Modern audiences will undoubtedly find Bird of Paradise heavy going (as well they should), but it was quite a hit with Depression-era audiences. Forget about the plot (which includes a virgin sacrifice to the volcano) right away; even when it was filmed, this kind of South Seas romance was old hat, bordering on camp decades before camp existed. And don't count on the dialogue to elevate things; while there's the occasional decent line, most of it is trite or corny, often embarrassingly so. As a matter of fact, Bird is probably best watched with the sound off; there's nothing so complicated here that the average viewer over the age of ten can't figure out without the wince-making wordage. Since Bird's biggest assets are visual, nothing is really lost. True, you don't get Joel McCrea's easy, unpretentious way of handling this schlocky dialogue, for which he deserves credit. But McCrea's physicality carries a lot of his performance anyway. This is doubly true for Dolores Del Rio, whose character is basically unfamiliar with English anyway; the actress handles herself very well under the circumstances. Neither actor is giving a legendary performance, because the script simply doesn't allow it, but they're as good as they are allowed to be. More importantly, they look gorgeous and are given ample opportunity to show off their physical beauty, most memorably in a near-nude swimming scene. Director King Vidor gives up on the script and concentrates on his stars' looks and on the stunning location-shooting. The result is a silly film that's long on hokum and ridiculous in the extreme, but looks absolutely fabulous.
by Craig Butler review