Even today, the Marquesas Islands beckon travelers yearning for an exotic and authentic Polynesian experience. Imagine the wonder of 1928 audiences when White Shadows in the South Seas took them thousands of miles from home to that remote Eden of rolling waves and palm-fringed beaches. The first of W.S. Van Dyke's famed filmed-on-location adventures (the others: The Pagan and Trader Horn) tells a dramatic tale of foreign interlopers - a booze-sodden doctor and a rapacious pearl trader - who bring destruction to a vibrant Pacific culture. The film features synchronized music and sound effects plus spectacular, Academy Award-winning cinematography that captures a paradise in peril.
Filmed on location in Tahiti, WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS was originally intended as a project for famed documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, whose NANOOK OF THE NORTH had cleaned up at the boxoffice. At first given complete artistic control, Flaherty began faltering in terms of keeping cast and crew organized; even worse, he moved too slowly to suit his parent studio MGM. More and more directorial authority was relegated to Flaherty's assistant, the phenominally fast W. S. "Woody" Van Dyke. Frustrated, Flaherty resigned (some reports claim that he fell ill and was taken off the project), and the film became solely the responsibility of Van Dyke. Despite the wails from the pro-Flaherty camp about "compromise" and "bastardization", the finished WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS is a superlative work. Loosely based on a 1919 book by Frederick O'Brien, the film charts the denigration of the South Sea islands and its denizens thanks to the intervention of white civilization. Monte Blue plays a alcoholic doctor who is disgusted by the negative effects of European colonization. He sails away to an island still untouched by "white shadows", where he falls in love with native girl Raquel Torres. Enchanted by the idyllic lifestyle of the islanders, Blue reacts with horror when he sees a group of white men sailing into view, bringing their usual seductive trinkets of alcohol and cigarettes. Attempting to quell the invasion, Blue is killed. As her island falls victim to civilization, Raquel mourns over her lover's grave. Gorgeously photographed, WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS is a masterful blend of drama and documentary. Most surviving prints do not include the clumsily constructed talkie sequences, wherein Monte Blue teaches Raquel Torres how to whistle (this scene works far better when conveyed silently).
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