Wednesday, June 15, 2016

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...

Despite its colorful plumage, "Bird of Paradise" is a really fowl picture.

Hi Keebah and happy summer, movie lovers.

Hmmm, do I detect a hint a sadness?

Has life pulled the rug out from under you again? Has your Prince Charming morphed into a toad and hopped off with someone else? Has your dream job turned into wage slave Hell? Are your in-laws impossible, your neighbors freaks, your kids ungrateful brats and your hopes for a presidential campaign based on substance and civility dashed thanks to a string of inexplicable Donald Trump primary victories?

Relax. Junk Cinema understands that into each life, some rain must fall. However, if it seems that you're experiencing a torrential down-pour of personal woes, Junk Cinema can help. How? By presenting our semi-regular feature "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...", where a Junk Cinema Jewel is especially chosen to ease your worried mind--and gently remind you that as bad as things might seem right now, someone, somewhere, has it much, much worse.

Therefore, If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch..."Bird of Paradise"(1951), a tropical romance as mushy as a bunch of over-ripe bananas and as irritating as sand in your tong.

College buddies Prince Tenga (Jeff Chandler) and Andre (Louis Jourdan) compare profiles in "Bird of Paradise."

Our saga begins by introducing us to the ultra suave Louis Jourdan as Andre, a Frenchman studying at Princeton. He has been invited to visit the island home of fellow under-grad (and Polynesian prince) Tenga (Jeff Chandler). Although he only planned on a short holiday, Andre quickly changes his plans once he claps his eyes on Tenga's kid sister Princess Kahlua (Debra Paget), who emerges from the sea in a scene that recalls Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"...and the Miss America swimsuit parade.

Because local custom forbids Andre and Kahlua from uttering so much as a peep to each other, the couple must be content with making goo-goo eyes at each other until HRH's ma decides she's ready for marriage. In the mean time, Andre busies himself with learning how to tie a sarong, surfing with the guys and developing a taste for octopus. He also manages to run afoul of the tribe's "Big Kahuna" or head priest.

The actor chosen to play this key role is Maurice Schwartz, the founder of New York's Yiddish Art Theater. Personally, I would love to know how Maurice's agent pitched his client to the flick's producers. Anyway, ONLY IN JUNK CINEMA will you find the gentleman who head-lined a Yiddish language version of "King Lear" portraying a Polynesian priest with a chip on his shoulder as big as a pineapple. And judging from the look of him, the producers spared no expense in helping Maurice climb into his part: Schwartz appears to have endured several drenchings in Quick Tanning Syrup, was stenciled with fake tattoos, trussed into a sarong and fitted with a Cher wig. Whenever he's on screen, you can't take your eyes off of him. And when Maurice bellows about Andre, "Zis wit one brinks vit hem!" it's hysterical perfection, the cherry on top of the sundae. In the end, you can't help thinking, "What a pro!" 

Eventually Kahlua's mom decides she's ready for holy wedlock. According to tribal custom, the village's single men must sit in a circle and watch HRH perform a special hula dance. When she's done, Kahlua will then kneel before her chosen fella. To the surprise of no one, she chooses Andre--who joyously accepts.

However, leave it to the wet blanket Big Kahuna to object. Before any nuptials can take place, the tribal priest insists that HRH walk over a bed of hot coals to ensure that their gods are all on board with her mixed marriage. Should Kahlua burn her feet in any way, the wedding is off.

"May The Schwartz Be With You!": Maurice Schwartz as "The Big Kahuna".

The coals are duly heated and plucky Kahlua walks across them without any adverse side-effects.

"We have our answer," she tells the astonished Andre. "The gods have smiled on us. Now we can be one."

Well, not quite. See, there are still several more island rituals which Andre and Kahlua must follow before they can be Mr. and Mrs.

The first requires that Andre must "buy" Kahlua from her father. "I will be expensive," she warns her cuddlemate, who assures her money is no object. "You will be worth it!" Andre gushes.

