Bird of Paradise (The Selznick Collection) [Blu-ray]
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Joel McCrea (The Most Dangerous Game) stars as a handsome South Seas soldier of fortune who falls in love with Dolores Del Rio (Flying Down to Rio), the daughter of a Polynesian native chieftain. Alas, their idyllic romance is destined to come to a sudden and violent end: tribal custom decrees that Del Rio is to be sacrificed to the local volcano. After initial resistance, the heroine nobly resigns herself to her fate, realizing that there is no place for her in her white lover's civilization. From the legendary Academy Award nominated director King Vidor (War & Peace, The Champ) and producer David O. Selznick (Gone With The Wind, King Kong). This is the ONLY authorized edition of this classic film from the estate of David O. Selznick, restored and remastered in high definition from the George Eastman House.
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The stars of this one, Joel McCrea and Delores Del Rio, make quite a strange pair. Joel seems like a hayseed just off farm (his dialogue is peppered with "huhs?" and "whats?" as he seeks to communicate with the mysterious island beauty, Delores). As for Dolores, she seems to belong in a different, and probably more interesting, movie than this one. And even her fabled nude swim scene is pretty tame and unimpressive.
The movie was filmed on location in 1930s Hawaii. Although the focus always seems a bit off, the scenery is still beautiful -- and a good reminder of what Hawaii must have been like before "they paved paradise and put up a pink hotel (the Sheraton Waikiki by the way)." There's also quite a bit of underwater photography, which is pretty impressive given that this movie was filmed approximately 70 years ago.
Cheap and fun, this "Bird" is worth looking into if you're interested in old movies, and if you'd like to see what David Selznick was up to just a few short years before filming his masterpiece, "Gone with the Wind."
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And some of these classics such as "A Star is Born", "Nothing Sacred", "A Farewell to Arms" have been released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber and now, King Vidor's 1932 film "Bird of Paradise" will be released on Blu-ray and DVD. This authorized edition from the estate of David O. Selznick is from the collection of the George Eastman House.
"Bird of Paradise" a film adaptation of Richard Walton Tully's successful play.
While King Vidor was known for silent films years prior such as "The Big Parade" (1925), "Bardelys the Magnificent", "The Patsy" (1928), to name a few, "Bird of Paradise" was a romance/adventure film that was a talkie, would incorporate an orchestrated film score courtesy of legendary composer Max Steiner (known for his music in "Casablanca", "Gone with the Wind", "The Gay Divorcee", "Now, Voyager") and a film that would showcase successful Mexican actress Dolores del Rio ("Flying Down to Rio", "The Abandoned") and Joel McCrea ("Sullivan's Travels", "The Most Dangerous Game").
"Bird of Paradise" was an intriguing RKO film for its time as it created some scandal because lead actress Dolores del Rio (playing a Polynesian) was in a scene where she is swimming naked. In fact, throughout the film, she is wearing nothing but a lei covering her upper torso and at the time this film was released, before the Hayes Production Code was enforced. Needless to say, even Orson Welles once chimed that "del Rio represented the highest erotic ideal with her performance in the film".
And now 80-years-later, "Bird of Paradise" receives its release on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Kino Lorber.
"Bird of Paradise" is presented in 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio and in black and white. With that being said, "Bird of Paradise" is a film that has been seen by many on public domain copies. And because this version of the film was mastered in HD from an original nitrate 35mm print, preserved by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, I have no doubt in my mind that this would be the most definitive version, in terms of video quality, of the film today.
The film is well-contrast with white and gray levels looking very good, while blacks are nice and deep. There are some issues of white specks that show up and there are some parts of the film that possibly had a little nitrate warping but nothing bad to the point that it can't be watched.
But the Blu-ray release also features details that I didn't really see on the public domain DVD such as the beads of water on the skin of Luan after swimming. Even during the dancing sequences, there is much more clarity and detail.
But for a film that is 80-years-old, "Bird of Paradise" does look very good on Blu-ray and much better than previous public domain DVD's that I have watched before.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Bird of Paradise" is presented in 2.0 LPCM monaural. Dialogue is clear, but not sure but there seems to be a boost in audio and I detected no popping or crackle during my viewing of the film. Unlike other Selznick Collection releases on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, I will say that with "Bird of Paradise", I did do a slight adjustment of selecting a better setting on my receiver in order to enjoy both the dialogue and the music of Max Steiner.
"Bird of Paradise" comes with no special features but Kino Lorber trailers for other films from the Selznick Collection.
With the release of King Vidor's "Bird of Paradise" on Blu-ray, as a classic film fan, it's easy to be excited because we are getting a pre-code RKO film in HD and hopefully paving the way for more films from the 1910-1940's to be released on video.
"Bird of Paradise" may not be one of King Vidor's masterpieces, considering Vidor is a legendary filmmaker that had films from 1913-1980 and many classic films within his oeuvre. But for me, "Bird of Paradise" makes an impact in another way, and that is through leading actress Dolores del Rio.
