RVOD114 Pearl of the Orient

(1950s-ish, Educational/Short, color)


Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Pearl of the Orient is the name of my drag cabaret character.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:

The Philippines are foreign and mystical and need money to rebuild after WWII.


Sheaths!A paean to the indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines, including several tribal wedding ceremonies, the growing and preparation of rice, cock fighting, fishing and pearl diving. This segues awkwardly into the need to rebuild the country after the destruction caused by World War II.


Granted, this is one of those films that only look bad in retrospect. For the fifties, Pearl of the Orient is remarkably egalitarian, as it goes out of its way not to disparage the “non-Christian peoples” (narrator’s words) it observes. In the twenty-first century, however, making a film that says, “Look at those darling tribal Muslims in their funny pajamas. Aren’t they cute?” would be pretty much unthinkable.

Another thing that looks bad in retrospect: cock fighting. Even the filmmakers seem to know they’re getting a little too close to the line here, and provide the spurs (i.e. three inch blades tied to the roosters’ ankles) with sheaths to prevent any undue carnage. Because the crowd certainly doesn’t want to see any blood. While the cameras are rolling.

A few favorite comments: While the narrator goes on about the most heavily bombed parts of World War II, Kevin objects, “I thought Churchill was the most heavily bombed part of World War II.” When the narrator extols the brawny men working the rice fields, Mike points out the subject actually being filmed with, “Work, you brawny four-year-old girl.” A wizened, large-eyed woman crouches and blinks at the camera during a market scene, prompting Bill to say, “Tricksy hobbits!” It’s not an outrageous short (except for the cock fighting), but a slightly uncomfortable thread of condescension runs all the way through. The riffers find just the right buttons to push, making fun of the narrator and the cultures displayed in equal measure.