South Pacific

PLOT:

Producer/director Joshua Logan’s long-awaited filmization of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical South Pacific was not the classic that everyone hoped it would be, principally because of some curious creative choices made by the production personnel. Adapted from James A. Michener’s best-selling novel Tales of the South Pacific, the film stars Mitzi Gaynor as WAVE officer Nellie Forbush, who while stationed overseas during World War II falls in love with wealthy French planter Emile De Becque (Rosanno Brazzi). The Navy would like DeBecque to help them in a reconnaissance mission against the Japanese, but he refuses; having run away from the outside world after killing a man in his home town, De Becque sees no reason to become involved in a war which he did not start and in which he has no interest. But when Nellie, her inbred bigotry aroused when she discovers that Emile has two mixed-race children, refuses his proposal of marriage, DeBecque, having nothing to lose, agrees to go on the mission. His partner in this venture is Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr), who like Nellie is a victim of prejudicial feelings; Cable has previously thrown away a chance at lasting happiness by refusing to marry Liat (France Nuyen), the dark-skinned daughter of Tokinese trader Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall). When Cable is killed and DeBecque is seemingly lost in battle, Nellie, realizing the stupidity of her racism, prays for Emile’s safe return.

REVIEW:

Rodgers & Hammerstein are known as arguably the greatest team to ever pen musicals. You can make valid arguments for the likes of Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, Sondheim & Schwartz, etc., but the fact remains that these two have had the most success, especially when it comes to taking their works from the Broadway stage to the big screen and into cinematic legend. South Pacific is just part of their legendary career.

What is this about?

Sparks fly when Nellie (Mitzi Gaynor), a naive Navy nurse stationed in the South Seas, meets worldly French plantation owner Emile (Rossano Brazzi), in this Oscar-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set in a tropical paradise. Meanwhile, in a then-daring depiction of interracial relationships, a young American officer falls for a beautiful island native. The two couples from worlds apart grapple with love at a time of war.

What did I like?

Music. When one watches a musical, it is expected that there be decent music. This film does a real good job of taking that expectation and running with it. Most of them are catchy, some are gorgeous, and a few are forgettable, which makes this the perfect collection of songs. Surely everyone will find a song or two that will appeal to your sensibilities. For me, my favorite was “Some Enchanted Evening”.

Scenery. There are places that look like nothing but green screen. Even so, the scenery here is great, but seriously, can you name a film that is based on a tropical island that doesn’t have some breathtaking scenery. The gorgeous blue waters around the island makes you really wish you were there, not to mention the beach, even if they are cluttered with war stuffs.

Love is all around. True, most musicals have some kind of love story at their core, but there is something extra special when that love story has to do with our boys in wartime. The love that takes center stage is a bit of a May/December romance that takes some weird turns when the children are introduced, but when all the smoke clears and Nellie realizes she loves Emile, there is a certain feeling of schmultz, in a good way, that takes over the film. That is as long as we don’t get forget the other story with Lt. Cable and Liat, a romance that, I believe, could have had some more screen time.

What didn’t I like?

Framing. In certain scenes, there is this kind of framing that goes on. At first, I thought it was just for romantic scenes, but as it turns out, this was setting up the songs. I think it would have worked better had they have done it for the romantic scenes instead of the songs. It was kind of distracting, at least to me, anyway.

Cardboard cut-outs. While Nellie is singing the catchy “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”, she is flanked by her fellow nurses/other females. The thing is, they don’t seem to be doing anything but posing. Seriously, if you watch them, they might as well have been mannequins or card board cut outs rather than actual flesh and blood.

French fry. Rossano Brazzi is competent enough as Emile, but I didn’t feel like he was French. His accent sounded more like his native Italian and not so much like he was from France. At the time this was made, it isn’t like filmmakers were going for 100% authenticity, but good grief! They could have at least gotten the right accent.

South Pacific may be the weakest of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classics that I’ve seen, but that is like saying a 500lb lineman is the skinniest guy on an offensive line full of rhinos and elephants. This is still a good film that musical and romance buffs will more than enjoy. I highly recommend it and, since we’re coming to the end of the year, think this will be a contender for a couple of awards (on this blog), including Best Musical. Check it out sometime!

4 out of 5 stars

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