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White Shadows in the South Seas

White Shadows in the South Seas
1928 film poster
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Robert Flaherty
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Hunt Stromberg
William Randolph Hearst
Written by Intertitles:
John Colton
Screenplay by Jack Cunningham
Ray Doyle
Based on White Shadows in the South Seas 
by Frederick O'Brien
Starring Monte Blue
Raquel Torres
Music by William Axt
David Mendoza
Cinematography Clyde De Vinna
Bob Roberts
George Gordon Nogle
Edited by Ben Lewis
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • November 10, 1928 (1928-11-10)
Running time 89 minutes
Country United States
Language English intertitles

White Shadows in the South Seas is a 1928 American silent film adventure romance produced by Cosmopolitan Productions in association with MGM and distributed by MGM. The movie was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starred Monte Blue and Raquel Torres. Based on the novel of the same name by Frederick O'Brien, the film is known for being the first MGM picture to be released with a pre-recorded soundtrack and having won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Clyde De Vinna.[1]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production history 3
  • Recognition 4
    • Critical response 4.1
    • Awards and nominations 4.2
  • DVD release 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Dr. Matthew Lloyd, an alcoholic doctor is disgusted by the exploitation by white people of the natives on a Polynesian island. The natives dive for pearls. However, numerous accidents occur and one diver dies. In anger, Dr. Lloyd punches Sebastian, the employer. As revenge and to prevent further interruption of his activities, he tricks Dr. Lloyd onto a ship with a diseased crew (thinking they are ill) and his men rough him up and send the ship off into a storm. Dr. Lloyd survives and is washed ashore on an island where none of the natives have ever seen a white man....


Production history

The film is based on the 1919 novel of the same name by Frederick O'Brien, who spent a year in the South Pacific with native islanders. The film began production in 1927 as a co-venture between documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty and MGM. The production was filmed in Tahiti, 4000 miles from Hollywood, a rarity for the time.

The film is known for being the first MGM picture to be released with a pre-recorded soundtrack. The soundtrack consisted of a romantic score by Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his efforts at the 1929 ceremonies, the second year the cinematography award was given out. De Vinna had previously been to Tahiti with director Raoul Walsh when they made the 1923 island adventure Lost and Found on a South Sea Island for Goldwyn Pictures.

Frederick O'Brien had spent a year in Samoa 1919-1920 living amongst native Samoan islanders. Robert Flaherty had lived with his wife and children in Samoa from April 1923 to December 1924 filming the feature documentary Moana released in January 1926 by Paramount Pictures.

Several years later MGM production head Irving Thalberg was in hospital recuperating and during his stay Thalberg read O'Brien's book. In 1927 Thalberg decided to put O'Brien's book to film. Flaherty, a friend of O'Brien's, was brought aboard as director while W. S. Van Dyke was added as support to Flaherty. The production would head to Papeete, Tahiti.

The new film would feature a supporting cast of almost all Tahitian islanders and/or actors with only the featured stars and a few heavies/villains coming from Hollywood. Flaherty, upon arriving in Tahiti, began shooting the film at a slow pace which was not practical for MGM. After clashing with Van Dyke, Flaherty left the production, leaving Van Dyke as sole director for the film. Van Dyke then finished the project on schedule. However, Flaherty's did shoot some scenes before departing the production, and some footage of his may be seen in the existing print, i.e. '...the lagoon in the jungle scene'.

A dispute over this film with Hunt Stromberg led David Selznick to quit Metro Goldwyn Mayer. "David thought it an idyllic story; Hunt said he wanted lots of tits."[2]


Critical response

Mordaunt Hall felt the film was "average" and expressed disappointment at how the film was advertised as a "sound" film yet, the only sound (other than sound effects, whistling, cheering, crying etc.) was the yelling of the word "Hello" which itself had the volume of a whisper.[3]

Awards and nominations

DVD release

On January 12, 2010, the film had its first home video release on DVD.[4]


  1. ^ [http;// The AFI Catalog of Feature Films:White Shadows in the South Seas]
  2. ^ Leff, Leonard and Jerold Simmons. The Dame in the Kimono, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.
  3. ^ The New York Times
  4. ^ SilentEra website
  • Cinema Journal, Imagined Islands: White Shadows in the South Seas and Cultural Ambivalence, by Jeffrey Geiger c.2002

External links

  • White Shadows in the South Seas at the Internet Movie Database
  • White Shadows in the South Seas synopsis at AllMovie
  • turnerclassicmovies "White Shadows in the South Seas" by Jeff Stafford
  • at SilentEraWhite Shadows in the South Seas
  • artwork cover of program to the film
  • in the South SeasWhite Shadowslobby card of
  • White Shadows in the South Seas at Virtual History
  • Woody directing Monte Blue in the vinage segment of the film, Clyde De Vinna at camera (*if photo won't load click --> worthpoint homepage link, then return and click)
  • surviving lantern slide
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