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South Pacific Review

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by AVForums Mar 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    South Pacific Review

    'South Pacific' is a Hollywood movie musical from the legendary team of Rodgers & Hammerstein that somehow I'd managed to avoid seeing all my life, despite the fact that it was released in the same year as I was born. Like most people, I've seen clips on TV and thought that one day I must get around to watching it. Based upon the stage musical which had its first performance in 1949, the movie was premiered in March 1958 and was one of a short list of productions to benefit from being shot in Todd-AO. This was a high definition widescreen process which used 65mm film, thereby producing a much greater picture area with resultant significant improvements in picture quality. For the release prints, the 65mm negative was printed on to 70mm film stock, which allowed the extra space required for 6 track magnetic sound stripe - so there were added bonuses to be had in the sound department too.


    For the Blu-ray release, 20th Century Fox harnessed FotoKem's Large Format Group for the photochemical preservation and video mastering on the project, taking advantage of the facility's 65mm scanner and its high speed 4K transfer capabilities.
    FotoKem produced an image that looks significantly better than what could have been achieved with a 65mm high-definition telecine, so the image you see on your HD display at home is the very best available. It's nice to know that people have cared enough to go to such lengths in restoring this movie.



    'South Pacific' is based on James A. Michener's 'Tales of the South Pacific' and stars Mitzi Gaynor as nurse Nellie Forbush, who while stationed overseas during World War II falls in love with wealthy French plantation owner Emile De Becque (Rosanno Brazzi). The Navy would like De Becque to help them in a reconnaissance mission against the Japanese, but he refuses; having run away from the outside world after killing a man in his home town. When Nellie, her inbred bigotry aroused when she discovers that Emile has two mixed-race children, refuses his proposal of marriage, DeBecque, having nothing to lose, agrees to go on the mission. His partner in this venture is Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr), who like Nellie is a victim of prejudicial feelings; Cable has previously thrown away a chance at lasting happiness by refusing to marry Liat (France Nuyen), the dark-skinned daughter of Tokinese trader Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall). When Cable is killed and DeBecque is seemingly lost in battle, Nellie, realising the stupidity of her racism, prays for Emile's safe return.


    Not knowing the film or stage play, it seemed almost incongruous to me that a musical should tackle a very serious subject such as racial prejudice - and particularly in the USA - then attempt to pass it off as entertainment. Upon reflection, it's probably the most effective way to make people think about their emotions and question the roots of their instilled beliefs.


    Ironically, Juanita Hall, who not only sang in the stage production, but also took part in the recording of the cast album, had her singing dubbed for the film version by Muriel Smith. Metropolitan Opera star Giorgio Tozzi provided the singing voice for the role of Emile de Becque. John Kerr starred as Lt. Cable and his voice was dubbed by Bill Lee. Thus, Mitzi Gaynor, as well as Ray Walston (who played Luthor Billis), were the only principal cast members whose own singing voices were used.




    The film is known (to all but me apparently) for the use of coloured filters during many of the song sequences. As I was unaware of this, it really took me by surprise during the first musical number and I genuinely thought there was something wrong with my projector, then I thought someone had messed around with the colour timing on the print used for the transfer. The aim of director Joshua Logan was to use colour to represent the emotions experienced by the characters. While this gimmick exists in the language of theatre, it is sadly not in the dictionary of film and also more unsettling than attractive, drawing attention to Logan's technique and thereby taking the audience out of the picture. Logan is said to have considered this use of colour filters in camera to be the biggest mistake he made in his filming career.
    However, criticism of the filtering did not prevent the film from topping the box office that year and the 65mm Todd-AO cinematography (by Leon Shamroy) was nominated for an Academy Award, as was the music adaptation and the sound, with the latter winning.



    Despite the caveats, however, South Pacific has much to be treasured. For one thing, all of Rodgers & Hammerstein's immortal songs -"Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali H'ai," "There is Nothing Like a Dame," "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy" and "Younger Than Springtime" are performed to perfection.

    In addition, film buffs can play 'spot the bit part player.' I recognized a young Ron Ely (TV's Tarzan) and Doug McClure (Trampas himself) among the cast. Apparently Joan Fontaine shows up unbilled as a nurse, but I couldn't spot her.




    After experiencing the film, I felt glad that I'd taken the time to watch this historic, brave musical and hope that many viewers, young and old, will take the opportunity to view it in all its High Definition Blu-ray glory.