South Pacific (1958) C+
Director Joshua Logan’s screen version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical South Pacific leaves much to be desired as a movie (it doesn’t move much…), but the music is undeniably glorious.
Adapted from James A. Michener’s best-selling novel “Tales of the South Pacific,” the film stars Mitzi Gaynor as WAVE officer Nellie Forbush. While stationed overseas during World War II, she 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. There’s a reason: Having run away from the outside world after killing a man in his town, De Becque doesn’t want to become involved in a war which he did not start and in which he has no interest.
But when Nellie, her bigotry aroused when she discovers that Emile has two mixed-race children, refuses his proposal of marriage, DeBecque 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 refused 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 effects of her racism, prays for Emile’s safe return.
The dramatic elements of South Pacific are offset by the low-comedy antics of “Big Dealer” Seabee Luther Billis (Ray Walston). Except for Walston and Hall, who both repeated their stage roles, “South Pacific” suffers from poor casting.
Lacking charisma, Mitzi Gaynor is too perky and fake, never rising above cuteness in the difficult role of Nellie Forbush, while Rosanno Brazzi (whose singing is dubbed by Giorgio Tozzi) is too stiff as Emile DeBecque. Ironically, Logan rejected Doris Day for the part, because of her established screen image, claiming “she would make Nellie Doris Day.”
There are further problems with the movie, such as director Joshua Logan’s decision to use colored filters in several key scenes, representing the emotions experienced by the actors. The color shift is more unsettling than attractive, drawing too much attention to Logan’s technique at the expense f a more direct emotional invölvement in the story.
There’s unhealthy, irreconcilable tension in Logan’s strategy between the more realistic location shooting and th stylized presentation of the songs.
Despite these shortcomings, however, “South Pacific” offers much to be admired.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s songs are memorably melodic, including “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali H’ai,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime.” A song cut from the original stage production, “My Girl Back Home,” is revived in the movie.
Among the supporting-cast ranks are Tom McLaughlin, Ron Ely, Doug McClure, John Gabriel and James Stacy. Though artistically disappointing, “South Pacific” was one of the biggest box-office of the year–and decade.
Oscar Nominations: 3
Sound: Fred Hynes
Cinematography (color): Leon Shamroy
Scoring of a musical: Alfred Newman an Ken Darby
Oscar Awards: 1
Running time: 167 Minutes.
Directed by Joshua Logan
Written by Paul Osborn.
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