|Vintage Pulp||Jul 10 2022|
James Mason's tropical paradise may not be an accurate portrayal, but you can't say it's not fun.
This nice poster was made for the British produced South Seas movie Tiara Tahiti, which opened in the UK today in 1963. There are a few posters but this one is the best, we think, though we had to do some heavy retouching to make it presentable. An alternate promo appears below. The movie is a comedy-drama about former business partners played by James Mason and John Mills, who clashed in England, fought the Germans in World War II, and have both turned up in Tahiti during peacetime. Part of their dislike for each other is due to their opposite personalities. Mills is the uptight sort who wishes to be respected but isn't, while Mason is naturally likeable and happy-go-lucky. One reason for him to be happy is that his girlfriend is Rosenda Monteros. She's supposed to be an island girl, and though she's Mexican in real life rather than Tahitian, she's smoking hot whatever her place of birth.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Geoffrey Cotterell, and we're tempted to acquire it. We've gotten pretty good at filling in between the scenes of vintage cinema, and because Monteros is Mason's girlfriend but has flirtatious interactions with other men, we suspect there's an explicitly sexual aspect to the book that was tossed into the screenwriter's garbage bin. We say that because we've read a couple of novels from the mid-century period set in Tahiti, and in both of those local women were portrayed—and we have no way of knowing whether this was true or a white Western fantasy—as readily available. Sex is only hinted at in Tiara Tahiti, but Monteros has a nude scene in a waterfall pool and another topless sequence, and she looks flat-out astonishing in both. We gather these occurred only in the non-U.S. version. Well, try to find that one.
You won't be surprised to learn that there are a few offensive characterizations here, even up to plastering Czech actor Herbert Lom with makeup and prosthetic eyes so he can play a Chinese islander named Chong Sing. There are some who resent this kind of thing being pointed out, but realizing how anachronistic these sorts of elements are isn't different in essence from noting that old vampire movies have bats on strings. It's impossible to look at it and not see it as kind of dumb. There's a better way to do it now, that's all, and that betterway also offers opportunities in cinema for historically erased groups like the Asian actor who could have played Chong Sing. But movies are still just attempts at entertainment. With notable exceptions like The Birth of a Nation, deliberately harmful portrayals of selected ethnic groups was not a goal. As it happens, Lom is quite good in his role.
While he and Monteros are important secondary attractions, it's Mason who provides the real reason to watch Tiara Tahiti. He's perfect as the layabout main character—charming, clever, selfish, and always able to improvise when circumstances require it. His old rival Mills is in Tahiti to develop pristine local land for a hotel chain, while Mason is on the opposite side of this paradise-wrecking business deal. He manages to get hired as the project's local expert, but all the while is trying to sabotage the deal from the inside. Of course, Tahiti eventually became dotted with hotels and barely-used millionaire hideaways like everyplace else, and currently is taking steps to reduce mass arrivals from overseas, but within the context of this quaint movie from a lifetime ago, maybe Mason can win. However it turns out, Tiara Tahiti should give you a few smiles.
BritainFrench PolynesiaTahitiMexicoTiara TahitiJames MasonJohn MillsRosenda MonterosHerbert Lomposter artcinemamovie review