South Pacific (1958)
Reviewed on 2013 July 28
As far as ideas go, I generally think remakes are up there with those infernal low-flush toilets that you have to keep flushing and seem to serve no real function other than keeping plumbers in business. They don’t seem to work quite right, and yet the things keep getting foisted upon us. This movie aged like a soufflé in many respects, but I still don’t think it should be remade. On the other hand I think it might be cool to see a reworking of it on stage — maybe that irritating “Happy Talk” song juxtaposed with some of the fallout of war, to make a powerful statement about trying to keep your spirits up in turbulent times. For now, I’ll stick with this movie.
A group of tough salts are part of a secret WWII mission; as my former-Navy husband says, it’s lots of hurry up and wait. While they’re waiting for the mission to commence, life happens. Luther Bills (Ray Walston) is preoccupied with wheeling and dealing with Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall), the adopted den mother of the crew as long as they’re on her turf. Mary is a proud Tonkinese who tells tales of the mysterious Bali Hai (and gets to sing one of my favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein songs), driving Luther crazy until he gets to see it for himself.
While Luther is scheming to see Bloody Mary’s mystical turf, a romance is blooming between the ebullient Ensign Nellie Forbush, USN (Mitzi Gaynor) and the rumor-shrouded Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi, and it's very cool to hear an Italian native do such a convincing French accent). The enlisteds want Nellie to do a little spying on the Frenchman, but things get more complicated for her.
All this and some iconic songs should make it a slam-dunk. The problem was looking at a very Ozzie & Harriet musical through post-Cosby Show eyes. Time was not kind to these characters. I still think the song “Happy Talk” was like waiting in the doctor’s office for a painful procedure, and when Lt. Cable sang his next song I just wanted to punch him (no spoilers, but I think most modern women would as well). The good? Juanita Hall was “Bloody Mary“, and as far as I’m concerned she stole this thing. I wish there was more of her. Regressive or not, the song “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” was also pretty funny. Mitzi Gaynor sings “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair”, the slightly dreamlike brandy sipping sequence, the islands — there’s still a lot of good to warrant a Sunday afternoon viewing.
Three very grudging chocolate morsels, because time was not kind to it.