I got to watch a real gem the other day. Netflix is streaming on Instant iconic cinematic breakthrough film from the pre-code era titled Bird of Paradise (1932). It stars pretty boy and Hollywood home-body Joel McCrea and fiery curvy diva from Mexico and Orson Welles paramour, Dolores Del Rio.
This film was directed by the aptly named renegade and true visionary King Vidor, who was along with C.B. Demille and D.W. Griffith a founding father in cinema form. Ok on to the exciting stuff...
The plot of this film could not be more campy: buff sailor gets rescued from a shark by a busty and flirty Polynesian island native lady and they fall in love. there are lots of dancing in front of the fire scenes, lots of natives tying up the protagonists, coconut milk drinking and spilling and nude swimming. It's pretty fabulous. Of course she's set to marry some other native prince character, but their love and loins keeps them from being torn apart. We all think of infamous pre-code nude swimming scenes to be from the Tarzan franchise with Johnny Weissmuller, but in fact they originated in Bird of Paradise. Of course rumors flew all over the place as they usually do about Dolores Del Rio wearing nothing but her shell necklace while filming the scenes in front of a large all-male crew, instead of the requisite beige body suit, but the lighting really does prevent even the most sharp-eyed viewer from making an educated guess. I believe it.
|The grande dame Del Rio at home in her pool in her later years, still looking confident, beautiful, and unbelievably sensual.|
Let's get this out of the way, the film is hugely chauvinistic. The sailor character of Johnny appears to constantly too sweaty, and about a lemon wedge away from a scurvy outbreak and with just the most disgusting things to say, that is to a contemporary audience such as: 'i'll teach you to run away from me' and 'oh you'd love civilization, you just don't know it yet'.
Dolores' role as primitive and seductive Luanna, his love interest is none the less an empowering interpretation, even though she spends a lot of the film talking gibberish in a shrill high pitched voice and being far too excited about everything...oh and topless. Remember people, this is a pre-code film, even though it was the 30's they were still pretty raunchy. On the whole it is the precursor to such fine film classics like Blue Lagoon (1980) but the cinematic quality of it is on a grand and massive scale. The photography, and the scope are really phenomenal and even though it's very almost laughable with sardonic qualities, as a dirty film, it's one of the best, and definitely a trailblazer for a whole sub-genre for generations to come. I definitely recommend it. Also, just to bring the point home. Dolores Del Rio was a powerhouse. She was a cinematic treasure and perhaps one of the most overtly sexual presences on screen. Too much woman for many men and even Orson Welles. How many can we say that about?