Copyright Company and Date: Copyright 1981, Guardian Trust Company in Trust (Released in 1982), written and directed by Stuart Gilliard, produced by Robert Lantos and Stephen J. Roth
Submitted by Nakuyabi
Sarah: Phoebe Cates! Supposedly a young British girl from 1823; spends a lot of her time on-screen wearing little or nothing.
David: A preacher's kid from 1823 Boston who's just about Sarah's age. He also spends a lot of time on-screen baring his chest.
Geoffry: Sarah's guardian, who at least goes to a little trouble to sound British. Tortured and murdered off-screen.
David's parents: Missionaries from Boston. Their names are the Rev. James and Mrs. Rachael McBride, but you need not bother memorizing them. Killed in a slaver raid.
Ahmed: Caravan organizer and apparently a former business partner to Sarah's deceased father. He dies fighting.
Bashi: The scuzzy caravan owner Ahmed hires. Gets his throat cut when one of his treacherous deals goes sour.
Al "Talab" ("The Jackal") Aziz: Arab slaver who wants Sarah to be a sex slave in his harem. Catches an arrow in his gullet.
In 1823, Arab raiders could get away with anything if they carried a British flag.
Arabs believe English is for selling pigs and discussing treachery.
A fresh corpse might improve the taste of well water.
Medical manuals are the poor girl's porno stash.
Learning how to use a shepherd's sling is easier than learning the bow and arrow.
Arabs always speak English when people are spying on them.
One camel's saddle bags can carry all the furnishings of a one-room house.
Somewhere in Iraq is an oasis large enough to have its own coral reef.
The right answer when a girl asks you if she looks "bigger" is "Yes."
You can learn a lot about sex from a chimpanzee.
Losing one's entire family is a powerful aphrodisiac.
So is the Florence Nightingale Effect.
The first thing to do when you reach a foreign civilization is dump your weapons.
STUFF TO WATCH FOR
3 mins - ...said the Arabic cat to the English canary.
4 mins - Not too perceptive, is she?
5 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS BREAST SHOT!
13 mins - She's topless! And she's not wearing any shirt, too!
15 mins - Say goodbye to your parents, David. That sure didn't take long.
16 mins - Ahmed, you are awesome with a knife. We'll miss you.
17 mins - What else were you expecting, Bashi? No one's going to miss you.
22 mins - Pictures of naked people! They're funny because they're naked!
24 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS SHOWER SCENE!
26 mins - Now is not a good time for a double entendre, David.
30 mins - Say goodbye to your chaperone, Sarah. That didn't take long either.
37 mins - David was able to build all that? Just marry him now, Sarah.
42 mins - He's not too perceptive either, is he?
44 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS TOTAL NUDITY!
46 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS BATHING!
48 mins - I bet you do "that" too, Sarah.
51 mins - She's got a point.
52 mins - RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A HOUSE!
55 mins - Along with the apology, a little gratitude would be nice too.
56 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS SKINNY-DIPPING!
61 mins - *Cough* *Rip off!* *Cough*
65 mins - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST POTTERY!
70 mins - It's a sex scene, all right? It may be gratuitous, but nothing's random.
72 mins - More RANDOM GRATUITOUS SKINNY-DIPPING...
73 mins - ...complete with RANDOM GRATUITOUS WING-WANG!
75 mins - If you're going to compliment the cooking, you have to eat it.
76 mins - Here's another nice long sex scene, in case that first one wasn't enough.
77 mins - I hope that wasn't another double entendre. I really do.
81 mins - Yeah, why don't you just tell everyone where you are, David?
82 mins - Infamously stupid last words for a villain.
89 mins - If you're not sure, you really just ought to shoot him again.
92 mins - Hey wait a minute: where'd she get that wedding ring?
Credits - Phoebe Cates is actually a pretty good singer.
Aziz (in Arabic): "You're like a little bird."
Sarah: "What's he saying?"
Geoffry: "My dear Miss, unless they speak the King's English, I'm as much at a loss as you are."
