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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two love stories, each involving an American and a non-American,
occurring in some unnamed small island grouping in the SW Pacific, near
Japanese-held Solomon Islands, in WWII, form the 'heart' of this R&H
musical. The two love affairs are based on two different stories from
James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific". Some other aspects of
the screenplay are derived from some other 'tales'. Near the end, looks
like both these romances will fizzle because of indirect racial
prejudice. Specifically American navy nurse Nellie(Mitzi Gaynor)
discovers that her beau : middle-aged wealthy French expatriate Emile,
has two children from a deceased Polynesian wife, which she cannot
emotionally accept. Meanwhile, Lt. Cable, after an erotic whirlwind
romance with young Tonkinese(Vietnamese)Liat, whose mother(Bloody Mary)
was brought to this island by French colonialists, implies he can't
marry her because she wouldn't be accepted by his upper crust family
and friends , back in the US. The film ending suggests that Nellie
eventually overcame her emotional prejudice sufficiently to marry
Emile, who unexpectedly arrives back from a dangerous war mission he
barely survived. After, initially rejecting taking part in this
mission, because he was sure he would die, he signed up after Nellie
told him she decided not to marry him. Lt. Cable decided he would
remain in this area after the war, implying that he now felt he could
marry Liat. However, he never got the chance, as he was killed on this
mission. Thus, this secondary romance, as in the case of the secondary
romance in the subsequent "The King and I", has a tragic ending, with
the fate of the girl undetermined. Actually, in Michener's story, Emile
had 8 children, all illegitimate, from several mothers: some Asian ,
other Polynesian or perhaps Melanesian. It is the latter than Nellie
cannot accept, initially.
The racial and location aspects are rather disjointed and confusing. We have light-skinned mulatto Juanita Hall playing a Vietnamese. Her daughter, Liat, is played by part Vietnamese France Nuyen. The people, dances and costumes at the Bali Ha'i festival suggest a mix of Polynesians and Melanesians present : an unlikely mix. Probably , the location is meant to be in the (then) New Hebrides, to the south of the Solomon Islands, where the nearby Japanese are. The New Hebrides were a joint protectorate of France and the UK, with the natives nearly all Melanesians. Michener met an old lady there, called Bloody Mary, who was imported by the French from Vietnam, to work the plantations there. This is the origin of the character in the film. Contrary to the general assumption that Bali Ha'i was named after the Bali in Indonesia, it was actually named after a family pig that Michener happened across in his tour of the South Pacific!
Emile explains that he was motivated to emigrate from France to this isolated island group after a brawl with the village bully, in which the bully died accidentally. He was generally considered a hero, but not by the judicial system. Thus, he hopped a freighter and eventually landed here. During this screenplay, he becomes a much greater hero by guiding the mission to spy on the Japanese in the Solomons.
Nearly all the featured singing was dubbed, except for Mitzi Gaynor's several songs. Even true for Juanita Hall, who actually sang her parts in the stage version. The other leads were replaced from the Broadway version. Ezio Pinza, as Emile, had since died, and Mary Martin, as Nellie, was consider too old, especially since there is some discussion on the pros and cons of marrying an older man. Her mother favored it, but Lt. Cable didn't. Thus, after "The Cock-eyed Optimist" is seduced, as Emile sings "Some Enchanting Evening", she has a moment of doubt, expressed as "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair", as she is washing her hair, followed by a quickly reconsidered "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy", when Emile appears : my favorite of her musical performances. The extensive lyrics of the first major song "There is Nothing Like a Dame" I found clever, as expressed by several SeaBees. But, the most memorable song for me is the haunting "Bali Ha'i", which most succinctly expresses the charm and mystery of these islands and their native peoples.
After 3 very successful stage productions or films scripted as taking place within the US, and involving only Caucasians in the cast, R&H did 3 very successful plays, followed by film adaptations, scripted as taking place far from the continental US. South Pacific still included a dominating Caucasian American presence among the characters, but included several other ethnic groups. The later "King and I" and "The Sound of Music" lacked any significant American characters. The dominating American military presence, along with the spectacular tropical settings, periodic inclusion of exotic cultures and a variety of memorable songs makes for a memorable film that Americans could easily identify with. However, the periodic extreme use of color filters(red, yellow or blue) I found quite disconcerting. Also, the depiction of the mission to assess the Japanese in the Solomons is quite amateurish and overblown...The romance between Cable and Liat seems forced and all too spontaneous, initially. Obviously, Liat was coached by her mother to immediately fall for Cable, as the most available US naval officer.
The wartime South Pacific depicted here is populated by youthful Americans, the most emotionally sensitive of whom are seduced by Orientalist visions of an exotic paradise. Also dwelling here is a European expatriate, less naive than the Americans but with complex and very personal ties to the place. Locals live here too, of course, but they are viewed, intentionally, through the imperfect lens of foreign observers. The film's style vacillates between that of a mainstream movie musical and that of a more abstract work of cultural criticism; it is entertaining and intellectually satisfying, especially for those who have some familiarity with the subject matter.
