Cast & Crew
Frenchman Andre Laurence takes a vacation to accompany his college friend Tenga, a Polynesian who has tired of life in the "civilized" world, back home. During their boat journey, the friends meet a racist trader, who informs Andre that Tenga's grandfather was a wealthy, white sailor who was briefly stranded on the Pacific island and left his fortune to Tenga after his rescue. Andre is amazed by the joyous welcome given to Tenga by his people and is delighted by Tenga's beautiful sister Kalua, although Tenga explains that it is taboo for a single man to talk to the unmarried Kalua. The homecoming is interrupted by the appearance of the glowering Kahuna, the village's sacred medicine man, who reports seeing signs that a white man would arrive bringing disaster with him. Andre bestows lavish gifts on Tenga's father, the chief, however, and wins his approval with his declaration of friendship. Although the Kahuna continues to insist that Andre must leave, the chief states that he is welcome. As time passes, Andre and Kalua fall in love, and Kalua breaks the taboo against speaking to Andre in order to profess her feelings. Wary of Andre's involvement with Kalua, Tenga sends him to meet an embittered, white beachcomber who used to reside in the village but was banned to a nearby island because of his cruel behavior. The beachcomber warns Andre that the island paradise becomes unbearable to "civilized" men, and reveals that he beats his native wife and children in order to teach them fear. Andre is not daunted by the beachcomber's ramblings, and upon his return, assures the worried Tenga that he wants to marry Kalua and live an honorable life with the natives. Tenga warns Andre about the problems he will encounter while trying to accept customs so different from his own, but Andre is certain that his love for Kalua will help him overcome any obstacles. Tenga and the chief pray for a sign that Andre should be permitted to stay, and after they see a double rainbow, Andre is allowed to join the circle of young men when Kalua does her ritual dance to choose her spouse. Kalua chooses Andre, and the happy couple move into the common house, where all of the betrothed couples live while adjusting to their new status. That night, the Kahuna steals a hair from Andre's head in order to put a curse on him, and when Tenga later asks him to lift the curse, the Kahuna asserts that he will believe in the goodness of Andre and Kalua's union only if Kalua survives a ritual purification by fire. Andre is outraged by the custom, during which Kalua must walk on a bed of fiery coals, but Tenga promises him that if he and Kalua have enough faith in their love, Kalua will emerge unscathed. Kalua survives the ritual without being burned, but Andre's happiness is shortlived, as the beachcomber is killed when he breaks the taboo against returning to the island so that he can talk to Andre. Soon after, Andre is allowed to "buy" Kalua from her father, then must pretend to kidnap her from her family. The newlyweds settle into their home, and a contented Andre enjoys life until three months later, when Kalua, distraught because she has not yet become pregnant, brings Andre a second wife. Andre assures Kalua that he wants only her, regardless of whether they have children, and the couple enjoy their simple life. Trouble arrives, however, when the island's huge volcano begins to erupt. As the terrified natives run from the pouring lava, the Kahuna warns Tenga that the gods are still angered by Andre's presence. Telling Andre to wait in his hut, Tenga accompanies Kalua and the others to the mouth of the volcano, where it is determined that Kalua, as the chief's eldest daughter, must sacrifice herself to the volcano to appease the gods. Kalua runs back to the village to embrace Andre one last time, and then, strengthened by the knowledge that she has loved and been loved, walks to the volcano. Andre arrives just as Kalua throws herself into the volcano, and later, as he sails home, comforts himself with memories of his beloved.
Prince Lei Lani
Mary Ann Ventura
David K. Bray
Monroe W. Burbank
James B. Clark
W. D. Flick
Winton C. Hoch
Fred J. Rode
The following written statement appears after the film's opening credits: "This story was photographed in its entirety on the island and waters of Hawaii, Oahu and Kauai. All native customs, rituals and dances shown in this film are based on those practiced by Polynesians during the last century." At the film's end, another written statement reads: "Our gratitude is expressed to the United States Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and Hawaii National Park, without whose cooperation this picture could not have been made." According to an August 1950 New York Times article, the erupting volcano photographed for the film was the famed Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii. A September 29, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that, contrary to the onscreen claim that the picture was filmed entirely in Hawaii, some sequences were shot at the Twentieth Century-Fox studio in California.
According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the studio originally acquired the rights to Richard Walton Tully's play in 1942. Legal records also indicate that Herbert Clyde Lewis, Jo Eisinger and Arthur Kober worked on early versions of the screenplay, but their contribution to the completed picture is unlikely. A 1980 memo in the file reported that while Delmer Daves's screenplay was "loosely based" on the novel Van Zanten's Happy Days by Laurido Bruun, the studio "finally decided any similarities [between the screenplay and Bruun's novel] were public and factual and an acquisition of rights [to the novel] was unnecessary." No contemporary information linking Bruun's novel to the film has been found.
Although a June 19, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Twentieth Century-Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck would personally supervise the film, Harmon Jones, a longtime editor for studio, is the only producer listed in the onscreen credits. According to studio publicity, native Hawaiian Prince Lei Lani, who plays the tribal chief, appeared in the original stage production of Tully's play as "The Kahuna." Well-known Yiddish actor Maurice Schwartz, who portrays The Kahuna in the picture, had not appeared in a film since the 1943 Warner Bros. production Mission to Moscow.
Bird of Paradise features many songs and chants, all sung in Hawaiian. Among the songs submitted to the MPAA/PCA for approval were: "Song of Kalua," music by Ken Darby; "Ke Kali Nei Au (Waiting for Thee)" and "Imi Au Ia Oe (King's Serenade)," music by Charles E. King; "Alekoki (Mother Bray Sings)" by Mrs. David Bray; and "Love Chant of Lokalia" by Lokalia Montgomery. The exact titles and composers of the songs in the film have not been determined.
Tully's play was first filmed by RKO in 1932 in a version directed by King Vidor and starring Dolores Del Rio and Joel McCrea (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). On December 31, 1951, Louis Jourdan, Debra Paget and Jeff Chandler reprised their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story.