The Likable Bloody Mary

South Pacific (1958)
A Review By Ben Hunter
4 Out Of 5 Stars

GET TO THE POINT BEN!

Even with its flaws, I still enjoyed myself and will watch years later to enjoy again.

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In the islands of the “South Pacific” during WWII, Lt. Joe Cable (John Kerr) is sent on a mission by the US Marine Corp. to set up a secret surveillance team on a nearby enemy island of the Japanese.  To be able to land the plane near the island and secretly transition the illusion of this plan disguised as a regular routine into an operation of war behind enemy lines, Joe needs the help of a local.  Joe has learned about a Frenchman Emile (Rossano Brazzi) who has fled to the South Pacific due to his past in France.  His love entanglements with Nellie (Mitzi Gaynor) a military nurse also stationed there have them questioning their morals and judgment in the war and in life itself.  This is in addition to Cable’s involvements with the daughter of Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) a local trader of supplies to the military.  All conveyed in elaborate musical numbers including the most recognized and most popular singular musical piece ever constructed by the famous Rogers & Hammerstein duo, “Some Enchanted Evening”.  Based on their Broadway musical originating from the novel by James A. Michener, this … is South Pacific!

My first impression was that the musical numbers were nicely done.  Shot on location, I appreciated how close the actors had to be with their timing to the playback that was run on set.  As a former sound design major in film school, piecing all this together in the editing room to make sure the levels balance with the music and dialogue, I really appreciated the technical aspects here.  I could tell the focus was on the musical numbers and making sure they were kept tight.  Such is the case for most musicals and like most musicals I experienced growing up, I filed this one away after appreciating the work done after my 2nd viewing.  I can appreciate a story told beautifully through music now, but to blow me away with its preciseness or more importantly its story, I’m sad to say not a chance with this one.    

The colored filters surely didn’t help.  Introduced by director Joshua Logan as only a subtle effect, but highly enforced and taken over by the studio as a dramatic and highly obvious effect.  This kept taking me out of the story.  I saw the logic, but the filmmaker in me, and more importantly, the film lover within me, kept cringing in disapproval every time the filters lingered.  Logan’s slight and subtle affect would’ve sufficed much more, but that’s Hollywood for you. 

I wanted more “movie” and less “re-filming a play”.  A little more action when it was time to follow Cable and Emile through the trenches.  More war action, maybe an elaborate chase sequence.  Something like The Sound of Music that gives you an overall experience of a complete movie.   Pacific had that, but in my book, nowhere near some of my all time favorites.  I felt a wall that I could only rate it so far.  An additional song was added to the film production that was originally cut from the Broadway musical.  The focus was clear, music.  So putting the story aside even a little so another aspect of this STORY can flourish hurts this STORY overall in my opinion.  This is mainly done with musicals.  There’s a big player in addition to the blueprint that is the story, the music, that’s worked on more so usually than the script.  I get it.  But the story should always come first, if the musical numbers tie in perfectly to this story, then I’m all for it.

This is why Seven Brides for Seven Brothers will remain one of my all time favorite musicals, a film that was released a couple years before this one and some of the people behind the voice over work took part on this one.  Not to put down South Pacific.  I rank it very high in my book.  Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary, surprisingly was my favorite character as she looks like she’d be the least favored.  Her musical number of “Balai Ha’I” was my favorite musical number.  I can’t help but imagine what affect this film would’ve had with more recognizable names in it.  If Doris Day or Elizabeth Taylor had taken the part of Nellie as they both had opportunities for it.  Or if the first two scenes weren't switched and the beginning matches the end like in the Broadway production.  One can only imagine. 

Even if I wouldn’t personally put it near the top of my list, I still enjoyed this experience.  This is a story that’s still rendered and revisited today, it’s lasted throughout generations and will for future ones to come. 

Worth it. 

South Pacific
Musical, 171 Minutes, Not Rated
Based on the Novel “Tales of the South Pacific”
By: James A. Michener
Music by: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by: Oscar Hammerstein II
Screenplay by: Paul Osborn
Directed by: Joshua Logan
Cast: Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Ray Walston, & Juanita Hall

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