If you were to think back and try to remember older musicals, what would come to mind? A flimsy plot with a few catchy songs? Sweeping epic sets and over the top costumes? How about controversial topics such as racism and war? No? With Rodgers and Hammersteins musical masterpiece South Pacific, you get all the standards of a big production musical, along with the inclusion of some pressing issues that are still very relevant.
Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) is a nurse on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. Although shes a self-proclaimed “cock-eyed optimist”, shes torn between what she was taught as a child in her home of Little Rock, AR and her developing love for a French plantation owner named Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi). Emile has two children from his deceased wife, who just happened to be of Polynesian descent. At the same time, Lieutenant Cable (John Kerr), an American Marine, is torn because he has fallen in love with a poor girl from the islands named Liat (France Nuyen). Liats mother, known as Bloody Mary, wants to marry her off as soon as possible, and Cable has a difficult time deciding what to do. Should he marry the girl he loves, or should he wait until the war is over and he can marry the girl back home in Philadelphia?
Of course, amid this serious drama are classic Rodgers & Hammerstein songs such as “Im Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”, “Younger Than Springtime”, “Bali Haai”, and “Some Enchanted Evening”. And of course theres also some comic relief provided by Luther Billis (Ray Walston), who walks around through the whole musical shirtless with a giant (fake) boat tattoo across his (not ripped) stomach, and Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall), the local island woman who sells souvenirs to the soldiers.
In todays age of such forward thinking musicals such as RENT, racism in a musical doesnt sound like such a big deal. But when South Pacific first premiered on Broadway in 1949, it hadnt been that long since World War II ended and prejudice towards people of any Eastern descent was still fresh in everyones memories. Rodgers & Hammerstein took a big risk with this musical, but it paid off in a big way. South Pacific is one of the most beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. In fact, the revival of the musical is a smash hit on Broadway right now, having won seven Tonys in 2008. The production iwill begin it’s US tour in September 2009.
The movie version of the musical is unfortunately not as good as the stage production. This movie version from 1958 was nominated for an Oscar for its cinematography and the cinematography is brilliant. Its just the color saturation that is off-putting. Every time a song begins, the screen is washed with a specific color so that everything takes on that tone. Whatever the reason was for choosing to do this, it just doesnt work. The perfect word for it is off-putting, since it really takes you out of the story and makes you wish the song would just hurry up and be done already.
Movie musicals are notorious for having the singing voices dubbed because the actors cant sing, and this is one of them. The most obvious one is Lieutenant Cable, whose speaking voice is noticeably higher than his low bass singing voice. The most annoying one is Emile De Becque, whose singing voice is dubbed in the film. This isnt noticeable while watching the film, however its annoying because the actor who plays him in the film, Rossano Brazzi, went on to play this character in the musical on Broadway. This is similar to Zac Efron singing voice being dubbed by in High School Musical, only for Disney to realize that he actually CAN sing, and use his real singing voice in HSM 2 & 3. Why on earth would they dub the singing voice of an actor who can already sing?
The film version of South Pacific leaves much to be desired. Despite the controversial material and classic sing-a-long worthy songs, it’s difficult to be a cock-eyed optimist about this movie that is better off washed outta your hair. Instead, treat yourself to the Tony-winning production that is coming to a city near you.
The South Pacific Blu-Ray is presented in a beautiful 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The theatrical version of the film on disc 1 is perfection! This is how the film was intended to look. The roadshow version on disc 2 is intended to look unrestored. The sound is remastered and flawless.
Disc 1 –
Theatrical Version of the film
Feature length Commentary by Ted Chapin and Gerard Allessandrini
A Sing-A-Long version of the film
A Songs Only Chapter List
Disc 2 –
Roadshow Edition of the Film – This features material that was found recently and included in the theatrical edition. This version of the film is also mostly unrestored and the quality is very poor in some places.
Feature Length Commentary by Richard Barrios.
Passion, Prejudice, and South Pacific: Creating An American Masterpiece – This extensive, three part documentary goes through the entire history from the book, to the stage, to the screen and is narrated by Mitzi Gaynor herself. 1:34:05
Making of South Pacific – This is an older Making Of featurette, in black and white. 14:01
60 Minutes: The Tale of South Pacific – A 60 Minutes interview with James Michener, where he talks about the real life people who inspired the characters in his book. 22:25
Vintage Stage Excerpt – This is actual footage of the original Broadway production of South Pacific featuring Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush and Ezio Pinio as Emile De Becque as they sing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, and “Wonderful Guy”. 9:38
Fox Movie Tone News – 1) Red Carpet Footage and 2) Showing at a Fair – Both of these look like they were news reels shown before a movie. This is very cool archival footage with Rodgers & Hammerstein. 2:12
Screen Test: Mitzi Gaynor – Mitzi Gaynor auditioning for the role of Nellie Forbush, singing “Cock-Eyed Optimist” and “Wonderful Guy”. 6:51
As difficult as it is for me to say, I’m not a fan of the movie version of South Pacific. I would much rather go see this one onstage. However, the extras reminded me just how much I do love the story and the songs, and watching some of that older archival footage was just extraordinary. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the movie, this is an exceptional blu-ray release. It’s a must-buy for any fan.
20th Century Fox presents South Pacific. Directed by: Joshua Logan. Starring: Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall. Written by: Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, Paul Osborn (based on the book Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener). Running time: 157 min (171 min – roadshow edition). Rating: NR. Released on DVD: March 31, 2009. Available at Amazon.com