This week’s mystery movie has been the 1932 RKO film “Bird of Paradise,” with Dolores del Rio, Joel McCrea, John Halliday, Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, Bert Roach, Creighton Chaney, Wade Boteler, Arnold Gray, Reginald Simpson, Napoleon Pukui, Agostino Borgato and Sofia Ortega. The screenplay was by Wells Root, Wanda Tuchock and Leonard Praskins, suggested by a play by Richard Walton Tully. Music by Max Steiner, art direction by Carroll Clark, photography by Clyde DeVinna, Edward Cronjager and Lucien Andriot, with photographic effects by Lloyd Knechtel. The executive producer was David O. Selznick, the director was King Vidor.
“Bird of Paradise” is available on DVD from Amazon.
“Bird of Paradise” opens in Los Angeles, Sept. 2, 1932.
“Bird of Paradise” was one of 11 films, also including “The Lost Squadron,” announced by David O. Selznick in late 1931 as the new executive vice president in charge of production.
Writing about a preview, Los Angeles Times film critic Edwin Schallert said (July 25, 1932):
King Vidor has turned loose more theatrical effects in “The Bird of Paradise” … than the screen has offered in many months. He offers a shark fight, underwater swimming marathon between hero and Luana, a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a whirlpool in the ocean which swamps a boat. It looks as if C.B. DeMille had been busy on the picture rather than Vidor. The opening of the Red Sea is about the only thing missing.
The poor old idyllic “Bird of Paradise” is broken on the wheel of weird, wild movie action and sound effects, not to say sizzling sensuosity. The music consists of no soft guitar strumming, or steel-guitar whining. The score is operatic in scope. The music of the accompaniment is almost continuous.
The picture just falls short of being a movie milestone: it could have been that were genuine emotion in all the happenings. It is, in some ways, the fiercest outburst of theatercalism that the talkies have ventured, and one wonders about its fate at the box office, although I believe it will attract a lot of attention. I know one thing I wouldn’t have missed those camera effects.
Dolores del Rio and Joel McCrea are the hot-cha lovers.
The film received a warmer review in the Los Angeles Times from Whitney Williams (Aug. 7, 1932):
After establishing itself as one of the classics of the American stage, “Bird of Paradise” emerges on the screen as a beautifully photographed, idyllically treated melodrama, starring Dolores del Rio. Despite radical changes in the plot, the spirit of the original has been caught with a sincere regard to details and the whole effect spells a pleasant hour’s entertainment.
Parenthetical note: Williams says: “A new dramatic actor looms upon the cinema horizon in the person of Charles Laughton, from the London stage. While his American debut picture, “Devil and the Deep,” co-starring Tallulah Bankhead and Gary Cooper, is a pretty sorry spectacle of filmmaking, its saving grace is the performance of Laughton as the English submarine commander who goes insane with jealousy and sinks the underwater craft with all aboard.
The film opened in Los Angeles at the Orpheum on Sept. 2, 1932, and was formally reviewed in the Los Angeles Times by Philip K. Scheuer (Sept. 5, 1932), who called it “a second-rate melodrama.”
Writing in the New York Times (Sept. 10, 1932), M.H. said:
Out of Richard Walton Tully’s highly successful old play, “The Bird of Paradise,” King Vidor has produced a languid film with many beautifully photographed scenes. This story in its modernized form is frequently unconsciously humorous and even though much is made of the volcano on a South Sea isle exacting its annual human toll, there is here hardly anything akin to suspense.
It is the sort of thing which F. W. Murnau did so much better in “Tabu,” and granted that no expense has been spared in turning out this current work, it takes more than lovely scenes to make a really satisfactory entertainment. Mr. Vidor revels in sequences with sharks, a whirlpool and a volcano in eruption in the course of this tale about Johnny Baker, who falls in love with a native girl named Luana.
For Monday, we have a mystery woman.
Update: This is Sofia Ortega.
For Tuesday, we have these mystery gents.
Update: This is Arnold Gray, Bert Roach and Reginald Simpson.
For Wednesday, we have …. hey wait a minute! Didn’t we just?
Update: This is Wade Boteler and John Halliday.
Brain Trust roll call: Dan Nather (mystery movie and one of Tuesday’s mystery trio), Mary Mallory (mystery movie and Monday’s and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Sheila (one of Tuesday’s mystery trio), Mike Hawks (mystery movie and one of Tuesday’s mystery trio) and Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and Monday’s and Tuesday’s mystery guests).
The reason we had to have a repeat mystery guest Wednesday is because these gents could never be Wednesdays. They are Thursday guests.
Update: This is Richard “Skeets” Gallagher and Creighton Chaney, later Lon Chaney Jr., in his first credited screen role.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Floyd Thursby (one of Tuesday’s mystery trio), Patrick (mystery movie and mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Benito (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery helmsman), Don Danard (Wednesday’s mystery helmsman), Dan Nather (Wednesday’s mystery helmsman), Lee Ann, Megan and Thom (mystery movie and mystery guests).
As you may infer from this shot of our leading lady, our mystery movie is a Pre-Code film.
And here is our leading man and leading lady.
Update: This is Joel McCrea and Dolores del Rio.
Trivia note: McCrea began making another island picture, “The Most Dangerous Game,” with Fay Ray in May 1932, immediately after “Bird of Paradise.”
Brain Trust roll call: David Inman (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guests), Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery guests), B.J. Merholz (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guests), Beachgal (Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), Shelia (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mystery helmsman and Thursday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Sarah (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), Howard Decker (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), L.C. (mystery movie and mystery guests) and Lee Ann, Megan and Thom (Thursday’s mystery guests).