Aziz: "The King's English is for people selling pigs, not for praising the beauty of such a perfect desert flower."
David: "The only reason we're in this mess is because you were flirting with that guy in the marketplace!
Sarah: "David, that's not fair!"
David: "Fair!? He killed my mother and father and he killed Geoffry and he'll probably kill us, so don't tell me about fair!"
Sarah: "If he just kills me, I'll be lucky."
[On seeing his runaway camel returning:]
David: "Son of a b****!" [Looks up to Heaven.] "Oh, sorry."
[While holding a baby monkey:]
David: "You mean we're going to have one of these?"
Sarah: "Uh huh. Only ours will have a little less hair."
Let's get one thing straight right from the start: for all the sex and nudity in it, Paradise is not mere pornography. For one thing, it would be illegal if it were. Phoebe Cates was still a few months shy of her 18th birthday when she was playing Sarah, and while it wouldn't have been illegal in most states for somebody to have sex with her, it would have been illegal for anyone to film her while doing so. That's why, in a few of the more intimate scenes, the producers brought in a slightly more buxom body double to play Sarah naked.
Granted, the plot is pretty thin. The majority of it seems mostly contrived to dispose of anyone who might object to David and Sarah's coupling, starting with the rapacious villain's slaughter of their family and friends and ending with the richly deserved death of the villain himself. On the other hand, somebody actually did go to the trouble of writing an at least somewhat believable story around this plot. Those of us who want more of a story than just "They banged. The end." can appreciate this effort.
So what do we have for a story? Well, first we've got Sarah, a ravishingly beautiful and well-educated but rather naive young girl from London visiting her deceased father's business associate Ahmed in 1823 Baghdad. Next, we're introduced to Al Aziz, the slimy and lecherous slaver known as Al Talab or "The Jackal" who determines that he wants Sarah for his bed and his harem the moment he sees her in the marketplace. Sarah and her guardian Geoffry will never agree to this, of course, nor does Ahmed when Aziz tries to buy her from him, but he's not about to let minor problems like that discourage him from getting what he wants.
Then we're introduced to the strapping young David, who's generally a pretty decent boy, but is also in the grip of his raging hormones and keeps catching sight--through no fault of his own--of a lot of exposed female flesh. He's in town with his missionary parents from Boston; Christians not being very popular in Muslim theocracies under the nominal rule of the British empire, they've been stranded in Baghdad without transportation for several months and are looking to hitch a ride with Ahmed's caravan. Geoffry helps them persuade Ahmed to let them join, and thus David is introduced to Sarah. At a rest stop on the journey to Damascus, he's also introduced to the erotic gyrations of a belly dancer which, much to the amusement of his fellow travelers, both allures him and freaks him out.
Early the next morning, Aziz and his slavers attack the rest stop and start severely trimming the extras from our casting list, including David's father, whose skill failed to keep up with his enthusiasm for the fight, and his mother, who the slavers apparently decided was past her sell-by date. Traumatized as he is, David manages to do a bit better for Sarah and Geoffry, spooking Aziz's horse with a well-aimed splash of water from a cooking pan so that it dumps its rider into the dirt. Together, at Ahmed's urging, Geoffry, Sarah, and David hide themselves in a small cave in a well. Ahmed himself, however, takes an arrow to the heart and dies, using a throwing knife to take his attacker with him.
Just to emphasize how bad the bad guys are, the reason none of the raiders near the well happen to notice these three getting into it--or report this to their master later--is that they're too busy raping the women, including the poor belly dancer. Back when we were first introduced to Aziz and his surly crew, the reason they were in town in the first place was to auction off a previous batch of captive women as sex slaves, which is presumably what they're planning to do with these women as well. To make things worse, because this story is centered around David and Sarah and not around any of the other victims of their raiding, their atrocious business is set to continue well beyond the end of this story, and none of them except their leader ever gets punished for anything they do at all.
