Bird of Paradise (1932 film)

Bird of Paradise is a 1932 American pre-Code American romantic adventure drama film directed by King Vidor, starring Dolores del Río and Joel McCrea. It was released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Bird of Paradise
Film poster
Directed byKing Vidor
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
King Vidor
Written byRichard Walton Tully (play)
Wells Root
Wanda Tuchock
Leonard Praskins
StarringDolores del Río
Joel McCrea
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyLucien Andriot
Edward Cronjager
Clyde De Vinna
Edited byArchie Marshek
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • August 12, 1932 (1932-08-12)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$753,000[1]

In 1960, the film entered the public domain in the United States because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication per the Copyright Act of 1909.[2]


As a yacht sails into an island chain in the South Pacific, a large number of natives in pontoon boats sail out to greet them. The natives dive for the trinkets the yacht's crew throws them. A shark arrives, scaring most of the natives away. Attempting to catch a shark by throwing it bait that has been tied to a harpoon-sized hook, Johnny Baker (Joel McCrea) accidentally steps into a loop that tightens around his ankle. The shark takes the bait, and the rope grows tighter, causing the rope to yank the young man overboard. Luana (Dolores del Río), the daughter of the chief, saves his life by leaping into the water and cutting the rope.

It is not long before they meet in the middle of the night. Swiftly falling in love, they discover she has been promised by her father to another man – a prince on a neighboring island. An arranged wedding with an elaborate dance sequence then follows. Johnny appears at the nick of time, runs into a circle of burning fire, rescues her as the natives kneel to the fire.

They travel to another island where they hope to live out the rest of their lives. He builds her a house with a roof of thatched grass. However, their idyll is smashed when the local volcano on her home island begins to erupt. She confesses to her lover that she alone can appease the mountain. Her people take her back. When Johnny goes after her, he is wounded in the shoulder by a spear and tied up. The people decide to sacrifice both of them to the volcano, but on the way, the couple are rescued by Johnny's friends and taken aboard the yacht.

Johnny's wound is tended to, but his friends wonder what will become of the lovers. Luana does not fit into Johnny's world. When Johnny is sleeping, Luana's father demands her back. She goes willingly, believing that only she can save her people by voluntarily throwing herself into the volcano's mouth.

Cast (in credits order)


The native huts in this film were soon reused for RKO's King Kong (1933).[4]

Bird of Paradise was almost the first sound film to utilise a full symphonic score from beginning to end. Producer David O. Selznick and composer Max Steiner had both been experimenting with this idea, while other studios had begun development along similar lines, such the score by Alfred Newman for Samuel Goldwyn's Street Scene. However, it was Steiner who first received screen credit for composition of a score which, other than a few brief pauses during the film, was almost entirely through-composed (from beginning to end).[5]


Bird of Paradise created a scandal after its release owing to a scene featuring Dolores del Río swimming naked. The film was made before the Production Code was strictly enforced, so brief nudity in American movies was not unknown.[6] Orson Welles said del Río represented the highest erotic ideal with her performance in the film.[7]

The film lost an estimated $250,000 at the box office.[1]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p39
  2. Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal. 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313.
  3. Bird of Paradise (1932) cast list at IMDb
  4. Haver, Ronald (1987). David O. Selznick's Hollywood. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-517-47665-9.
  5. Darby, William & DuBois, Jack American Film Music p.18
  6. Sex in Cinema, AMC filmsite
  7. Bird of Paradise, 1932 pre-code
  8. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
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