From the unbeatable duo of Rodgers & Hammerstein comes this delightful musical, set in World War II and starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi.
Gaynor is Nellie, a girl from Little Rock who has joined the Navy as a nurse so she can experience something new and see a bit more of the world. While deployed on an island somewhere in the South Pacific (hence the title of the film), Nellie meets a French planter named Emile (Brazzi) and quickly falls for him. As the war heats up, Nellie’s superiors want to know more about her mysterious Frenchman and seem somewhat suspicious of him.
Though the romance between Nellie and Emile is the central focus of the film, a couple of interesting subplots also run throughout the film. A local “philosopher” of the island known as Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) doles out strange messages to Lieutenant Cable (John Kerr), who soon falls for her daughter Liat (France Nuyen). And at the same time, the troops are also planning a comedic performance to kill time while they wait for the action of the war to reach them.
There’s no question that this film is fun to watch. In typical Rodgers & Hammerstein fashion, the songs are extremely catchy. The chemistry between the two central couples is strong, making the romantic side of the film quite lovable.
But this story isn’t complete fluff. As the war escalates and gets closer to the island, the level of drama also rises. Deeper themes related to war and prejudice are incorporated along with the constant story of love. As a result, the film is highly enjoyable but with a distinctly dramatic edge.
There is an interesting use of filters in this film, particularly during the musical scenes. I will admit, I was a bit thrown off by it at first, as many modern viewers seem to be. But once the initial shock wore off and I became engrossed in the plot, the filters succeeded in enhancing the mood of those scenes and were a nice touch.
Performance-wise, Mitzi Gaynor completely steals the show here. Most of the musical numbers were dubbed by professional singers, but in addition to giving a very convincing performance as Nellie, Gaynor sang all of her own songs. And what a lovely voice she has! Her musical numbers are sure to become favorites of the viewer, with her very sweet vocals and engaging screen presence drawing the viewer in time and time again.
The best Rodgers & Hammerstein musical will always be The Sound of Music in my book, but South Pacific comes pretty close to matching it. The score: 4/5