Bird Of Paradise --- Part Two
Then there is Dolores del Rio. She and Joel McCrea are such impossibly beautiful specimens as to make you think they're from another planet. People liked native movies because it was figured the women went au naturel (men too, for that matter). Del Rio under water and under-clothed was the whole bag as far as many were concerned, a lesson not lost on Metro when they submerged Maureen O' Sullivan (or her double) a few years later. Give this to Vidor ... he knew how to heat mercury between these two. By such measure, his was a whopping success, Bird Of Paradise being precode up, down, and sideways, wish fulfilling yet for those in quest of early 30's abandon. Someone with right elements could smack a Blu-Ray over the fence here. Bird Of Paradise nicely anticipates King Kong (same native village) and Tarzans down the road. They both took leaves from this book. Max Steiner's score, along with Alfred Newman's for Mr. Robinson Crusoe, amounted to blueprint for tropic imagining to come. Did the two compare notes for work done so close together?
Never The Twain Shall Meet was still observed in most narratives wherein white hero met native princess. Leslie Howard learned his lesson via hard ways bringing home a dusky maiden to Mayfair drawing rooms in Metro's filming of aforesaid title. Doug Fairbanks carried Maria Alba among souvenirs to America as Mr. Robinson Crusoe, but it's not understood they'll marry. Keep to your own was ultimate message wrought by south sea romances. Sample its pleasures, but don't haul same back to civilization. Joel McCrea is drunk enough on Del Rio's charms, but won't forget joys of modern life in the states. He gives a speech extolling progress at home not to be given up whatever thrill there is in going native. Joel's plan to export Dolores are scuttled when she opts for volcano diving, an island tradition he calls barbarous (well, isn't it?). Sympathetic friends will reassure him things have all around worked out for the best. Audiences probably felt so too. Kong's bitter lesson a year later merely reaffirmed that indeed, certain twains should never meet.
RKO had major success with Bird Of Paradise, but no profits. Selznick said they piled overhead onto his negative cost of $752,000. Trade rumoring claimed it was closer to $800K. Average spent on RKO features at the time was $235,000, so imagine exec chagrin, though most recognized this Bird for a solid bet. Indeed it was, or would have been had less got sunk in production, with $503,000 coming back in domestic rentals, one of RKO's biggest up to then, with gratifying $250,000 in foreign. That last was incentive toward maybe a sequel or follow-up, according to company noise sent out on trade tom-toms, but it wouldn't happen. Reality of a quarter million lost reminded any who'd go back to the well that a Bird Of Paradise, or something like it, wouldn't come cheap. To try again might be mere freshening of red ink. To make investments like this pay would need added kick of a King Kong and island settings a lot more hazardous and actionful. A big gorilla and Metro's vine-swinging ape-man would see to these.