Pagan Island (1960)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

King Kong (1976)

King Kong vs Godzilla

Godzilla vs the Sea Monster

The Wicker Man

Pagan Island

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

"I auditioned for Scooby Doo vs
the Island Monster
, but
this was all my agent could get me."
We've noticed a trend in b-movies titled with two words. Laser Mission, Blue Monkey, Zero Tolerance – all riveting titles, to be sure, but hardly accurate descriptions of the films they represent. Laser Mission featured no actual lasers. The monster in Blue Monkey wasn't even a monkey, much less one with indigo fur. And Zero Tolerance, well – let's just say that the film's hero puts up with an awful lot before he goes bananas. Pagan Island does feature an island, but the fact that its inhabitants are pagans is something of an afterthought. It's a pretty flimsy afterthought at that, one created merely to explain the presence of an incredibly goofy statue of the Sea God.

Before we get too far ahead of things though, we must tell you that Pagan Island is a film notable for only two things. First, the movie was cast by famous cheesecake photographer Bunny Yeager. Yeager was a model herself, and was primarily responsible for all those naughty photos of '50s pinup favorite Bettie Page. (No, not the bondage pics you're conjuring in your head. Those were taken by Irving Klaw. We're talking about the bikini and jungle photographs that marked Page's earlier career.) Yeager's job – which she carried out successfully – was to find a dozen young women willing to appear on screen without the burdensome upper torso clothing that might accompany other roles.

"This Pagan Island Iced Tea
sure is good!"

The film's second distinguishing characteristic is that, for a movie populated by lovely young women, it features remarkably little nudity. Given the incredibly spare script, threadbare production values, and the bevy of bathing beauties present here, one would think that the film's main purpose is to titillate. These island girls, however, guard their curves jealously by adorning themselves with leis, which they hold strategically in place whenever they move quickly enough for the flowers to shift. Pagan Island – it's a movie of complicated contradictions.

The story is one of those loopy male fantasies in which a sailor named William (Eddie Dew) is marooned on an island populated only by women. ("What a place to be shipwrecked!" he exclaims, several times over the course of the film.) Of course, this arrangement has always presented a slight logical problem. With no men around, how can a society propagate itself? As daunting as this puzzle may seem, however, dozens of screenwriters have deemed themselves up to the challenge. In this case the Polynesian society William encounters is strictly segregated –  the women and men only come together once a year for "the festival of those to be born." Of course, no one would ever make a movie about a sailor being stranded on the island where the men live. It would be two hours of guys sitting around watching football and grilling meat.

"Are you union?"

If the situation in which Stanton finds himself were to arise in real life, the sailor in question would probably stand around staring a lot, but that doesn't make for gripping cinema. So the screenwriter, Clelle Mahon (a relation of director Barry Mahon, presumably), introduces what passes for a plot. She cleaves to the tradition of such films, in that our hero falls in love with one very special woman, the princess of the tribe. Think of the trouble that could be saved, if only our hero would lust after one of the regular tribeswomen! But no, William falls for Nani Maka, the princess who is slated to be the "bride of the sea god." Hey, maybe she was the winner on the show "Who Wants to Marry an Aquatic Pagan Deity?" New on FOX! Heaven knows, FOX and ABC intend between them to pair up women with low self-esteem with every other form of man and farm animal.

The plot synopsis so far is admittedly skimpy, but with barely sixty minutes to its name, there's not much more to tell without spoiling things completely. Worse yet, a good portion of that running time is occupied by Nani Maka and her three (three!) dance numbers, none of which actually match the clip of library drum music that was eventually dubbed over her pseudo-hula gyrations. We were hard pressed to tell whether Ms. Maka (yes, her character name and her screen credit are identical) had any formal hula training. Of all the girls on the island, she is the only one with any Polynesian physical features of which to speak – the rest speak with Brooklyn accents or stare dumbly with dopey, scrubbed-clean looks that call to mind words like "cornfed" and "Iowa."

Rescued footage from the Pee-Wee
Herman spinoff film,
Large Marge Goes Hawaiian.

The greatest casting mystery on Pagan Island is why Yeager might have chosen Trine Hovelsrud for the part of Queen Kayaloha. Hovelsrud is certainly not the most attractive of the "island" (Staten Island, maybe?) girls present, nor does she have the most curvaceous figure. (Compared to the other ladies in the tribe, in fact, quite the opposite.) And her acting? Well, why don't you watch her mumble her lines robotically as her eyes scan back and forth over her cue cards in a four-minute-long closeup, and then you can tell us about her acting abilities. We've watched her do it twice already, and that was enough exposure for a lifetime.

Perhaps things wouldn't have been quite so bad if the faux-pidgin English had been left out of the dialogue. Anyone who has spent more than a few days in Hawaii (outside of Waikiki, anyway) can tell you that actual pidgin is a mixture of languages. On the Polynesian islands, it's usually native island tongues blended with English, Portuguese, and whatever else the missionaries brought with them. What it is not, however, is a simple omission of the articles in otherwise standard – and perfectly pronounced –  English. A few dozen minutes of listening to the island girls say things like "Me no understand. Me go fishing with Stanton. He nice man," and you'll go lolo. Say mahalo for one a dem pair earplugs, brah. They da kine.

"So what do you do
with your left hands?"

One particular bit of the movie's depiction of island life gave us pause. The island is visited by a group of (ostensibly) Polynesian men who approach by boat to, uh, pay their respects. As they paddle ashore, they bellow a sort of rowing chant, which sounds an awful lot like:

Ahhhh-bey! Ho!
Ahhhh-bey! Ho!
Ahhhh-bey! Ho!

This wouldn't be remarkable in itself, except for the fact that we've heard the same chant in other movies – most notably the underrated Tom Hanks film Joe Versus the Volcano. When Nathan Lane was shouting these words in between sips of orange soda we didn't give much thought to their origin, but now we're curious. Is it an actual chant, adapted by both films independently of one another? Or perhaps an homage by John Patrick Shanley, Volcano's writer, to its wacky predecessor? We encourage anyone who can help clear up this particular bit of movie trivia to e-mail us.

The Weeki Wachee mermaid show
goes horribly wrong– again!

Of course, the crown jewel of island goofiness is the statue of the sea god that stands in the center of the village. It looks like something that could give Ultraman a run for his money, if you know what we mean. Sadly, it never comes to life or anything nearly that interesting. As a matter of fact it seems to be the island form of TV, as the only leisure activity we ever see the women partake in is watching Nani Maka dance in front of it for minutes on end. Very, very long minutes.

Without an epic-length story with which to set itself apart, Pagan Island instead goes for an allegedly ironic ending involving the wedding of William and Nani in an underwater cave (where's the frickin' light coming from?), some lost treasure, and a pissed bivalve. Not exactly gripping stuff, but in theory you don't need a gripping plot if you have lots of topless women. Of course, in theory the topless women work better if you actually show them.

This review is but a part of the B-Masters Cabal Roundtable Review entitled:

Fish Without Bicycles

And You Call Yourself A Scientist! Cat Women Of The Moon
The Bad Movie Report H.O.T.S.
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension Wild Women
Opposable Thumb Films Charlie's Angels
Teleport City Colossus And The Amazon Queen
The Unknown Movies Dinosaur Island

Review date: 12/7/2002

This review is © copyright 2002 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at Blah blah blah blah. LAVA® , LAVA LITE® and the motion lamp configuration are registered trademarks of Haggerty Enterprises, Inc., Chicago, IL