Return to Paradise
Cast & Crew
On the island of Matareva in the Samoan South Seas, schoolteacher Rori recalls his childhood, during which his people were dominated by a British pastor named Thomas Cobbett: Cobbett rules the islanders with an iron hand, aided by wardens who brutally enforce rules which include church attendance twice a day, a nighttime curfew and restrictions against dancing. One day, about ten years before the start of World War II, Cobbett sentences a young woman, Maeva, to confinement for breaking the curfew, but is interrupted by the arrival by boat of a stranger, an itinerant American named Morgan. Cobbett demands that Morgan leave because he believes the American's presence will corrupt the islanders. When Morgan refuses, Cobbett orders his wardens to seize him, but Morgan fights off the wardens, who eventually give up. Rori, then nine years old, invites Morgan, whom the islanders dub "Morgantani," to take shelter in his family's home, and Morgan receives an equally warm welcome from Rori's father Tonga and his mother Povana. Tonga explains that Cobbett's kindly father founded the church on the island and was given power by the local government. Tonga continues that Cobbett took over after his father's death but twisted the rules, and the villagers were unable to rebel because of a traitor in their midst. The next day, Morgan rebuffs Cobbett's attempt to convince him to attend church, instead building his hut during the services. Afterward, Cobbett orders his wardens to tear the structure down. In retribution, Morgan assembles a shotgun and shoots out the stained glass windows of the church. Only Maeva is then brave enough to help him rebuild his hut, and she later buys groceries for him when the storekeeper, Kim Ling, refuses to sell him provisions based on orders from Cobbett. For her disobedience, Maeva is beaten by one of the wardens when she is alone in her hut that night. The next day, Morgan confronts the brute who hit Maeva and, while she holds off the other wardens with Morgan's shotgun, which has no shells, Morgan fights the culprit, and thereby earns the trust of the villagers. Morgan continues to live alone on the island, despite Povana's urging that he should find a partner. When Maeva moves in without his consent, he insists that she leave. After Maeva is arrested for violating the curfew, Morgan, furious at Cobbett's cruelty, breaks her out of the hut where she is being imprisoned, then fights with the wardens who try to stop him. The villagers take up the cause and rebel against Cobbett and his wardens. Morgan urges Cobbett to stay inside his house for his own safety, and the villagers rout the wardens from their island, then celebrate with dancing and a feast. Although they soon adopt their old customs, the villagers continue to attend church, and Cobbett remains among them as a neighbor and teacher. In time, Cobbett urges Morgan to marry Maeva, who is now living as his wife, but even after he learns that Maeva is pregnant, Morgan resists marriage. Morgan restores a damaged boat that had been foundering on the beach and finally sets out to leave, but when Maeva's canoe tips her into the ocean, he rescues her and remains on the island. Maeva suffers greatly in childbirth and, deeply in love with her, Morgan promises to marry her. However, when Maeva dies, a distraught Morgan leaves his baby daughter Turia with Povana and departs the island for good. Turia grows up with Rori looking after her like a brother. Rori leaves the island to attend college in Upalu as World War II breaks out. When he sees Morgan in a café he greets the now renowned wanderer, but Morgan refuses to listen to any news about his daughter. Rori, whose parents have since died, returns to the island to train as a teacher with Cobbett, whom he will eventually replace. Morgan returns to Matareva to bring much needed supplies to the island, which has suffered because of the war. The villagers as well as Cobbett are glad to see the man who is now legendary among them, and Turia follows her father everywhere. When a U.S. Air Force cargo plane radios the island during a storm that they are in trouble, Morgan organizes the villagers to create a makeshift landing strip in a lagoon to guide the plane to safety. The plane crash-lands as expected and the grateful American airmen take refuge with the villagers until they can be rescued by the Navy. Cobbett urges Morgan to remain on the island, lying that another storm approaches, because he sees that Lt. Harry Faber is trying to seduce Turia. When Morgan later overhears the airmen reading a love poem Harry has written for Turia, and then joking that she is Morgan's illegitimate daughter, Morgan becomes angry and confronts Faber, demanding that he and his men leave the island on Morgan's boat. Faber initially refuses, but Cobbett has given Morgan his old shotgun, still missing the shells, which Morgan uses to convince the airmen to leave. The villagers bid farewell to Morgan and the airmen as they board his boat, but at the last moment, Morgan changes his mind, and decides to stay on the island with his daughter.
