Sunday, February 24, 2002


Years ago, I saw the pan & scan version of this on cable and I didn't much care for it. This morning, I gave it another chance with the letterboxed DVD. Visually, with its beautiful natural settings and lovely Technicolor cinematography, I found the widescreen version to be a feast for the eye, but my overall opinion of the movie changed much. It's basically two love stories that take place during WWII on a South Pacific island where a bunch of sailors are waiting for war action (and wishing for some "dame" action). Nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor), a naive young woman from Little Rock, falls for a worldly French civlian (Rossano Brazzi). When she finds out that he has two half-Polynesian children from a previous marriage, she freaks out and the romance is threatened. Similarly, Lt. Cable (John Kerr), a naive young man from Philadelphia, falls for a Tonganese woman (France Nuyen). When their talk of marriage (mostly done through her mother since the Nuyen character speaks no English) gets serious, he freaks out and the romance is threatened.

This time around, I was impressed with the dramatic structure and how the two romance stories came together in the last third of the film. But the acting sinks the movie. Mitzi Gaynor and Ray Walston (who plays a conniving sailor) are pretty good; everyone else with a speaking part is pretty terrible. Brazzi is miscast and Kerr is just hopeless--I never believed for one minute that he was in the armed forces, or that he was in love with Nuyen (Harry Connick Jr. was much better in the recent TV version). Another hinderance to the performances is the poor dubbing; most of the leads except Gaynor have their singing dubbed by someone else, and even when they're saying their own dialogue, it's often dubbed, just as poorly. For some reason, the dialogue dubbing of Kerr and Juanita Hall (as Bloody Mary) is especially bad.

The message of the need to overcome prejudice is a noble one, but the song that carries this message most directly ("You've Got to Be Carefully Taught") is bizarrely upbeat and doesn't play out well. The rest of the music is fine, and the letterboxing allows us to see lots more shirtless men during the "Nothing Like a Dame" number. For a movie that is relentless about "opening up" the material for a more realistic look, it seems odd that the climaxes of the love stories (involving a tragic death and a heroic resuce) are played off-screen. Tom Laughlin, who later played Billy Jack, is good in a small part at the beginning and end as a pilot. And the Technicolor is truly gorgeous, except for those weird experimental shots involving color filters that were supposed to enhance the emotional mood of the songs. They don't.

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