Review: Charles Vidor’s “The Tuttles of Tahiti,” Starring Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton and Jon Hall in “The Tuttles of Tahiti”
Charles Laughton and Jon Hall in “The Tuttles of Tahiti”

Based on a 1939 serial from The Saturday Evening Post, Charles Vidor’s The Tuttles of Tahiti is an thoroughly uninspired comedy made all the worse by its laughably horrendous portrayal of French Polynesian culture. Jonas (Charles Laughton, in full brownface) is the head of the Tuttle household, a family with too many members to count. When his son Chester (Jon Hall) returns home, Jonas is delighted, but Chester’s homecoming bring back the money troubles that plague the Tuttles. The film is a seemingly endless series of idiotic business dealings between the Tuttles and their more wealthy neighbors, mainly the scheming Mr. Jensen (Curt Bois). It also features an obligatory Romeo and Juliet–style romance between Chester and Tamara (Peggy Drake), the daughter of another wealthy neighbor, Emily (Florence Bates).

Lewis Meltzer and Robert Carson’s script is not simply repetitive and pointless, but downright mean in its racist ridicule of the stupid, lazy Tuttles. In the view of these two writers, everyone in Tahiti is either a moron who can’t manage money or a greedy swindler of those morons—save perhaps Jonas’ mother (Adeline De Walt Reynolds), whose advice everyone in the film ignores anyway. This all makes an already dire film even more so, and marks The Tuttles of Tahiti as one of the worst of the year.

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Read the review in The New York Times