Chief Mamea Matatumua
Herbert Ah Sue
Tom Connors Jr.
Winton C. Hoch
Return to Paradise (1953)
The story for Return to Paradise was taken from James Michener's 1951 novel of the same name. It was a sequel of sorts to his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, which had famously provided the source material for the smash Broadway musical and film South Pacific (1958).
Wanting to present a realistic backdrop of island life, director Mark Robson shot Return to Paradise on location on the idyllic island of Upolu in Western Samoa. The beautiful natural scenery proved to be one of the film's strongest assets, though with shooting on location came the usual headaches. The biggest problem, according to Robson, was the decision to use many of the Samoan locals as extras. The native Samoans were crucial to the film since so many of the scenes required the presence of all the island villagers. However, getting them to act before the camera and show up on time was a challenge. "You must remember that there's little time sense in that section of Samoa, and the people just won't be hurried," said Robson in an interview upon the film's release. "The heat and humidity of the country make working very difficult. You have to drive yourself to it." Gary Cooper later echoed Robson's sentiments adding, "The natives got bored quickly. That was our biggest production problem. We used too many natives in the picture, and getting them to take their work seriously was difficult."
Return to Paradise successfully blends action, romance and drama and features Gary Cooper in one of his most offbeat roles. The title song sung by Kitty White features lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Oscar®-winning composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who also wrote the film's memorable score.
Producer: Harry Lenart, Mark Robson, Theron Warth, Robert Wise
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Charles Kaufman, James Michener
Cinematography: Winton C. Hoch
Film Editing: Daniel Mandell
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper (Mr. Morgan), Barry Jones (Pastor Corbett), Roberta Haynes (Maeva), Moira MacDonald (Turia), John Hudson (Captain Harry Faber), Mamea Matumua (Tonga).
by Andrea Passafiume
Return to Paradise (1953)
The opening credits include the following written statements: "This picture was filmed entirely on the Polynesian Island of UPOLU. To His Excellency, the High Commissioner and the Government of Western Samoa to the Council of Chiefs and Orators of the village of Matautu...our profound gratitude for their cooperation." According to a September 7, 1952 article in New York Times, the film was primarily based on "Mr. Morgan," one of the chapters in James Michener's book Return to Paradise.
According to American Cinematographer, the film was shot in the village of Matautu on Upolu. Various Variety news items note the following information about the production: Hawaii was originally set as the location for filming. Associate producer Harry Lenart helped to finance the production, which cost approximately $515,000. Aspen Pictures purchased the rights to make two films based on author James Michener's book. In an article in Los Angeles Daily News, screenwriter Charles Kaufman noted his intention of presenting a realistic portrait of life on a tropical island, and reported that "...in the opening shots of the picture, floating in on pristine coral, you'll see a rusted oil drum. Among the villagers during the great rebellion sequence I requested, and Robson furnished, a man with elephantiasis."
The Los Angeles Daily News article also indicated that although Michener approved the script, the MPAA disapproved the film's depiction of the pastor, as well as the relationship between "Morgan" and "Maeva." A May 25, 1953 article in Daily Variety reported that Aspen Productions filed a claim against a shipping company which transported the camera equipment, because production was delayed for six weeks due to a labor disagreement. The final outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined. This film marks the feature film debut of Moira MacDonald. In 1957, M-G-M released Until They Sail, directed by Robert Wise and starring Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine and Paul Newman, which was also based on a chapter of Michener's novel Return to Paradise. In addition, the 1959 television series "Adventures in Paradise," created by James Michener and starring Gardner McKay, was inspired by Michener's novel.