Fortunately for Sarah and her friends, Aziz clearly is not one of the shining beacons of light among evil overlords. In the aftermath of the massacre, he and his inside man Bashi discuss the day's profits and losses right there at the mouth of the well. While not shown during this scene, David, Geoffry, and Sarah were presumably right down there cowering in their hideout and could hear everything these two were saying (in English, no less), including Aziz's hasty conclusion that Sarah must have escaped from his raid somehow. For some reason, it never occurs to him that she couldn't have gotten very far on foot in any direction without his raiders catching sight of her and giving chase, and that therefore she must still be hiding somewhere around here. Instead of having his men stay and search the place, he simply decides to call it a day and go back to camp.
Thanks to this villainous incompetence, the three survivors have time to give David's parents a proper burial before taking off into the desert. The raiders have also rather conveniently left a camel running loose, on which our heroes load their remaining possessions and themselves. Thanks again to villainous incompetence, this comes to a very substantial stash. Aziz did mention to Bashi that, having failed to capture Sarah, he felt there was "little else of value" to be gained from the raid, but he and his minions clearly just aren't very efficient looters. Apparently, something about being an evil slaver tends to stunt one's mind.
On the other hand, maybe the desert sun is the culprit for frying everyone's brains. Without any locals who know the lay of the land to direct them, Geoffry sees little hope of his party's reaching Damascus or any other civilized place, but determines to keep going. David does manage to find a cave with some running water in it, however, and together they take shelter from the sun. There Geoffry collapses from sunstroke, leaving David and Sarah to take care of him for a day or two. This is also the point at which Sarah first demonstrates her propensity for brazen stripping, as she decides to take a shower while David's out, and lingers in it long enough for him (and us) to catch quite an eyeful of her when he gets back. (She also doesn't seem to care that Geoffry was still sleeping there and might also have gotten an eyeful if he happened to wake up.)
Geoffry eventually recovers, but the next morning as David is out hunting for food, he finds an Arab encampment about a mile away from the cave. Geoffry, foolishly holding out hope that these might be friendly Arabs, insists on going in for a closer look over David's protests. When he doesn't come back, David sneaks into the camp after him and quite predictably discovers that it is Aziz's camp just as he feared. While beating a hasty retreat, he also runs into Geoffry's mutilated corpse and nearly blows his lunch at the sight. Before the boy can make good on his escape, Aziz returns with his men and David gets to overhear him talking to one of his minions in English about Geoffry's having sent them on a false trail; this after we just saw the women and children in Aziz's camp talking to each other exclusively in their native Arabic. Yep, Aziz and his men must been out in the sun too long.
You'll notice that by this point, everyone who might have served as a chaperone to David and Sarah and kept them from bedding down with each other is dead. Soon after David and Sarah get on their camel and flee out into the desert again, they find their way to an improbably large and abandoned oasis out in the desert, and there decide to set up housekeeping with each other; therefore, they soon have no daily struggle for survival to distract them either. The air is thick with sexual tension as Sarah goes swimming in the nude, goes bathing in the nude, goes sleeping in the nude, and goes checking out David's anatomy in the nude while he's sleeping in the nude too. So what might be keeping them from having at each other, you may ask?
Well, for starters, Aziz may not be very bright, but he is persistent. He and his men soon find their way to the oasis and proceed to raid the place and trash the house. (Yes, David is somehow skilled enough to build Sarah a large one-room house out of driftwood and reeds in a very short time. Ladies, if your boyfriend can build you a house, what more do you need? Marry him today!) As more proof that the sun has thoroughly cooked his brains, Aziz once again rides off with his men without bothering to have them search and see whether David and Sarah might still be hiding out nearby (as they are). Still, he does keep coming back to raid them again from time to time.
Another problem is that David and Sarah do each have some major personal hang-ups. David's father was rather a prude, and raised his son to be very modest. Thus, although the boy can't help lingering a lot longer than he should when he happens to see a naked woman, he also can't help feeling guilty about his sexuality and not wanting to talk about it. As for Sarah, though she's not too shy about shedding her clothes where she knows full well David might catch sight of her, she's apparently still a bit nervous about taking the plunge and letting David do more with her than just look. It's to this movie's credit, I suppose, that the young couple still has enough plausible inhibitions that they still haven't started with all the heaving and thrusting by the end of the second act, although they'd clearly very much like to.
