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Saturday, February 20, 2016

PAGAN LOVE SONG -- Movie Review by Porfle

Like an exotic postcard from Tahiti come to life, PAGAN LOVE SONG (1950) is a Technicolor fantasia with Esther Williams looking gorgeous in brown body makeup and two-piece outfits as the half-Tahitian Mimi.

Bass-voiced Howard Keel is "Hap" Endicott, a teacher from the USA who just inherited some land with a bamboo shack on it and wants to kick back and become a native. Even though Mimi has plans to move to the States just as Hap is settling in, we know that they'll get together somehow.

This is easily one of Esther's prettiest yet dumbest films. Keel plays Hap like a big, grinning oaf who belts out some of the worst songs ever written (subjects include his singing bamboo house and how much fun it is to sing in the sun on a bicycle) while blundering his way around the island like a newborn giraffe.

He gets along great with the natives (one of whom is played by a very young Rita Moreno), since they're all portrayed as a bunch of addle-brained children themselves. It's enough to make one yearn for the cultural authenticity of an Elvis Presley comedy.

Keel works overtime trying to force some feeling into the nonsensical songs that are shoehorned into the slim plot but he has little to work with--he was much more at home in robust musicals such as ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. Plus, incredible as it may seem, he and Esther have about as much romantic chemistry as a couple of cocoanuts.

After the movie has toodled along with nothing much going on until almost the end, an awkward and overly melodramatic plot twist is dropped right in the middle of it like an anvil in order to remind us that there's supposed to be a story.

The only things PAGAN LOVE SONG has going for it--besides one of those cool SPFX water fantasies that glorifies Esther Williams as a sort of aquatic goddess--are the lush scenery, a really cool Tahitian dance sequence, and the fact that the star looks so good at times that it's almost unreal. (Amazingly, a look at the musical outtakes reveals that the film's best songs aren't even in it!)

If you can turn off your critical faculties for an hour and a half and watch PAGAN LOVE SONG purely on a superficial level, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, this movie is so stupefyingly slight that it makes DONOVAN'S REEF look like a James Michener epic.



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