I hadn’t seen this before, oddly enogh, so I rented it the other day. I know that it is a musical, and thus inhabits an alternate reality (in which everyone puts on a show at the drop of a hat, for example), but there were a few things I wondered at.
The color filters! Who was smoking what? I saw at the IMDB that the director eventually admitted they were a mistake. Why that wasn’t blindingly obvious the first time they saw the dailies I don’t know.
The race angle. Knowing that Debeq had previously been married to a Polynesian (now deceased) was enough to end the romance? Is this realistic? Yes, I know Ensign Forbush is from Little Rock, and the movie comes right out and condemns this as hateful and racist, and the movie is set in WWII. But would audiences in the mid-50s really buy this? Or am I just too far the other side of the civil rights movement to remember how bad things really were?
4)Liat. It seemed pretty clear she and Lt. Cable (who came up with that name?) were sexually involved. Yet he says she is just a kid, and seems angry that she is being exploited. And her mother really hands her over to him in a very suggestive way. The whole relationship made my skin crawl. Not to mention that he told her mom before he met Liat that he had a fiance in Philadelphia. Did she really think he was going to marry Liat? I’m probably reading way too much into this, but the box assured me that the “inter-racial lovers” were “genuinely moving.” No they weren’t, they were creepy, in a pedophilia kind of way.
- The military stuff. Granted, we aren’t looking at a realistic picture, but the idea that Debeq would broadcast using his and Cable’s names, and that the men in the sickbay would know all about them struck me as way beyond all suspension of disbelief. WWII wasn’t that long before this picture was released, didn’t people still know about secret missions? And don’t even get me started with the whole “drop the stowaway out of the airplane by accident and then send a whole bunch of planes and ships to get him back untouched!” Wasn’t this too unrealistic, even for a musical?
These are, of course, nitpicks. It’s a fun movie. Mitzi Gaynor is lovely and sings and dances well. I liked the unusual angle of having her true love be significantly older, it made a difference. The music was great. What I could see of the scenery was spectacular. Overall, not a bad movie.
I had problems with #2, also, but that would have been a serious concern in that time frame, especially for a girl from the south like Nellie. Essentially, for those who thought nonwhites were inferior, the idea of a man marrying one upsets their worldview.
No #3? Where is Opal?
#4 – No, a sexual angle was not to be implied. This was the 40s and just the fact that two people were going out together did not imply a possible sexual relationship. And whether Cable had a fiance or not, the implication was that they were going to get married before doing anything (remember, this was when the Hayes office was still censoring films).
#5 – Remember, most people had no real idea about military procedure. In addition, people back then didn’t try to fit films into a narrow “realistic” box (after all, this is a movie about people breaking into song); they were more interested in a good story.
You’re way too far on the other side of the civil rights movement to appreciate the racial clout. To put it in better context, I’d recommend reviewing Showboat, Finian’s Raqinbow and West Side Story.
I saw it for the first time a month or so ago. It was alright, but nowhere near one of my favorite musicals. Partially because it was rather uneven. The first act is pretty much a love story while the second act becomes full-on war movie, and as a result, it just doesn’t seem to really work for me.
And the color filtering thing was something I notice too. It has something to do with somebody breaking into song, but they aren’t always linked.
Of course it’s not realistic. If it was realistic, a movie about the navy would have a lot less singing and a lot more swearing.
Thanks for the replies.
RealityChuck, I’m not so sure that no sexual content could be implied. I think the Hayes office prevented anything explicit, but not implication. Bloody Mary points out that Liat is very pretty, and asks if he wants her. Then stumble through basic hello stuff in French. She laughs and walks out. They kiss passoinately, falling to the floor. Fade out. They are cuddled on the floor mat, his shirt is off, her hair is down. He’s asking how a sweet little kid like her got mixed up with a dragon like Mary. I think the implication is there, just not the explicitness. It’s icky.
And very clever of you to pick up on my deliberate little joke! Ha ha! (Yeah, that’s the ticket! They’ll believe I meant to do that!)
kunilou, I am more than willing to believe that I just don’t know how openly racist things were pre-Civil Rights movement. I guess I was surprised that Polynesians were so racially off limits. It seems to me that racism is usually directed most strongly against races who are geographically near you. I have been told, for example, that the KKK in Pennsylvania in the 50s was against the Jews, and didn’t care about blacks because there weren’t any of them around. And yes, that is equally reprehensible, that isn’t my point. My point is that I would expect Nellie to be racist against blacks, not against Polynesians. And that Cable’s family would object to Liat because she’s not “one of them,” part of their circle of upper-crust Philadelphia families, not because she is Polynesian, per se. Or am I way off base?
And HPL, I know it’s not realistic. But even musicals have a certain amount of internal consistency, and it seemed to me that the points I raised interfered with that.
Also, I’m not so sure about realism involving a lot more swearing. I’ve been told by a couple of WWII vets that swearing wasn’t that common. Both of them said that it is common now, and gets put into movies because we assume that it was common then, but it wasn’t. One of them told me that it was rare enough that calling another soldier an SOB was enough to get someone beaten severely. The other one told me that they certainly knew all the words, but they were used rarely, under extreme stress, not in every sentence the way they get used today. I wasn’t there so I don’t know, but do you have any contemporary sources that indicate a lot of swearing?
Ironically, it was viewing a High School production of this terrible, terrible show that made me become a theatre man…
It’s very worthwhile reading Michener’s short-story collection Tales of the South Pacific, to realize how much R&H sanitized as well as reorganized the book (and cut out a good part of it).
The Nellie-Emile story is based mostly on “Our Heroine”, in which it’s quite clear that Nellie saw the darkness of the Polynesian’s skin as making them just n-words (Michener is quite specific). As in the movie, she could overlook his having slept with Melanesian and Tonkinese women, and even had a set of children out of wedlock by them, but he had married a n-word! Only by surviving rape attempts by several of the white enlisted men (“There Is Nothing Like A Dame”, huh?) did she come to think it didn’t matter that much. The characters of Emile’s older French-Tonkinese daughters, turned whores looking for American husbands, also didn’t make it into the show.
Joe Cable and Liat were banging away like jungle monkeys from the moment they met (she was a virgin, and they had no trouble conversing in French either), and the story (“Fo’ Dolla”) makes it clear that the attraction was real and mutual and not just from Bloody Mary trying to snag an American for her own daughter.
The cave spotter was a different man in the story (“The Cave”), an Englishman who had been caught and beheaded along with his protecting natives by the Japanese who finally caught them. He used a code name, but the problem wasn’t the Japanese knowing who he was but where he was.
I’ll chime in on the racial harmony angle, which R&H played up much more than Michener did. Recall that a lot had happened in the civil rights movement between the book and the movie. I’ve been told that the musical and movie were actually banned informally in parts of the South just because of the song “You’ve Got To Be Taught”.
It occurs to me that I might not have made Nellie’s feelings clear. As I understood them from both the book and movie, it wasn’t just the ick factor from sleeping with a man who had slept with a Polynesian. She also knew that Emile saw them both as marriage material, that in his eyes she was therefore on the same level as a black woman, and could she really love such a man?