Bird of Paradise (1932 film)

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Bird of Paradise
Film poster
Directed by King Vidor
Produced by David O. Selznick
King Vidor
Written by Leonard Praskins
Wells Root
Starring Dolores del Río
Joel McCrea
John Halliday
Richard "Skeets" Gallagher
Bert Roach
Lon Chaney Jr.
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Lucien Andriot
Edward Cronjager
Clyde De Vinna
Edited by Archie Marshek
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • September 13, 1932 (1932-09-13)
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $752,000[1]
Box office $753,000[1]

Bird of Paradise is a 1932 American romantic adventure drama film directed by King Vidor, starring Dolores del Río, Joel McCrea, and Richard "Skeets" Gallagher, and released by RKO Radio Pictures.

In 1960, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) due to the claimants' failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[2] The film has been relicensed and distributed by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray Disc and DVD in April 2012 as part of the David O. Selznick Collection (an authorized edition from the estate of David O. Selznick from the collection of George Eastman House).


As a yacht sails into an island chain in the South Pacific, a large number of natives in pontoon boats sail out to greet them. The natives dive for the trinkets the yacht's crew throws them. A shark arrives, scaring most of the natives away. In an attempt to catch a shark by throwing it bait that has been tied to a harpoon-sized hook, a young man (Joel McCrea) accidentally steps into a loop that tightens around his ankle. The shark takes the bait, and the rope grows tighter, causing the rope to yank the young man overboard. The daughter of the chief rescues the young man by leaping into the water, swimming down to where the man is. He cannot get his foot loose from the tangle, so she pulls out a knife and cuts the rope, saving his life.

The beautiful Polynesian girl named Luana (Dolores del Río) becomes an irresistible object of desire, and it is not long before they meet in the middle of the night. Swiftly falling in love, they discover she has been promised by her father to another man – a prince on a neighboring island. An arranged wedding with an elaborate dance sequence then follows, during which the young man appears at the nick of time, runs into a circle of burning fire, rescues her as the natives kneel to the fire, bringing her back to a distant location on another island where they hope to live out the rest of their lives.

He builds her a house with a roof of thatched grass, and as for food, the fruit of the earth, mangos and coconuts, are all within easy reach. Fishing is plentiful, whether by creeping out to rocky outcroppings and using tridents, or swimming down into the local waters to hunt giant turtles. It is like paradise. However, their idyll is smashed when the local volcano begins to erupt. The man discovers that the local custom is to sacrifice a young woman to the volcanic gods. They try to escape but realize that "east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet."

Cast (in credits order)[edit]

A 1916 advertisement for the famous play "Bird of Paradise," which the movie was based on.


Delores del Rio in Bird of Paradise

In the past, due to the unavailability of many early sound films, this film was erroneously believed to have been one of the first talkies to have an orchestral film score. A full musical score was featured in the first all-talking movie, Lights of New York (1928).

Another noteworthy example is So Long Letty (1929), a comedy starring Charlotte Greenwood which featured a continuous musical film score from beginning to end and has recently been released on DVD in the Warner Archive Collection.[3] Late in 1930, audiences became tired of the numerous musical films which Hollywood had been turning out and for a period of time (late 1930 to early 1932) musical scores were completely eliminated from films. As films from this latter period have been easier to view many have assumed that the earliest talkies also lacked any musical scoring.

The musical director for Bird of Paradise was Max Steiner, who would later work on King Kong (1933) and Gone with the Wind (1939). The native huts in this film were reused one year later in RKO's King Kong.[4]


Dolores del Río in a dance scene.

Bird of Paradise created a scandal when released due to a scene featuring Dolores del Río swimming naked. This film was made before the Production Code was strictly enforced, so nudity in American movies was still fairly common.[5] Orson Welles said del Río represented the highest erotic ideal with her performance in the film.[6]

Employing an elaborate pantomime, Dolores del Río mimics a bird in flight to imply that her freedom is strictly construed in terms of a prior obligation: her duty to marry the prince who lives on a neighboring island. After she has apparently escaped a forced wedding and taken up habitation on a neighboring island that appears to be simple paradise, it seems that they have escaped the dominion of her father, but that is not so. They have kept track of her location. When the mountain god Pele rumbles, she confesses to her lover that she alone can appease the mountain's appetite. The movie closes with her leaving her husband (who has slipped into a deep delirium from a spear wound), so that she can save her people from Pele by voluntarily throwing herself into the volcano's mouth.


The film lost an estimated $250,000 at the box office.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p39
  2. ^ Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313. 
  3. ^ WB Shop website entry
  4. ^ Haver, Ronald (1987). David O. Selznick's Hollywood. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-517-47665-9. 
  5. ^ Sex in Cinema, AMC filmsite
  6. ^ Bird of Paradise, 1932 pre-code

External links[edit]