From 20th Century Fox and
Magna Theater Corporation
Directed by Joshua Logan
I am told there is nothing like a dame and I know there is nothing like feeling good after seeing a worthy film. For my money, no genre can ever quite compete for that feel-good emotional state like a musical. Recalling how one sometimes wants to sing or dance coming out of the theater, humming and singing the songs for days afterwards, rushing out to buy the record/album/cd... ah, there are few cinematic experiences I treasure more.
Movie musicals take some hits out there in moviegoerland. One either loves them or hates them. Let me count the times I have been poo-pooed about my inclusion of musicals in my favorite movies. I shrink from hearing how dumb it is to observe two people break into song while they ride on a bus or walk down the street. If I don't take these naysayers on as being neanderthals with no aesthetic tastes, then I snicker knowing these are the same people who relish war films or find something profound in low budget science fiction. Ok, put your dukes up...
Still, with my love of musicals (and Rodgers and Hammerstein in particular), I have only four in my list of my 50 favorite films. One was Sweet Dreams which placed 36 on my list... although, as stated some time back, these numbers are fuzzy and somewhat interchangeable. Additionally, Sweet Dreams is really a biography about a singer. When she sang, it was on a stage or in a recording booth or a concert, likely something that would keep the musical haters at bay. But the last two of the four are in positions three and four on my list so let it be known, let us shout from the rooftops, that I am wild about most musicals.
South Pacific was born out of parts of James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Tales of the South Pacific. It then became a staggeringly successful Broadway musical for nearly five years with 1,925 performances. It was only natural it would become a film especially since Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals were prized commodities in their day. Who would direct it became a source of speculation and its five or six leading roles were highly coveted.
As everyone surely knows, the story highlights the romances of two couples living on a Pacific island during WWII. The first involves an American nurse and an older expatriate Frenchman with two half Polynesian children. The second is between an American lieutenant and a teenage Polynesian girl whom he loves but is reluctant to marry. The darker side of this story is the ugly head of racial intolerance that sneaks into the romances.
The film has certainly turned out to be the best and most famous movie any of the actors in it has ever done. Mitzi Gaynor was ideally cast as Nellie Forbush but only after Doris Day turned it down and Elizabeth Taylor didn't sing as well as they liked. I cringe as I imagine Elizabeth Taylor as nurse Nellie!
I was never crazy about Italian Rossano Brazzi as Frenchman Emile de Becque. I don't know why that is exactly... maybe not enough sex appeal. It may just be a difficult role to cast in some ways. Charles Boyer was considered (OMG). So was Fernando Lamas who might have been more mahvelous than one might think at first blush since he was foreign, could actually sing and was a lover type. I expect he didn't get the part because no one really took him all that seriously and this film was a big deal. I often wondered what Louis Jourdan might have done with the part and even Cary Grant and maybe Stephen Boyd. I love to re-cast movies.
Juanita Hall was the only lead actor from the Broadway cast to make it into the film. She was inspired as Bloody Mary but some may not know that she was black, not Asian, and her songs were recorded by someone else although she did her own singing on the stage. Go figure.
Ray Walston as loveable troublemaker Luther Billis was a total delight and, along with Hall, offered the film's best comedy. While he was not in the Broadway show, he had done the British version of the play.
I don't know if there were any others up for the role of Lt. Joe Cable, but John Kerr was hot after his film debut in The Cobweb and especially as an emotionally-troubled student in Tea and Sympathy. Along with Hall and Brazzi, Kerr also mouthed the words to another's voice. His was dubbed by Bill Lee who seven years later would be doing the same job for Christopher Plummer in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music.
It's funny the differences between moviemaking and reality. When Kerr sings my favorite song from the film, Younger Than Springtime, and is holding lovely France Nuyen, as Liat, in his arms, he is not actually singing those romantic words and she wouldn't have understood them anyway because she neither spoke nor understood English at the time.
One thing I must hand to South Pacific and undoubtedly a chief reason I so favor this film is that I love every one of the 15 songs (some sung more than once). I don't think I could say that about another musical. There is always at least one song I don't especially care for. Not so here. Yes, Younger Than Springtime is my favorite (the words touched me... angel and lover, heaven and earth are you to me... gayer than laughter. I thought a shirtless John Kerr holding that young, virginal France Nuyen, nibbling on her cheek, was pretty hot stuff.
Some Enchanted Evening was probably the crowning achievement of the songs, the one most remembered and most recorded by others. But I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, A Wonderful Guy and Bali Ha'i certainly also became standards. And that's not to diminish Happy Talk, Honey Bun, Dites-Moi, A Cockeyed Optimist, Soliloquy, and the rousing Bloody Mary and There Is Nothing Like a Dame. My Girl Back Home was originally scheduled for the Broadway play but taken out and then restored for the film. This Nearly Was Mine is a lament to lost love... even the title chokes me up. You've Got to be Carefully Taught is the signature piece on racism, remarkably spot-on and controversial from its inception.
The opening scenes with its opulent, sweeping look of the islands, the beautiful color process and the triumphant score give me goosebumps to this day. The sound won a well-deserved Oscar. The 70mm Todd-AO cinematography by the esteemed Leon Shamroy was gorgeous; however, there was a controversy that exists to this day over the use of color filters. During certain songs (also a few non-singing scenes), the screen suddenly turns a bright yellow or red or blue. Director Josh Logan wanted to do something different with colors (what? the beauty of Kauai wasn't enough?) but he wanted it more muted than what 20th Century Fox eventually insisted be more, um, colorful. Anyone who remembers the film remembers this and probably didn't care for it or at least wondered why they did something so unusual.
Oh so what. All I know is this film has always made me very happy. Here, let's return to South Pacific:
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