There is no better musical or a production with so many great songs. And I don't think there ever will be again. Mitzi Gaynor is one of the better actresses in the business. She can sing,dance,as good as anyone and in most cases, better. She has appeared in the South Pacific musical at the Municipal Opera in Saint Louis and also her one woman show at the "Muny" as well. That particular show also displayed her very good comedic talents as well. As a Marine in Korea during the war, Mitzi was kind enough to send me several beautiful pictures of her to hang up in our quarters. I don't believe she is still acting as I have not heard or have seen anything about her recently on television or in the news.
A previous poster commented that this a film crying out for a fresh remake. Do to the odd color filters, directing, what have you. The Musical Orchestration for this film is not replaceable. Thats what sold the tickets! The great and unique musical genius of Ed Powell, Robert Russell Bennett, Pete King, Bernard Mayer, Lionel Newman are regrettably silent. Yes, I know there is a new crop of this kind of talent.
I saw this film as a child in 1959 and have not seen it since, until a few days ago, 40 years later. The music and lyrics are just terrific, and they are well performed, particularly by Ms. Gaynor. Some of the dialogue seems stilted, however, and the cutting leaves uncomfortable jumps between some scenes. But, then, when we are prepared to accept that characters stop what they are doing and burst into song, backed by full orchestra regardless of location, we must make allowances. The songs are the stars here and they will make the film an everlasting treasure. For me, the short one, "This nearly was mine" is the best. Unforgettable.
Make no mistake, Rodgers and Hammerstein are two of the giants of the
American musical theater, and "South Pacific" was one of their greatest
successes ON STAGE. The movie, however, could best be described as fine but
flawed, with the bad points outnumbering the good.
The good points can be easily discussed: First, there is the energetic performance of Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie Forbush, a role for which Doris Day had supposedly been considered when filming was announced. Yes, it would have been great to have had Mary Martin repeating one of her greatest stage successes. But Martin, at 45, would have been just a little too old for the part when viewed by a merciless movie camera, plus, none of her half-dozen or so movies were all that satisfactory. She seemed to need a live audience to bring out her best. Gaynor, on the other hand, had just the right qualities for the part. She had plenty of bounce, lots of personality, and, at 27, was young enough for the role. Juanita Hall was also super repeating her Broadway role as "Bloody Mary." Why she had to be dubbed, and why she wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actress at Oscar time (Dame Wendy Hiller won for the all-but-forgotten "Seperate Tables") is almost as great a mystery as Maurice Chevalier's not being nominated for "Gigi" that same year.
So much for the good points. Most of the other performers come off as stiff, particularly John Kerr as Lieut. Cable. Ray Walston comes off as just plain wrong for Luther Billis, loud and unfunny most of the way. And Rossanno Brazzi, who was more of a prescense than an actor anyway, is all wrong as DeBeque.
The biggest bone of contention, however, is just this: Whose idea were those stupid colored filters, anyway? They add nothing to the film and are, in fact, just plain distracting. The first time I saw this movie, I kept adjusting the color controls on my TV, thinking that it had gone out of order.
But, I guess, a flawed version of this American classic is better than no version at all. But a great R&H adaptation it is most definitely NOT! You'd have to go to "Oklahoma!," "The King and I," and, towering above them all, "The Sound of Music" for that.
No matter how good "South Pacific" is, it clearly loses a point due to
the god-awful use of filters throughout the film. The director,
apparently, thought this was the biggest mistake of his career and they
made a few of the scenes truly bizarre...really, really bizarre.
As far as the rest of the film goes, it really is terrific. While I am not overly fond of musicals with THIS many musical numbers, there were so many good ones that I could look past the weak ones (such as the awful "Happy Talk")--and I found myself singing along with many of the numbers. And, fortunately, it has something that make a great musical great--it has a really strong story. If you like romance, then the film is for you, and I found myself reaching for Kleenex a couple times. Touching, excellent and very watchable. While not the best Rogers & Hammerstein musical (a personally LOVE "State Fair" and "The Song of Music"), it's close.
