitive" enough for the story's demands and had to be altered or built upon to satisfy Vidor. In his autobiography, Vidor confirms his dissatisfaction with the Hawaiian settings and the chaotic scriptwriting process. In a modern interview, Vidor describes how he and his cinematographer filmed the underwater love scenes: "I had an idea to try to make a back light out of the bubbles. I had a boat then, and we could fish at night, and I had seen the phosphorescent light that some fish have. I thought if we could have a back light in a similar way, we could have a great love scene under the water." Vidor adds that, despite his efforts, he was "a little disappointed" with the scenes. According to a Feb 1932 FD news item, Busby Berkeley was hired by RKO to "put a chorus through its paces" during the production. In the modern interview, Vidor confirms that Berkeley choreographed the village dance scene.
       According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPPA, suggested in a 16 Jan 1932 letter to Selznick that certain lines and shots be eliminated or altered, including a shot showing a baby feeding at her mother's breast and shots depicting the sacrifice of a chicken. Although various state censorship boards objected to some of the dancing scenes, only British Columbia objected to the closeups of Dolores Del Rio swimming half-naked underwater. Pennsylvania censors objected to a scene in which a "small boy, with Johnny's shirt on standing with back to camera, when you see a shadow of his sex on the shirt." Modern sources and Vidor's autobiography mention that other scenes were shot on Santa Catalina Island, at the RKO-Pathé lot in Culver City, where a "native" village was built, and at a water tank at the First National lot in Burbank. According to HR , the film's much publicized production problems and its $1,000,000 budget made it the "brunt of more gags than anything that has ever happened around the town since Cecil B. DeMille was in production with the King of Kings [1926]." A modern source, which lists the film's budget as $752,000, claims that Max Steiner spent $20,000 to purchase marimbas, ukeleles, steel guitars and vibraphones for the production. Bird of Paradise was remade with Louis Jordan and Debra Paget in 1951 by Twentieth Century-Fox. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   13 May 31   p. 6.
Film Daily   18 Oct 31   p. 4.
Film Daily   18 Feb 32   p. 8.
Film Daily   12 Aug 32   p. 3.
Film Daily   9 Sep 32   pp. 4-5.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Sep 32   p. 4.
International Photographer   1 Aug 32   p. 31.
Motion Picture Herald   25 Jun 32   p. 25.
New York Times   10 Sep 32   p. 18.
Variety   13 Sep 32   p. 19.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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