Film Historian Matthew Locey shares his favorite movies from the golden age of Hollywood – the 1950s!
ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953) MGM Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Ann Blyth and Betta St. John in South Seas adventure/drama. Whaling brothers, beautiful native girl, murderous pearl traders all set the stage for this film. A seductive dance scene is within this plot. Set in Gilbert Islands but shot in Jamaica and a studio lot. St. John was also in SOUTH PACIFIC but here she plays a brownface native girl who took care of and loved Granger, but he moved on and left her as soon as the first ship came by. As Granger recants his lost story, he realizes that he never really got her name.
BIRD OF PARADISE (1951) 20TH CENTURY-FOX Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan. Filmed in Hawaiʽi with brownface Euro-Americans playing Hawaiians in key roles. But playing the village high chief was a Prince Leilani, as listed in credits. Leilani was born in Hilo and played the Kahuna in the hit stage version of the film. Authentic hulas by Hawaiian kumu hula legend Iolani Luahine (who’s name was spelt wrong in the credits) and Hawaiian dancer Lydia Bray. Film somewhat sought after by contemporary kumu hula (master instructors) because of its association with the fore mentioned Luahine. This film has a canoe greeting, luau feast, native dances, taboos, lagoon swim, and big volcano exploding scenes. Shot off Hanalei pier and other locations on the Hawaiian island of Kauaʽi. Parent or parents of biracial children nonexistent. No parents for biracial brother and sister Chandler and Paget, who were raised by grandparent chief and chieftess. Also a crazed English sailor banished to an off island with biracial offspring and a native mother, who had died so we never see her.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) COLUMBIA Classic WWII drama starring Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. Plot of Oʽahu army life in Honolulu just before the Pearl Harbor attack. Exteriors actually filmed on Oʽahu. Oscars for Reed and Sinatra and six others for a movie that no studio wanted to touch. Too racy. Hollywood’s most famous love scene on beach was actually just a small part of a hot argument between Kerr and Lancaster. The waves washing on two lovers on a beach was spoofed in AIRPLANE, 10, and THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SERGEANT O’FARRELL, among others. Future All American mother (Mother Knows Best) Donna Reed plays a prostitute, but that fact is veiled in this film and many other films of this type. Interestingly, in this highly-charged extramarital or unmarried affair movie, both Oscar winning lead actresses played innocent nuns in other South Seas movies. Reed in Green Dolphin Street and Kerr in Heaven Knows Mr. Allison. Besides the awards, stupendous acting and directing, and critical acclaim, this film would be great on the Hawaii shirts alone. Even the mean ass Master Sergeant, played by Ernest Borgnine, looked great in one. Who knew loveable Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale had a mean streak.
HIS MAJESTY O’KEEFE (1953) NORMA PRODS. Burt Lancaster, in title role, as overthrown captain of mutinous ship, who washes ashore on the island of Yap. The opportunistic American tries to export copra and tries to get the natives to help. He marries hapa-haole (half-Caucasian) girl from Palau, a brownface Joan Rice and defeats the notorious Bully Hayes who is bullying the natives. The natives in turn make him king. After many lessons, Lancaster finally learns the Island ways. Based partially on a true story and filmed in Fiji on the island of Viti Lemu. Although set in Palau it uses Fijian Melanesians to play Micronesians and two of the main Micronesians (played by Melanesians) are in fact of African descent. The large money stone used by the Yapese, called, Fe’, was heavily featured. Also, there are Hawaiian tikis and Rapa Nuan moai incorrectly shown. Lancaster first kisses native Rice in a sincerely apologetic manner (very unusual in this genre).
