South Pacific (1958)
A Dame Good Musical
You gotta do something to break the monotony out here, Lieutenant. You know, if this war ever really gets started - Lt. Buzz Adams
One of my regular complaints about modern movies is that they tend to put more focus on being visual entertainment rather than delivering a storyline which challenges your mind at the same time. Yet watching the popular musical "South Pacific" from 1958 and I find myself having the same complaint because this is a movie about how it looks and sounds rather than the story. Now you may say that's a bit harsh as "South Pacific" is a musical and it does have a story, but in reality that story or in fact stories is inconsequential, there to almost fill in the gaps between those magnificent musical moments. And it has to be said that "South Pacific" is a musical full of magnificent moments with wonderful songs, beautiful music and a lovely touch of comedy to provide plenty of smile moments during this tale of Island romance. It is because it is a triumph of song and music that "South Pacific" works and doesn't end up being forgettable as without the delectable songs it would struggle.
On a U.S. base on the Solomon Island, nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) falls for Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi - The Italian Job) a handsome, wealthy and older Frenchman who many years earlier was forced to leave France and start a new life on the island. Nellie is not the only one interested in Emile as Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr) has been sent on a secret mission to the island to recruit de Becque to help him spy on what the Japanese army is planning on the neighbouring islands. But before Joseph can persuade Emile to join him he discovers a bit of romance for himself as he heads over to the mysterious island of Bali Ha'i where he meets and falls for Liat (France Nuyen) the stunningly beautiful daughter of Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall). But can romance truly blossom for anyone with war going on let alone when secrets are uncovered.
So as already mentioned I consider the stories in "South Pacific" to be for the most inconsequential as they are there purely as a romantic vehicle for all the musical moments. It almost feels at times that these stories, this twin tale of romance during war is there to fill in the gaps as it floats along. But having said that they are both pleasant in their simplicity and interlink nicely to deliver what to be honest is a semi surprising ending as we watch Joseph and Emile risk their lives to spy on what the Japanese army is up to in the neighbouring islands. And to add to that whilst simple they also have a brief element of social depth as we watch Nellie struggle with the thought of marrying someone with Polynesian children whilst Joseph simply struggles with marrying a Polynesian. This is not the most in-depth look at racial issues but it is important when it comes to these twin tales of romance.
But to be honest "South Pacific" is a musical and it is one which is all about the music, which is a little disappointing as musicals can have good storylines as well. Although having said that you cannot complain about the Rodgers & Hammerstein soundtrack because it is simply magnificent. From big romantic numbers such as the powerful and romantic "Some Enchanted Evening" through to the more comical numbers such as "Happy Talk" and "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" this is a movie full of memorable musical moments. It's the fact that the songs are so good that makes "South Pacific" so memorable and so enjoyable, making up for the deficiencies in the storyline.
Now for some the lack of storyline wont be an issue and will just enjoy the romance and the music but there is a good chance that the visual techniques will be too much. What I am on about is the over use of coloured filters which director Joshua Logan used in order to create some sort of atmosphere but the filters are so powerful that at times it feels a little too psychedelic. They end up very annoying and very experimental often spoiling the natural beauty of the locations especially as so much of the movie was shot on location. There are some nice effects such as the long shots of Bali Ha'i adding to the allure and mystery of the far off island but it is the vibrant filters which end up unforgettable and spoiling things.
What certainly doesn't spoil things is the casting which is pretty much spot on. From the tall handsome frame of Rossano Brazzi as Emile through to the beauty of France Nuyen as Liat it is perfect and whilst some of the stars had their voices dubbed for the musical moments you wouldn't know. But "South Pacific" very much belongs to two people John Kerr as Lt. Joseph Cable and Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie Forbush both creating characters that are so easy to warm to especially Mitzi Gaynor whose rendition of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" is one of the musical's greatest and most memorable scenes. To be honest there is not a bad performance in the entire movie and so many of them help in making it an amusing movie especially Juanita Hall who is outstanding as Bloody Mary.
What this all boils down to is that "South Pacific" is enjoyable and memorable but mainly because the Rodgers & Hammerstein soundtrack is amazing full of brilliant songs both romantic and funny. Without the amazing music it would struggle because it is slim on story and has an almost unwelcome psychedelic feel with the vibrant colour filters which director Joshua Logan uses in far too many scenes. But as I said it is entertaining and alongside the music you have to say the casting makes it work especially Mitzi Gaynor whose rendition of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" will always be the best.
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