At first, before the murders, the story might sound like some nihilistic last-century tropical sitcom, what Sherwood Schwartz would have come up with if he'd been into Nietzsche. In 1929, German physician Friedrich Ritter, brain aflame with the promise of the superman, convinced his lover, Dore Strauch, to abandon Berlin in favor of a life of solitude, labor, and the triumphing of their wills. Their destination: the Galapagos Islands, specifically the unpopulated rock of Floreana. They had a fine time at first, as we see in the glorious home-movie footage that makes Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller's absorbing, suspenseful documentary The Galapagos Affair so pleasurable and so disquieting. Here, at the birthplace of Darwinism, we witness human potential give way to animalism.
They triumph over their Eden, but you don't have to be a philosophy major to know what happens in stories of Paradise Gained. Soon, an unwelcome second couple arrives, the Wittmers, with a baby on the way. What's the German for "there goes the neighborhood"? Next we meet Baroness Eloise von Wagner, a flimflamming dilettante who announces her plans to build a hotel called Hacienda Paradiso and shares her haphazardly built bed with a pair of attendants/lovers. Master collagists, Goldfine and Geller at first work all this tension and strangeness for our amusement. They're helped by the feisty baroness, a figure so enticing -- and so gun-happy -- she was built for the covers of men's adventure magazines.
Of course, the story leaves Schwartz for Hitchcock: There's a murder, and then more surprises, all wickedly played both by the participants and the filmmakers. I'll spill nothing -- a story this well told deserves to be relished.