One of the odd devices this story uses to start getting them used to the idea is the introduction of a pair of chimpanzees called Doc and Eve (as if the movie's metaphors weren't mixed enough already). Much to Sarah's amusement and David's embarrassment, Doc the male chimp really likes--well, monkeying with his monkey, and right in front of them too. As for the female chimp Eve, she's evidently working on making another little chimp with Doc whenever he has time for her, albeit mercifully off-screen. (However odious these two may be as the comic relief, let us at least be grateful for that.)
What finally gets David and Sarah past their inhibitions, fittingly if ironically, is Aziz. While David happens to be out swimming under the improbably huge lake in the improbably large oasis, Aziz stops by to raid them again and carries off Sarah. Since, as we've already established, this evil overlord's noodle is fried, he insists that she be bathed and given a fresh change of clothes before he can get busy violating her. In the meantime, he and his raiders immediately ride out once again to... well, it's not clear what; maybe raid some poor desert village for more sex slaves or something. Honestly, are he and his men always this busy? Anyway, this leaves his camp open for David to slip into his tent disguised as one of the heavily shrouded women and snatch Sarah away from them.
In the process, however, David gets stung by a scorpion, and once they've gotten safely away from the camp, he develops a fever, giving Sarah ample excuse to get all weepy and beg him not to go dying on her the way everyone else has and start regretting that she never took their relationship to the next level. Boy, there's nothing like the Florence Nightingale Effect to help kick-start a romance, eh? When the scorpion's poison doesn't kill him after all, she finally decides to quit fooling around with him and--so to speak--really start fooling around with him. (Basically, she puts his hand on her breast and tells him to get busy, so he does.)
In more ways than one, we've reached the climax of the movie. In fact, we've reached two climaxes, since Sarah continues to shuck her clothes and make love with David at every available opportunity. Considering how most of the movie before this was a build-up to this grand achievement of theirs, what else is there for them to do? Well, one of Sarah's further achievements is getting herself pregnant (not that difficult, obviously) and then helping David grasp some of the implications of this by showing him Doc and Eve's new baby and explaining to him that in several more months, she'll be having one too. For his part, David still has to deal with Aziz, though it apparently takes this evil overlord a while to figure out he ought to check that oasis one more time and see if his targets are still where he found them the last two times.
Fortunately for our loving couple, the particular brand of stupidity afflicting this evil overlord also makes him the kind to break away from his minions and try to match his scimitar against the hero's bow and arrow in single combat. Even with these handicaps, the hero and villain are fairly equally matched, since David has only just learned to use this bow and still has trouble shooting straight. He's also smart enough to load up another arrow before going to check on his fallen foe, but not nearly enough to keep his distance until he's sure the enemy is dead. Hey, you've seen how these Hollywood fights usually end, haven't you? I'm not spoiling too much of anything by telling you all of this, am I?
The couple's final achievement, aided by Aziz's having chased them across the desert, is finding civilization again in the form of a distant coastal city seen across a bay. Their hope for returning to civilization renewed, the two of them set off hand-in-hand for the city as the credits roll and the movie's theme song plays. There, presumably, they'll run afoul of the hostile local authorities and end up getting either killed or sold into slavery.
All right, maybe I'm being too pessimistic. In fact, considering how many events have already all-too-conveniently broken in favor of these two lovebirds, I'm definitely being too pessimistic. Presumably, they'll catch themselves a boat back to London, declare themselves married by common law (not too much of a stretch in 1823; legally, the traditional rings and wedding license were mostly optional formalities one could pick up later as necessary) and live happily ever after. Happy now?