LAND OF FURY (1954) RANK FILM ORG. Jack Hawkins & Glynis Johns in period piece of sailor & wife walking a thin line to be on good side of a Māori tribe. As early white settlers, in New Zealand, having the protection of a local tribe and its chief was paramount for their survival. A Hollywood seductive dance is performed but not in front a tiki image but in front of dead warrior chiefs of a rival tribe. Also, Inia Wiata as a fierce, but forgiving native chief, for he catches his native wife having an affair with Hawkins but does not mention it to anyone, he just cries and quietly retreats in the shadows. Aka SEEKERS, THE (UK), LA VALLE DEI MĀORI (Italy), DAMONEN DER SUDEE (DEMONS OF THE SOUTH SEAS) (German), EL VALLE DE LOS MĀORIS (Spanish), LES DEMONS DES MERS DU SUD (French)
MISS SADIE THOMPSON (1953) COLUMBIA Rita Hayworth, José Ferrer and Aldo Ray in film classic. Hayworth plays a sexy woman, in a South Seas island layover, along with a preacher and many lonely American Marines. This background makes for an explosive and dramatic story. Hanalei pier, on Kauaʽi is recognized as one main set. Filmed mostly on Kauaʽi. Set in Samoa and some filming there with great Samoan fales (huts) and a Samoan tribal council and village dancing. Sadie character is a former Honolulu bar girl (prostitute). Remake of SADIE THOMPSON (1928) and RAIN (1932). Also, a bit by a Charles Buchinsky, who later changed his last name to Bronson.
MISTER ROBERTS (1955) WARNER BROS. Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon and William Powell in WWII naval classic based in the Pacific. Filmed at Midway Island with scenes shot at Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oʽahu. Also, legendary Duke Kahanamoku has a bit part. Set in the South Pacific with a stop in the fictitious Polynesian island of Elysium (Greek mythology meaning paradise). Duke plays a native chief. Canoe greeting scene with beautiful Hawaiian koa wood outrigger canoes.
RETURN TO PARADISE (1953) UA / MGM Gary Cooper falls in love with a South Seas native girl. Filmed in Samoa. From James Michener’s book. Moira MacDonald, a hafa kasi (half-caste), played Copper’s biracial daughter with good reviews. The mother, Maeva played by Roberta Haynes, who also played a Polynesian named Mareva in HELL SHIP MUTINY (1957) was the only faux, brown-painted native, while many real native Samoans had speaking parts and did a good job. Also credited; Chief Mamea Mutatumua, Herbert Ah Sue & Felice Va’a all Samoan locals. Mr. Ah Sue named a new daughter after Roberta a short time later. Great role for Cooper. Two native kiss scenes.
REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, THE (1956) 20TH CENTURY FOX Jane Russell, Richard Egan, and Agnes Moorehead in story of an aggressive woman, with a questionable past, that was driven by police out of San Francisco, and eventually lands in Honolulu. There she than buys up land, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, but gives it all away and returns to the mainland sadder and wiser. Mostly filmed on Oʽahu. Director Raul Walsh. Great Honolulu veiled brothel scenes with Russell doing a hula number on stage with four Hawaiian hula dancers, as backups, all wearing cellophane skirts, a great image. Good Pearl Harbor attack scene from the civilian point of view.
SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) MAGNA/ 20TH CENTURY-FOX Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, Juanita Hall, Ray Walston, John Kerr and France Nuyen in classical musical. Set is a French Pacific isle during WWII but filmed on Kauaʽi. Rogers and Hammerstein production, with well-known score. Popular hits Bali Hai and many more. Men are “Polynesian” but look and dress Melanesian. The island of Bali Hai has an even more eclectic mix of Pacific cultures of the era, Polynesian, French, Melanesian, Asian etc. Mostly an island of female refugees. Two main characters of film, Bloody Mary (Hall) and daughter Liat (Nuyen) who live on the fictional Bali Hai are Tonkinese or Northern Vietnamese not Tongan Polynesian as most people think. Pacific paradise and racism are main themes of this film, which is a bold but true theme for its time. Ganyor falls for older Brazzi until she finds out he already had fathered half-Polynesian children. To circumvent the issue of miscegenation, the Polynesian mother had been deceased before the story begins to make her almost nonexistent. Compare Donovan’s Reef (1963). Canoe greeting trope. African-American Archie Savage (name is an ironic coincidence) plays a Melanesian chief as he did in His Majesty O’Keefe. Juanita Hall is also of Afro-American decent. Actors Doug McClure and future Tarzan, Ron Ely had bit parts.