Starring: Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr
Director: Joshua Logan
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
With the winter solstice now behind us, the days are getting incrementally longer but it’ll be some time yet before they really start to heat up. So if you’re itching for a taste of the tropics, this corny but irresistible Rogers and Hammerstein musical might just be the ticket to warm the cockles of your heart. Shot largely on location in Hawaii, the film is an adaptation of the popular stage musical, which was in turn based on a book called ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ by James A. Michener. It’s a kooky mix of ooga booga kitsch and camp Americana, personified in the characters of Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) and Luther Billis (Ray Walston), two savvy traders cashing in on business generated by the hoards of American G.I.’s stationed on a remote island during World War 2. In the romantic female lead, Mitzi Gaynor is a delicious confection as Nellie Forbush, a naïve naval nurse who, despite vowing to “wash that man right out of her hair”, falls hard for a more mature French plantation owner named Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi). Meanwhile, over on the mysterious, off-limits island of Bali Ha’i, Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr) is getting romantically entangled with Bloody Mary’s exquisite daughter Liat (France Nuyen). Cross-cultural dilemmas abound as the couples grapple with issues of passion and racism, while tension between the U.S. and Japanese troops mounts. And all the while the hits keep coming: ‘A Cock-Eyed Optimist’; ‘There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame’; ‘Happy Talk’ and, of course, the eerie theme song ‘Bali Ha’i’.
Twentieth Century Fox have included the Roadshow version in the DVD package, featuring fourteen extra minutes of footage that, while appearing considerably faded alongside the often fluorescent Technicolor of the General Release material, adds historical value and some extra sauce to this tasty coconut cream pie. Scenes once considered to be of ‘questionable content’, such as an extended exploration of the trade in shrunken heads and topless natives performing the African/Polynesian pastiche Boar Tooth Ceremony, have been re-inserted. And while the result may not be politically correct, it’s pure Hollywood exotica and illustrates perfectly the mind-set of the period in which it was made.