Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
SOUTH PACIFIC (1958)
Sailors! Singing! Again! Rodgers and Hammerstein! World War II! 157 minutes! South Pacific!
Sorry for that underwhelming introduction, but I’m in serious danger of summarizing this long-ass film’s entire plot in a tiny-ass paragraph. A Navy nurse by the name of Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) is stationed on a South Pacific island where she falls for French plantation owner Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi). The military wants her to spy on him because they need his knowledge of the area for a mission, but doing so digs up all kinds of secrets that could strain their relationship.
Spoiler alert: three nipples!
Also, there’s some magical fuck island next door that has little to do with the overall narrative. Okay.
*SEXY OMINOUS CHORD*
And that’s basically it, but that’s not a complaint. South Pacific does a really good job of having a simple story about love and war and prejudice and using songs to flesh out the emotions contained within it. Pretty sure that’s what all musicals should do, but I’m quite literally no expert.
Also, underwater make-outs. All musicals should have underwater make-outs.
So Mitzi Gaynor is a great actress and she runs the full gamut of emotions in this movie, but one moment really stuck out to me: during a song in which she’s particularly flooded by intense feelings and also tears, she actually doesn’t sing some of the words. Or she’ll switch back to talking to herself frantically. Maybe the song was written that way. Maybe the director came up with the idea. Or maybe it happened naturally during that take. Whatever the case may be, this is the kind of acting I want to see more of in musicals. You’re not stopping for a karaoke break, you are overcome by emotions, dammit.
Thumbs up, Mitzi!
Rossano Brazzi is just kind of okay. Very French. Very mysterious.
*SEXY OMINOUS CHORD AGAIN?*
John Kerr plays Lt. Joseph Cable, who is just kind of sort of in this movie and has a fling with a Tonkinese girl and then worries he’s a huge racist? I dunno, his arc didn’t connect with me very much (too dated, perhaps) and as a result he sort of faded into the background.
And then there’s Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary, one of the locals. She mostly plays up how beautiful everything in the South Pacific is and sells shrunken heads and addresses U.S. military officials as “you sexy man” and, oh boy, I should probably stop talking about how cringe-y her role can get.
Stealing the show is Ray Walston as sailor Luther Billis. He’s the perfect comic relief wisecracker and every one of his scenes had me in stitches. Doubly so when he’s pissing in Death’s face.
My favorite Seabee.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
Guys, there’s a ton of songs in this thing so we’re gonna hafta just speed run the hits here. Wanna know what’s weird, though? There’s almost no dancing. It’s mostly songs, songs, songs. And they’re great, so let’s go!
First up, Bloody Mary gets an ode to her called “Bloody Mary”! It’s a rollicking excuse for all the Navy men to jump and shout and be fun shirtless athletic guys!
Of course, these virile young beefcakes are only so riled up because they yearn for a handful of sweet boob! They launch into “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” a lament about the lack of women on the island. (How does that make Bloody Mary feel?) It’s a really funny tongue-in-cheek reminder that all these guys probably have boners right now.
“Hey, spread out!”
Bloody Mary then sings a wonderfully haunting melody about “Bali Ha’i,” a place of wild ceremonies and even wilder native girls that the sailors currently aren’t authorized to visit.
Due to ultraviolet radiation, from the looks of it.
But enough about releasing these men of the sea, let’s check in on Nurse Nellie and how she feels about combat and romance and junk! Turns out she’s “A Cock-Eyed Optimist” with a short but sweet song in her heart.
What a sunny disposition, wait, the sun just exploded.
Hey, a tune I’ve heard of before! Emile sings “Some Enchanted Evening” to Nellie as I suddenly remember that it’s kind of boring.
That’s a really yellow evening.
After Nellie is offered her spy mission and has doubts about seeing Emile, she shampoos up to perform the ridiculously catchy “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and I want to suggest as subtly as possible CUM, CUM IN HER HAIR, BIG STICKY GOBS OF MAN CUM IN HER LOVELY LOCKS, CUM CUM CUM, IT SOUNDS LIKE SHE’S WASHING CUM OUT OF HER HAIR, EVERYBODY PLEASE CUM IN SOMEONE’S HAIR TO THIS SONG.
I passed up easy “seamen” and “cock-eyed” jokes earlier.
I just had to let this out all over you.
And now, before moving on, a quick flashback to a previous Rodgers & Hammerstein joint. Remember “Isn’t It Kinda Fun?” from State Fair, and all the glowing praise I had for it? It did a great job of simultaneously mocking and embracing the cheesiness of romance, and that spirit comes back with “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy.” Nellie confesses to how foolish her infatuation with Emile is while failing to give a single hot fuck about it. The song is big and joyous and fills you with hope that Emile might cum in Nellie’s hair again.
Wha, another cum joke? I usually have to wait at least twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, on B Plot Island, Joey Cable gets down with native gal Liat (France Nuyen) and both songs highlighting this event are just creepy and weird. The first is a love ballad Cable croons at her called “Young as Springtime,” begging the question of just how young his conquest really is.
Place your bets! Place your bets!
The second is “Happy Talk” and what the shit, I don’t even know. This is clearly a frighteningly oft-rehearsed number that mother and daughter whipped up to get a man to buy the calf.
It’s the “Please Fuck My Child” song.
I feel gross, let’s hurry this up. How about a fun burlesque show for the Navy? Nellie sings “Honey Bun” for the boys as Ray Walston bellydances in drag.
Automatic win, Best Number of the Movie.
Joe and Nellie’s plotlines intersect and they sing about how romance is easier in the States (“My Girl Back Home”), but this attitude is kicked to the curb once Joe literally changes his tune to a song about overcoming your family’s deep-seated prejudices called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” The tune isn’t terribly memorable, but I’m glad it’s in the movie because it definitely clinches that these characters’ hang-ups stem from good ol’ classic racism rather than, I dunno, relationships just being scary?
I usually lean towards “not racism” but this is a ’50s movie about the ’40s.
Lastly, the reprise of “Some Enchanted Evening” in which Nellie is terrified and crying and skipping words is just so damn good I need to mention it again.
I just like acting with my singing.
- Hey, did you notice my insanely clever jokes about how the tint looks off on some of these screencaps? For reasons I cannot fathom, occasionally a colored filter will just pop up out of nowhere, sometimes halfway through a scene, usually to kick off a song. It kind of works for “Bali Ha’i” as the sailors are supposed to be under a sort of love spell and everything turns red or purple, but the rest are just fucking jarring. Nellie and Emile are sharing a drink, music starts, sllliiide, everything’s yellow now, deal with it. I don’t like it. Not one bit. No sirree.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
I sure love it when a song condemning racism still contains a lyric about what a “normal” human being looks like, don’t you? You could argue this line from “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” is a self-aware character moment, but you will probably be arguing for a while…
“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made…”
Hey, this was a pretty good time. It definitely has its problems (length, annoying filters, cultural insensitivity, not enough Ray Walston), but the top-notch songs carry the film’s duller moments. I really could have used more dancing, but it’s interesting to see the conventions of what I imagine a musical to be start to take shape. I enjoyed myself, but I really can’t wait to see what the ’60s have in store for me.
West Side Story (1961)
This is Bill’s thirteenth week of the experiment. Check up on his sanity in his first quarterly report.