One year, one film: 1958
South Pacific, dir. Joshua Logan
Starring Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor
Recommended | HIGHLY RECOMMENDED | Must-See
Set during World War II, the film follows Nellie (Mitzi Gaynor), a young woman who has joined the Navy as a nurse so she can escape her Little Rock life and see more of the world. Stationed on an island in the South Pacific, Nellie strikes up a romance with French planter Emile (Rossano Brazzi), evoking suspicion from her superiors.
The film has several subplots which add up to an engaging story, but for me the real draw is Ms. Mitzi, a wonderfully talented vocalist and very good actress. To me, she is the total star of the show between her acting performance and musical numbers.
Were the critics of 1958 quite as impressed by Mitzi and her musical as I was when I first discovered the film four years ago?
Bosley Crowther, in his New York Times review, said that the film had “a wonderful surge of charm and gusto,” though he wasn’t a huge fan of the visual tricks used during the musical numbers. (“Very obvious and stagey,” he wrote of the colorful photography.)
Modern Screen delighted in the film’s use of familiar songs from the Broadway musical, but like Crowther, took issue with “that wild camera flooding the screen with every color of the rainbow, one color at a time.” Still, the mag gave the film a “recommended” rating.
Screenland wrote, “Lavish seems the best word to describe the effect that comes from turning out this great stereophonic sounded splash of color, music, and romance on an American-held South Sea island,” adding in a later review that the soundtrack should become an enduring classic: “the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical will continue to improve with age.”
As for the minds behind the production, Richard Rodgers is quoted in The Tale of South Pacific as saying that his songs had never “been introduced and performed with as much grace and regard to story value” as they were in this film. High praise from the man himself, generally good reviews, and a glowing recommendation from TMP — South Pacific is certainly worth a watch!