(director/writer: F.W. Murnau; screenwriter: Robert J. Flaherty; cinematographer: Floyd Crosby; editor: Arthur Brooks; music: Hugo Riesenfeld; cast: Matahi (Matahi, the boy), Hitu (Tabu, the old warrior ), Reri (Reri, the girl ), Bill Bambridge (Jean, the policeman), Jules (Jules, the Captain), Kong Ah (The Chinese Trader); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: F.W. Murnau; Kino Video; 1931)

Brilliantly simple lyrical film was shot on location in Tahiti.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

German filmmaker F.W. Murnau’s (“Sunrise”/”The Last Laugh”/”Faust”) last film, after a three year stay in Hollywood. He died in a Hollywood traffic accident just prior to the premiere and supposedly the gay filmmaker was discovered with his chauffeur’s cock in his mouth. This brilliantly simple lyrical film was shot on location in Tahiti in 1929 and was meant to be a collaboration between the great documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty and Murnau, but because of artistic differences they had a split and the studio backed Murnau’s proposal to shoot it as a fictional melodrama about an ill-fated forbidden love affair among the Polynesian natives and thankfully rejected Flaherty’s proposal to shoot it as a straight ethnographic documentary. Murnau bought out Flaherty’s share and shot it solo, with Flaherty remaining as the cinematographer. But when his camera broke he walked off the set and the studio quickly hired Floyd Crosby (his son David made a career as a rocker, singing in the band called Crosby, Stills & Young), who did a marvelous Oscar-winning job as cinematographer for this sensuous shot in black-and-white South Seas tale. It’s filmed in two chapters, Paradise and Paradise Lost, and with an appealing non-professional cast. The title, for the mostly silent film, literally means death.

The lovely young and playful Bora-Bora island girl Reri has been chosen by the visiting chief of Fanuma to be the untouched maiden who is sacred to the gods, since the prior maiden passed away. The honor comes with a “tabu,” that for her to be seduced will bring death to herself and the seducer. Nevertheless Reri is in love with the handsome young pearl-diver fisherman Matahi and cries over being chosen. After the island natives stage a celebration in Reri’s honor in which she dances sensuously with Matahi, she’s forced to sail away with island chief warrior Tabu (Hitu). Matahi reacts by kidnapping Reri and taking her to an island ruled by whites, hoping the tyrannical laws of their forefathers would not be followed there. The couple do fine there, but the white island government wishes to keep the peace with the native islanders and informs Tabu of their whereabouts. ThenReri receives a letter from Tabu stating she has three days to return to him or Matahi will die. Reri goes with Tabu to avoid the death of her lover, and the crestfallen Matahi swims after their sailboat until he drowns.

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas Poster

REVIEWED ON 3/17/2013    GRADE: A