Bird of Paradise. 1932. USA. Directed by King Vidor. Screenplay by Richard Walton Tully, Wells Root, Wanda Tuchock, Leonard Praskins, based on Tully’s play. With Dolores del Rio, Joel McCrea, John Halliday. DCP. 82 min.
Knowledgeable people may ask why Dolores del Rio is in this series, given that her career lasted almost to her death, and that she did much of her best work, for directors such as Emilio Fernandez, after returning to Mexico around 1943. But strictly in terms of her Hollywood period, Del Rio’s career peak came in the late silent and pre-Code eras, with a marked tapering-off after William Dieterle’s Madame DuBarry (1934). Bird of Paradise featured Del Rio’s Hawaiian character Luana, in what Hollywood considered “South Sea” attire—and also appearing to swim naked for one brief scene. The story involves Luana’s romance with a college boy played by Joel McCrea, providing the excuse for a series of memorably sensual love scenes. The film lost money due to cost overruns, but still did brisk business. Bird of Paradise ’s attitudes toward interracial romance, Pacific natives, and women in general are virtually indefensible to modern audiences. But the film should be seen for Vidor’s striking camerawork, for the glimpse of what erotic content might have looked like had the Production Code not happened, and above all for the unforgettably beautiful Del Rio, who plays Luana with touching sincerity.