East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

In paradise with Jacques Tourneur


I found out about Adventures in Paradise via a song called We are the people our parents warned us about. And yes, that’s how I spent my vacations.

Hey hey, Gardner McKay, take us on the leaky Tiki with you
Clear skies bound for Shanghai, sailin’ on the ocean blue

And so I went and googled that name, and found out about a TV series that never aired in my country.

Adventures in Paradise was based on an idea by James A. Michener, whose first book of the same title had been the basis for the musical South Pacific. The series was very loosely based on the general concept of the book. A Korean War vet called Adam Troy – actor Gardner McKay, that got name-checked in the song I mentioned – living in the South Pacific, and working as a charter captain, the skipper of the two-master Tiki.
In each episode, he meets new people and faces a new adventure.
Michener’s popularity as a writer was enough to have the series presented as James A. Michener’s Adventures in Paradise.

The series was launched in 1959, and lasted until 1962, with three seasons and a total of 91 episodes.

So yes, adventure stories on the seas – that sounds pretty much like my cup of tea.
Wikipedia has a page for the series, with a list of the featured stars – the likes of Martin Landau, Barbara Steel, Anna May Wong, Vincent Price and Ann Francis – and directors. And this is where a name caught my attention: Jacques Tourneur.

Now, in case you missed it, Jacques Tourneur is the director of two essential movies, that is Cat People (1942), and Night of the Demon (1957, and based on a story by M.R.James), but he also directed a number of other classics. He’s a legend in the field.
And in 1962 he directed an episode of Adventures in Paradise called A Bride for the Captain.

I had to track it down.
And it was not hard to find, as a lot of episodes of the series have been uploaded in Youtube.

Here I had found a perfect “blogger thing” – why not watch all the available episodes, and do a post on each throughout the remainder of this year?
After all, Adventures in Paradise falls under the bailiwick of Karavansara, right?
We even have a sub-cathegory called “South Seas”!
And why not start with Tourneur’s contribution?

So I started watching, picking a few episodes at random, and was quite pleased with what I saw.
OK, it’s a very old TV series, but the premise is sound, the cast is good, and it’s the right thing for the hot summer evenings.

Why not start with the Tourneur episode straight away?
Well, because it came late in the series, and I wanted to get the general layout of the set-up before I got to the one episode I really wanted to see. In order to be able to make a comparison.
And now here we go.

The series in general, as I said, appears to be a more than decent adventure entertainment, with a few noir-ish touches, and an ample serving of exoticism that manages to be quite refreshing. Yes, it’s a bit National Geographic-y, but I grew up reading old National Geographics, so there.
Adam Troy is not a stereotypical tough guy. He’s smart and resourceful, and has a sense of humor.
He does pull all the ladies, but hey, that’s why he’s the hero, I guess.
The thing is entirely shot on sound stages or in the back lot in Hollywood, but that’s OK.
It’s a fun show.

Then we get to A Bride for the Captain and… uh.
The guest star is Ray Walston, of My Favorite Martian fame, and the general tone is comedy.
The premise: Frank Hoag (Walston) is an old friend of Captain Troy, and he’s back in the Pacific after his fourth divorce. And because he got four failed marriages behind him and his old friend Troy is still single, he decides as a form of revenge (?) to get him married.
To do so, he’s willing to spread rumors, falsify documents, and intrude into other people’s lives and try and manipulate others.

Quite a ton of laughs, what?

In fact there are a few pretty comic moments, courtesy of the supporting presence of veterans J. Pat O’Malley and Arthur Malet in the role of two shameless crooks that get sucked into the plot.
But the whole thing is tired, and decidedly unfunny for most of the time.
Maybe it’s the premise, that’s somewhat offensive, maybe it’s the writing.
Tourneur’s hand can still be detected in the way some scenes are framed and shot, but all in all, the episode is highly forgettable.
It came out in March 1962, and four weeks later, the show was over. So maybe the writing feels the fatigue of the long run.

But still, the premise of the series is good, and there are a lot of better episodes available … and we’ll talk about them in the next weeks.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “In paradise with Jacques Tourneur

  1. Oh Jesus Christ!!! I actually remember that show LOL!!! They’d rerun the few episodes every once in a while for a few years after it got cancelled. I must have been about 9 or 10 years old.

    The late 50’s and early to mid 60’s were a great time for adventure, war, crime and western shows on TV.


    • As I said, it was never released here in Italy, and it’s a pity, because it’s the sort of thing I’d have LOVED as a kid.
      But it’s never to late to have a happy childhood, so I’ll watch a few more episodes.


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