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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Romance > WWII > South Pacific – Collector’s Edition (DVD-Video)

South Pacific – Collector’s Edition (1958/Fox DVD-Video)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B-/B



NOTE: This film is now available in an upgraded Blu-ray edition with extras that you can read more about at this link:





Another early and very successful Rodgers & Hammerstein feature film Musical was so because it was shot in the original 70mm version of Todd-AO.  Joshua Logan’s South Pacific (1958) started at a longer 70mm Road Show cut, with a prints that toured the country in the larger film frame and a higher ticket price was attached.  For years, the shorter version was the only one around, but now, Fox has managed to reassemble the longer Road Show cut for this Collector’s Edition DVD set.  DVD 1 offers the Original Theatrical Release and DVD 2 has the Road Show Version.  The extra footage is not in as good shape, but they fix it the best they could and it is an even better film.


It is World War II and a U.S. Navy group is in the Pacific and specifically the title island, but they are no alone.  A young nurse (Mitzi Gaynor) is involved with a Frenchman (Rossano Brazzi), while the men see this part of the world for the first time.  A Navy Lieutenant (John Kerr) starts to get to know Nellie Forbush (Mitzi) enough that a love triangle develops.  There is Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) who shares the mystery and wonder of Bali Ha’i, one of the many famous songs here and as much about the location as a dreamlike quality and sense of escape or maybe nirvana.  The film does not go near this.


Other classic songs include Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame, A Wonderful Guy and many others fans would know better than anyone else.  In the long version, the music and pacing are far better, more than justifying the extra 15 minutes.  The film is considered too still-looking and somewhat plastic by some despite the location shooting, but they were using heavy cameras and trying to do it to follow (sometimes too closely) as strategy.  Until Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) innovated large-frame editing in part inspired by the French New Wave (which arrived the year after this film came out), this was as much of the strategy as keeping most of the speakers being behind the screen.


Then there is the controversial issue of the color lenses being used and maybe overused during the film as they were on stage.  For stage, the idea is to make the story seem to be in another world and since you can’t move the stage and audience, but it sometimes seems redundant here.  The use in the Bali Ha’i number is the best, but afterwards, especially when it has diffusion in the corners, it becomes counterproductive.  On Stanley Donen’s Funny Face released the year before and shot in the equally grand VistaVision process also took color liberties to look like special film printing, negative footage and even flattening out images to look like print magazines of the time.  That worked very well there.


Here, Logan cannot figure out what dreamlike means, so it becomes a spoof of itself, which is why the visuals should not have been attempted like this unless there was some kind of at least philosophical hook to it besides backing vocals that oooh and ahhh all over the place.  This is a clash of readerly and writerly approaches, which is why it is hard in Classic Hollywood narrative form to cover dream ideas with the former.  The color filters become almost a spoof, though the film stays serious avoiding more calamity.  They cut into the fidelity of the frame, which eventually becomes counterproductive.


The supporting cast includes Ray Walston as Luther Bills (which he played on stage in England), France Nuyen, Tom (Billy Jack) Laughlin, Ron Ely, Doug McClure, Joan Fontaine, John Gabriel, James Stacy and writer James Michener (whose writings are the basis for this film) and his wife Dorothy play missionaries if you can find them in Chapter 26.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.20 X 1 image was shot in the large-frame Todd-AO 70mm format, like its R&H predecessor Oklahoma! (the very first, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and is only the third film ever to use the format.  British 35mm prints were even issued in three-strip Technicolor, but large frame formats have color quality that is superior to shooting in 35mm and that gives the filmmakers latitude when doing reduction prints to begin with.


The prints here are somewhat different for the original theatrical cut and Road Show version in color too, with the shorter theatrical cut offering regular color and good definition.  The longer Road Show version at its best has color that looks a bit sharper and with slightly better color, yet extra footage is almost colorless and definition also drops.  That is strange, but that is the case and helping all cuts of this film was a switch to improved lenses by Panavision for the shoot.  Leon Shamroy, A.S.C., was the cinematographer and shot three R&H features in all starting with the 1945 State Fair.  He had just shot The King & I and knew exactly what he was doing with the material.  The longer cut proves this and the Dolby Digital 5.0 mix from the original magnetic 6-track stereo in 70mm presentations has been remastered well enough here.  Wonder what the differences (print in particular) will be like on Blu-ray?


Extras include full-length audio commentary by Richard Barrios, Ted Chapin and Gerard Alessandrini, Sing-A-Long Subtitles, Making of South Pacific, 60 Minutes: The Tales of The South Pacific, Vintage Stage Excerpt: "I'm Goint To Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "Finale," "Some Enchanted Evening," & "A Wonderful Guy" performed by Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, "South Pacific" On The Screen: A Perfect Hit, State Department Confers High Honor on "South Pacific", Screen Test: Mitzi Gaynor, the original theatrical trailer and stills.


This set is also available in a nice new compact DVD collection with all six R&H titles (eight films in all not including alternate cuts of the main film) in The Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection Box Set.  Like their Mel Brooks Collection (reviewed elsewhere on this site), the DVDs is thicker regular cases are here in slender cases (two each!) for The King & I, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Carousel and State Fair.  Our page links to all six reviews at this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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