Back in those years of filmmaking, Hollywood was gravitating towards European filmmakers and talent and managed to import actress Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman of Sweden, Marlene Dietrich of Germany. And while it's known that Caucasian actors played African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, etc. in early Hollywood, actress Dolores del Rio was a Mexican actress who was the first Latin American to have international success. She was also the second cousin of popular silent actor Ramon Novarro.
As Italian actor Rudolph Valentino would make women swoon back in those days, del Rio brought a sexiness to the big screen and not long after her debut, she was already becoming one of the most admired new actresses along with Joan Crawford, Mary Astor, Fay Wray to name a few.
The actress was known for her acting and her singing but at the same time, the rise to fame would affect del Rio's career and personal life to the point where she had health issues which led to the dissolution of her contract with United Artists.
And when RKO Pictures came calling in order to give America the Dolores del Rio contract, in 1932, she met success with "Bird of Paradise" and the following year later for "Flying Down to Rio" starring Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond, and a film best known for being the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
So, my view towards "Bird of Paradise" has always leaned towards a multicultural sensitivity, for one, a Latina receiving top billing for a King Vidor film and a film that would surely regenerate interest towards this sexy siren of the big screen due to the attention the film received for her "nude swimming".
As for actor Joel McCrea, 1932 would be a fine year as he would achieve success with two island-related films, "Bird of Paradise" and "The Most Dangerous Game".
But "Bird of Paradise" is a film with '30s adventure and intrigue. For many Americans, not many of them were familiar with Polynesian culture and a film that revolves around a group of foreign yachtsmen sailing close to Polynesian islands is intriguing but a forbidden romance between the island princess Luana and the American Johnny Baker was sure to capture attention. A romance/action film, from surviving a shark attack to tribes wanting to kill the leading man for taking away the woman he loves, during her "arranged wedding" ceremony, also added to the excitement for viewers at the time.
In fact, the cinematography of capturing the island life in black and white and providing viewers a glimpse of the island of the South Seas was quite significant back in the early '30s. As F.W. Murnau was able to accomplish in his film "Tabu", both "Bird of Paradise" and "Tabu" have similar themes but in "Bird of Paradise", the film tries to showcase forbidden love between a princess and a white man.
While I felt that F.W. Murnau's film was much better in capturing the futility of it's couple, "Bird of Paradise" was no doubt a film that relied upon Dolores del Rio's sexiness, because there are quite a bit of scenes that were a bit farfetched, including the quick English tutorial that allowed these two to communicate so quickly and somehow Johnny being able to withstand situations that would leave most men dead.
Still, the film still remains to be enjoyable for its romance and adventure within an island setting but with its somewhat tragic ending, both "Tabu" and "Bird of Paradise" share that similarity with final decisions that were made.
With that being said, "Bird of Paradise" is an earlier Hollywood film were Caucasian and other ethnicities play Polynesians. While this was common at the time, while Dolores del Rio is Mexican playing a Polynesian princess, considering the year this film was made and multicultural talents were not exactly featured or top-billed, the fact that Dolores del Rio received top billing for this film was quite significant. But there is a misrepresentation of the Polynesian people, as they try to communicate with gibberish and possibly popular traditions were not well-researched back then. So, the misrepresentation of the Polynesian people may be looked at as ridiculous to many modern viewers.
But it was the sign of the times and the setting was more or less a "Romeo & Juliet" style of storyline and in this case, Juliet was Polynesian, a princess and betrothed to another man, while Romeo is a Caucasian man who is too deep in love to ever give up on the woman he cares deeply about.
As for the Blu-ray release, I never expected "Bird of Paradise" to be pristine but while the film does have its share of damage in terms of white specks and age, for the most part, the film does look very good. It's well-contrast with the whites and grays and black levels are nice and deep, while Dolores del Rio looks absolutely fantastic in this film. Unfortunately, there are no special features.
Overall, if you are a classic movie fan, and are following The Selznick Collection on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber, a "Bird of Paradise" is worth watching, while those who want to watch one of the most well-known Latina actresses receive top billing for an earlier Hollywood film, may want to give "Bird of Paradise" a try!
The image quality (if you can call it that) on the Kino Blu-ray is a rain of white marks and the sound is terribly distorted--two indications that the transfer was done from a negative, and not a very clean negative. Thunderbird films made a 16mm negative from the nitrate print years ago and I'll bet it's that negative used for this disc. Kino had obviously transferred sound from negatives for Carnegie Hall and some of the Benchley short films. You'd think they would have learned by now that you can't do that, especially to Max Steiner's magnificent score.
The statement on the package that says, "Mastered in HD from an original nitrate 35mm print, preserved..., etc." cannot be true as read, and the result of the transfer is unwatchable and certainly unlistenable. I have an excellent tape of the entire soundtrack made from a nitrate print 40 years ago. I would try to sync it up if only the picture quality warranted the effort.
And to anyone who excuses it for being an 80-year-old film: Don't! This is not how films looked and sounded 80 years ago and there's no excuse for passing this off as good quality.