Tabu (1931)

81 mins | Drama | 19 March 1931

Director:

F. W. Murnau

Cinematographer:

Floyd Crosby

Production Company:

Golden Bough, Inc.
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HISTORY

The title card of this film contains the subtitle, "A Story of the South Seas." The opening of the film states: "Only native-born South Sea islanders appear in this picture, with a few half-castes and Chinese." The title of F. W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty's story was "Turia." Murnau and Flaherty reportedly left for Tahiti with Hollywood actress Lotus Long, but when Colorart, the film's financial backer, went bankrupt in the 1929 stockmarket crash, Murnau decided to finance the film himself and use an all-native Polynesian cast. A MPH review says Murnau selected "lovely Polynesian half-breeds delectably beautiful and white enough to appeal to any American audience taste." This film was shot on Bora Bora and Takapota Islands in Tahiti, where Murnau and Flaherty spent eight months in production. The film was shot silent, with music and subtitles added later. According to a contemporary source, Murnau directed Reri and Matahi in French. Jean, who plays the part of the policeman, was the interpreter for the rest of the cast. He later went on to play the Tahitian chief in M-G-M's 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Reri, later known as Anna Chevalier, became a successful dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies and in New York nightclubs. After marrying a nobleman in Poland, and making a picture in Europe, she returned to the islands to live. Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for Cinematography for this film. HR credits "Robert Folsey" with photography, although this is probably a mistaken reference for Robert Flaherty, whom some modern sources credit with co-photography. On 11 Mar 1931, the night he completed work on the assembly ... More Less

The title card of this film contains the subtitle, "A Story of the South Seas." The opening of the film states: "Only native-born South Sea islanders appear in this picture, with a few half-castes and Chinese." The title of F. W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty's story was "Turia." Murnau and Flaherty reportedly left for Tahiti with Hollywood actress Lotus Long, but when Colorart, the film's financial backer, went bankrupt in the 1929 stockmarket crash, Murnau decided to finance the film himself and use an all-native Polynesian cast. A MPH review says Murnau selected "lovely Polynesian half-breeds delectably beautiful and white enough to appeal to any American audience taste." This film was shot on Bora Bora and Takapota Islands in Tahiti, where Murnau and Flaherty spent eight months in production. The film was shot silent, with music and subtitles added later. According to a contemporary source, Murnau directed Reri and Matahi in French. Jean, who plays the part of the policeman, was the interpreter for the rest of the cast. He later went on to play the Tahitian chief in M-G-M's 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Reri, later known as Anna Chevalier, became a successful dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies and in New York nightclubs. After marrying a nobleman in Poland, and making a picture in Europe, she returned to the islands to live. Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for Cinematography for this film. HR credits "Robert Folsey" with photography, although this is probably a mistaken reference for Robert Flaherty, whom some modern sources credit with co-photography. On 11 Mar 1931, the night he completed work on the assembly of Tabu, Murnau was killed in a car accident near Santa Barbara, CA. Murnau was buried in Berlin.
       Film scholars disagree over Flaherty's contribution to this film. His brother David wrote a modern account of the rift that occurred between Murnau and Flaherty during the film's production. According to David Flaherty, "Murnau made a Murnau picture there." In his biography of Murnau, Seymour Stern said that in 1948 Theodore Huff falsified history by giving a split director credit to Murnau and Flaherty. According to Stern, the original scenario was jointly written by Murnau and Flaherty, but Flaherty's contribution was less than five percent of the total script and was mostly unusable. A modern source states that Paramount was prepared to offer Murnau a ten-year contract in anticipation of the success of Tabu. Another modern source states that, according to Upton Sinclair, Murnau spent $135,000 making the film, in accordance with his contract with Paramount, which specified that if he made the initial outlay of cash, he would receive fifty percent of the film's net box-office profits. The source also indicates that the film's musical score cost $9,000, and the film ran fourteen weeks at the Central Park Theatre in New York. In 1952, Var reported that re-issue rights for this film were acquired by Manor Films. The film's copyright was renewed 31 Jul 1959 by Samuel G. Brown, the legal owner of the posthumous work of Murnau. Brown shared ownership of Tabu with his brother Rowland, an American director. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
22 Mar 31
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
21-Jan-31
---
Motion Picture Herald
21 Mar 31
p. 39.
Motion Picture Herald
2-May-31
---
Motion Picture Herald
20 Jun 31
p. 24.
New York Times
19 Mar 31
p. 21.
Variety
25 Mar 31
p. 17.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Orig story
Orig story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
FILM EDITOR
MUSIC
Mus settings
PRODUCTION MISC
Told by
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 March 1931
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 18 March 1931
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Publix Corp.
Copyright Date:
3 August 1931
Copyright Number:
LP2371
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Photophone System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
81
Length(in feet):
7,383
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In 1929 on the island of Bora Bora, which is still untouched by the hand of civilization, young lovers Matahi and Reri frolic in a waterfall. The islanders then run to greet Tabu, an envoy from the Chief of Fanuma, who has come to name Reri the successor to the island's sacred virgin. When the heartbroken Reri is brought before Tabu, he decrees, "Man must not touch her or cast upon her the eye of desire...from this time forth she is tabu. To break this tabu means death." The natives stage a celebration in Reri's honor in which they dance and play music, and then she sails away with Tabu. When Matahi then kidnaps Reri, however, the islanders fear the power of the tabu will fall upon them. If found unchaste, Reri will be sacrificed and Matahi and Tabu will die. Near starvation, Matahi and Reri travel in a canoe through storms to the "land of the white man." There, the couple celebrates with the islanders until the local government demands their arrest to keep peace among the islands. While Matahi charms the policeman into letting them stay, a diver defies a mandate which forbids diving in the pearl-rich seas because the natives believe they are guarded by a man-eating shark, and is indeed killed by a shark. Later, in her room, Reri receives a letter from Tabu stating she has three days to return to him or Matahi will die. Unaware of Tabu's demands, Matahi plans to buy tickets for the schooner Hinano , which is scheduled to arrive in two days. Matahi then learns of his ... +


In 1929 on the island of Bora Bora, which is still untouched by the hand of civilization, young lovers Matahi and Reri frolic in a waterfall. The islanders then run to greet Tabu, an envoy from the Chief of Fanuma, who has come to name Reri the successor to the island's sacred virgin. When the heartbroken Reri is brought before Tabu, he decrees, "Man must not touch her or cast upon her the eye of desire...from this time forth she is tabu. To break this tabu means death." The natives stage a celebration in Reri's honor in which they dance and play music, and then she sails away with Tabu. When Matahi then kidnaps Reri, however, the islanders fear the power of the tabu will fall upon them. If found unchaste, Reri will be sacrificed and Matahi and Tabu will die. Near starvation, Matahi and Reri travel in a canoe through storms to the "land of the white man." There, the couple celebrates with the islanders until the local government demands their arrest to keep peace among the islands. While Matahi charms the policeman into letting them stay, a diver defies a mandate which forbids diving in the pearl-rich seas because the natives believe they are guarded by a man-eating shark, and is indeed killed by a shark. Later, in her room, Reri receives a letter from Tabu stating she has three days to return to him or Matahi will die. Unaware of Tabu's demands, Matahi plans to buy tickets for the schooner Hinano , which is scheduled to arrive in two days. Matahi then learns of his debt to Kong Ah, the barkeeper, and slips out in the night to search for pearls. While he is away, Reri writes her farewell note to Matahi saying "the tabu is upon us." Matahi barely escapes the jaws of the shark and returns home to find his lover missing. Desperate, Matahi swims to Tabu's boat and drowns. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.