By the way, why did they use an Italian to play a Frenchman? Mr. Brazzi wasn't bad but didn't sound French plus he didn't do his own singing. While not quite so famous, Yves Montand could have handled this role really well (provided they grayed up his hair a bit)--and man, could he sing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From director Joshua Logan (Bus Stop, Paint You Wagon), seeing one short advert for this Rodgers and Hammerstein (makers of The King and I) film was enough for me to want to try it for the likable sounding songs. Basically it is 1943, during World War II, and the United States Navy have established bases in the Solomon Islands, ready to invade New Guinea and the Central Pacific. On one of the island lives French planter Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi), who is wanted by the Navy to be a scout to snoop around the Japanese held islands. To make this possible, he is approached by U.S. Navy nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush (Golden Globe nominated Mitzi Gaynor), but is is obvious it's not just his services she is interested in, they slowly fall in love. The other slight love story going on is between Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr)and islander Liat (France Nuyen), daughter of philosopher Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall). You also see a musical comedy show as they wait for war to get closer, which is does with some planes bombing nearby, but don't worry, all live happily ever after. Also starring Ray Walston as Luther Billis, Russ Brown as Capt. Brackett, Jack Mullaney as The Professor, Ken Clark as Stewpot, Floyd Simmons as Commander Harbison, Candace Lee as Ngana - Emile's Child, Warren Hsieh as Jerome - Emile's Child, Tom Laughlin as Lt. Buzz Adams and Rebecca's Joan Fontaine as Polynesian Woman. The performances are alright, and there are some good moments of war and romance combines, but personally, I would only see it for the songs, but not bad at all. The songs included "There Is Nothing' Like A Dame", "Some Enchanted Evening" (number 28 on 100 Years, 100 Songs), "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" and "Happy Talk" (remade very well by Captain Sensible). It won the Oscar for Best Sound, and it was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Music for Alfred Newman and Ken Darby, and it was nominated the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical. It was number 39 on The 100 Greatest Musicals. Good!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Being a fan of the great US musicals such as Carousel and Oklahoma, I had heard of South Pacific but never actually seen it until today ( 2007 ) thanks to a cheap DVD I found on a recent visit to the United Kingdom. My feelings about the film are somewhat mixed - of course the songs are fantastic and beautifully executed and the Hawaii scenery is magnificent. My main negative contentions are firstly, like everyone else I have read, the use of coloured ( mainly yellow ) filters on numerous occasions. It is a sacrilege to distort beautiful views of Hawaii with colourized filters and I cannot imagine which nutter had this hair brained idea - presumably they wanted to be innovative at the time but the frequency of these filtered passages spoils much of the film - an occasional use of filters is OK for a particular situation or to make an isolated point but, used so often, it becomes tiring, irksome and frankly annoying. The storyline is a little confused to start with and, quite frankly is rather slow - the beautiful music does compensate for this up to a certain point but I did have an overall feeling of slowness. Other incomprehensible things are for example using Rossano Brazzi ( pukka Italian ) as a Frenchman - his accent is so obviously Italian that it just does not ring true. If they wanted to use Brazzi absolutely, he should have been cast as an Italian planter and not as French. There are some good love scenes though, notably a fairly erotic one between Cable and Liat though it seems to me a little implausible that love could develop between them so quickly as they hardly knew each other just a short time before the scene in question. Some commentators here have discussed the absence or non of racism in the film - I will not fall into this trap as I am sure that the film is for entertainment value and is not trying to make some social point - problem is that nowadays a certain number of people mostly in the USA or Western Europe are now obsessed by racism, its presence or its absence - this to me translates a certain state of mental obsession and deterioration and they would be well advised to take the film for what it is - entertainment. Whether someone chooses to fall in love with someone of their own race or of another is entirely a personal matter for them and is not a matter for endless sterile discussions and preaching. To return to the film, as I saw it on DVD, it was in Cinemascope 2:20 therefore with large black bars on the TV - better than nothing but I would have liked to a see a version in 4:3 Pan and Scan to compare. Unfortunately the DVD does not provide this possibility and what a shame it is as many of the USA DVD's do propose films in BOTH formats, something which is sadly lacking on European DVD's ( which is why I buy most of mine in the USA ). One obviously has to accept the film as it is but if there was one thing I would change, it would be to get rid of those damned filters !!
Believe it or not this motion picture was nominated for an Oscar for best
cinematography? It reminded me of the episode of Seinfeld when George
was turned purple. The infamous coloring very annoying at first, and
after the first couple of scenes became highly anticipated.
Boy was I upset with the sepia presentation of "Some Enchanted Evening". (I would have though a mixture of puke-green and cobalt blue with a negative art effect would be used)
I sat and wondered why a studio would spend all that money to film in a lush tropical setting then ruin things with a Christmas Tree color wheel type of filter. The Ompa Loompas from Wonkaville obviously once dabbled in Technicolor.
I feel sorry for the actors and actresses who worked in this film because they did a great job of acting. The problem is who can notice when the camera is playing tricks all the time.
Even though there was voice-dubbing all of the place I thought that the numbers were pretty well acted. Mitzi Gaynor was very beautiful even when she was all wet. Her hairstyle is another thing though. John Kerr was very good in the role of Joe Cable.
I think the musical voice of "Stew Pot" was Thurl Ravenscroft of "You're a Mean One Mister Grinch" fame.
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