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South Pacific Movie Review

mary songs love broadway

1958 – Joshua Logan –

One of Rodgers and Hammerstein's biggest Broadway hits, South Pacific has a score filled with American classics: “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” Based on James Michener's first best-seller, Tales of the South Pacific, the play has the surefire plot of wartime romance, exotic travel, and heroic sacrifice for one's country. But the energy and timing that fuel a Broadway hit are largely missing in the movie. The major production numbers are melodic and powerful, but between numbers, the story slows the pace too much. And cinematographer Leon Shamroy made what most contemporary audiences consider to be a huge mistake. Figuring that the island scenery and natural lighting would be too harsh for two full hours (heck, people save for a lifetime to spend two weeks in such lighting!), Shamroy shot major songs through colored filters, so that “Bali Hai” is blue and “Some Enchanted Evening” renders everything gold. This technique is far more distracting than the harshest natural light, and the viewer comes to dread the approach of the next wash of color.

A classic tale of wartime, the story follows people far from home in the midst of a different culture, forced to like or reject the foreignness of it all. Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) loves French planter DeBeque (Rossano Brazzi) only to be horrified that he has children from his dead native wife. Meanwhile, Lt. Joe Cable (John Kerr) falls headlong in love with island girl Liat (France Nuyen), whose mother Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) realizes the potential of marriage with an American officer. The endings are predictable: Nellie learns to love the half-caste children and embraces a new life, but Cable is unable to leave Philadelphia racism behind and marry Liat. However, he dies heroically in battle against the Japanese, presented as utterly foreign and detestable—making the question of tolerance a pretty limited one for this movie.

The true color location scenes are breathtaking, but most of the major songs are rather lifelessly staged; a native boar tooth dance (which the credits imply is authentic) looks like a Hollywood choreographer's idea of native rituals. The best songs are the comic ones, where the lyrics keep the viewer's focus rather than the visuals, like “Honey Bun,” “Bloody Mary is the Girl I Love,” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” All in all, some Broadway hits are best left on Broadway.

Songs: “My Girl Back Home,” “Dites-Moi,” “Bali Hai,” “Happy Talk,” “A Cock-Eyed Optimist,” “Soliloquies,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bloody Mary,” “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” “Honey Bun,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “You've Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Cast: Rossano Brazzi (Emile de Beque), Mitzi Gaynor (Ensign Nellie Forbush, USN), John Kerr (Lt. Joseph Cable, USMC), Ray Walston (Luther Billis), Juanita Hall (Bloody Mary), France Nuyen (Liat), Russ Brown (Capt. George Brackett, USN), Floyd Simmons (Com. Bill Harbison, USN), Tom Laughlin (Lt. Buzz Adams), Ken Clark (Stewpot), Candace Lee (Ngana), Warren Hsieh (Jerome), Doug McClure (Pilot), Buck Cless (Pilot) Screenwriter: Oscar Hammer-stein, Joshua Logan, Paul Osborn Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy Composer: Richard Rodgers, Ken Darby, Alfred Newman Producer: Buddy Adler Running Time: 151 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1958: Sound; Nominations: Cinematography, Scoring of a Musical Budget: $6M Box Office: $16.5M.

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