You might get the impression, now that I've mentioned so very many missteps Paradise made, that I didn't like it very much. Arguably, if not for having to censor about half the film to get it on TV, this movie would have been a pretty good candidate for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 show's mockery back in the day. (Indeed, whenever Phoebe Cates starts shedding clothes, I'm always tempted to recite a line from Steve Oedekerk's Thumbtanic: "She's naked! And she's not wearing any clothes, too!") So why am I rating it so highly? It occurs to me that maybe I haven't mentioned enough of its redeeming features yet. Paradise, oh Paradise, why do I like thee? Let me count the reasons.
First, while each of the characters does behave rather stupidly from time to time, mostly because the plot requires them to, they do all have their better moments. As mentioned, David is good in a fight and knows how to build a house. Naive as Sarah seems to be about other aspects of human nature, she does seem to know a lot about what a man wants from a woman and how it's not a good idea to give it away too cheaply. As for Aziz, though he makes so many typical stupid evil overlord mistakes, he does manage to earn our loathing for him as a villain for all the right reasons while he's on-screen, which is to say for his malevolence rather than his stupidity. While the plot treats pretty much everyone else as the expendable bit players they are, these others do give credible performances for the short time they're on the screen, and David and Sarah do grieve for them as any normal person would for friends and family in real life, where there are no bit players.
Another reason I like this film is for some of its subtler details. One intellectually stimulating element is that nothing the Arabs say in their own language is translated, and yet the gist of what they're saying is not too hard to discern from context. Decades after this movie was released, somebody did translate all these lines and put them into subtitle files which are now available online at allsubs.org, so we can see for ourselves what the Arabic-speaking characters were actually saying. For best results, however, I recommend seeing the movie the same way I did: without the captions first, so that you can then compare your own educated guesses against the actual translation and see how well you did. This also increases your respect for David in the one scene where he had to bluff his way past the matron in Aziz's tent when you realize he actually did a pretty good job at guessing what she was saying from how she was saying it.
Oddly enough, another point Paradise has in its favor is how all that socially redeeming importance it had to have in order to get past the censors really does improve the story. Had Phoebe Cates actually been 18 at the time, I strongly doubt this movie would have been at all watchable to anyone but a hard-core porno addict. The writers would have had no incentive to develop David and Sarah's characters or any chemistry between them at all and the exotic settings (most of them actually shot in the exotic land of Israel) would be nothing more than eye candy. Instead of a romance, we would have had completely interchangeable hunks of living meat slapping against each other in completely interchangeable settings. Granted, the story this movie tells is more on the level of an adequately-written trashy bodice-ripper than a well-written historical romance novel, but it's there. Somebody did care enough to make us care about who's up there making love on the screen, why they're doing it, and what's going to happen to them after that.
Finally, speaking of making love, I might as well just come out and say it: yes, the sex scenes in Paradise were awesome. All the erotic stuff in this story is actually pretty vanilla; David and Sarah don't do anything on the screen that boys and girls their age (which is left unspecified, by the the way) haven't been doing for centuries. However, the timing and pacing of the sex scenes is just right, coming as they do in the third act after the long flirtation throughout the first and second acts, and lasting for just about a minute apiece. That these activities ultimately result in pregnancy and that the loving couple is fine with that also sets this movie apart from a great many other cheesy "romances" that fail to distinguish between sex and love and treat pregnancy as if weren't supposed to result.
On the whole, for all of its flaws, Paradise would probably make a pretty good rental as a date movie. If you're a stickler for technical quality, however, you might be interested to know that while Paradise is available in both fullscreen and widescreen, the fullscreen version actually gives you more. As with many movies from the 1980s shot on 35 millimeter film, the theatrical release chopped off the top and the bottom of the picture so that it would fit the big screen, while the home video release kept the footage intact. Also, the original audio track is mono, so it can only be remastered so much. As for the video, most Region 1 DVDs of the movie did not remaster it, so their version looks rather washed-out and grainy. Some of these DVDs are also copied from a South Korean version which misted out some of the nudity to appease the censors. If you're living in North America and don't feel like spending a lot of money, therefore, your best bet is just to get the VHS version and crank up the saturation knob on your television.