Next, after Kahlua is bought and paid for, Andre must kidnap his intended and she must fight him tooth and nail--but this is just for show. How come? To prove the bride is not leaving home willy-nilly.

Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan are heart-broken to learn to learn they must continue filming "Bird of Paradise".

Then, Andre and Kahlua must spend two weeks isolated in Andre's house, where they will spend their time, ahem, "getting to know each other" (i.e. making whoopski). The villagers will drop off food and water in case the couple needs a break. 

Finally, once the two weeks are up and the couple is still walking upright, they are officially hitched.

Well, the necessary two weeks pass and, to the surprise of no one, Andre and Kahlua couldn't be happier. Even the scowling Big Kahuna has to admit the couple seems well suited for each other. However, just when you think a happily-ever-after is on the horizon, the local volcano decides to blow its top.

What will the villagers do? According to local custom, there is only one thing that can be done: the eldest daughter of the chief must toss herself in to appease the gods.

While Andre looks on in horror, brave Kahlua climbs to the mouth of the raging volcano. She gives her hubby one final look and then throws herself in. Within seconds the volcano quiets down and the villagers sadly return home.

Princess Kahlua is a hunk of burnin' love.

With Kahlua gone, there is no reason for the heart-broken Louis Jourdan to stick around. So he returns to Princeton, sadder, wiser, but with a great tan, no doubt hoping better roles awaited him on the main land.

"Bird of Paradise" is based on a 1913 stage play. The flick was filmed in 1923 and in 1932, but in this case, the third time proved NOT to be the charm.

Louis Jourdan is handsome and self-assured, but all he's required to do here is wear a sarong and bug his eyes at the unfamiliar local ways. Debra Paget, as the doomed Kahlua, spends her time posing like a hopeful in the Miss Hawaii finals. Meanwhile, Jeff Chandler, as Princeton Prince Tenga, is forced to explain, over and over and over again, his tribe's culture and ways to the perpetually confused Andre. This doesn't necessarily add any depth to his character, but it does give Jeff the opportunity to get to utter such South Seas pearls of wisdom as "Nakedness is what the gods wore" and "It is through women and food that evil passes so easily" and "When love makes our heart beat fast, we wear a red flower."And nobody NOBODY! can scowl like Maurice Schwartz.

Critics, of course, were less than enthralled with this South Seas romance/adventure/lecture series. Bosley Crowther, the esteemed critic of the New York Times, dismissed the cast as merely "average actors" and called "Bird of Paradise" a "rambling mishmosh of South Seas romance and travesty." He even carped that the movie's volcano "(had) the look of a pyrotechnic fake." Meanwhile, Leonard Maltin gave our fine-feathered-feature only two out of four stars and deemed it "vapid." On the other hand, Leonard would later see fit to give "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" two-and-a-half-stars in comparison. Ouch.

"Bird of Paradise" did indeed lay an egg with mainstream movie critics and audiences, but Junk Cinema lovers knew a Golden Gobbler when they saw one. Thus, it was no surprise to that select group of bad movie fanatics when "Bird of Paradise" was honored by The Son of Golden Turkey Awards (written by the beloved Brothers Medved) for having "The Most Awkward On-Screen Marriage Proposal". 

FYI: This is a Bird of Paradise plant.

This coveted category, which included nominees from such turkey trots as "Salome, Where She Danced" (1945), "Cat Women Of The Moon" (from 1953 and starring Sonny Tufts), "Watusi" (1959), "Claws" (a 1977 rip-off of "Jaws") and "Sheena" (1984) was clinched purely because of Kahula's walk over hot coals to prove her love for Andre. The Son of Golden Turkey Awards declared that such a plot point stands as "the only scene in screen history to combine fire walking with a proposal of marriage"--a distinction it still holds today, I might add.

So you see movie lovers, your life isn't so bad. Nobody is asking you to toss yourself into a volcano or walk over a bed of hot coals. Like Andre, try to keep your chin up, finish your degree and remember to keep the hot coals in the grill where they belong.

And help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

FYI: This is one type of Bird of Paradise bird.