The American creative team Rodgers and Hammerstein virtually created the American musical theatre.
When their Oklahoma opened in New York in 1943, two years before the close of the Second World War, it was a theatrical revolution. Gone were the stop-start song-and-dance conventions of musical comedy; here was seamless drama and music and dance, integrated as one.
Oklahoma was, I believe, their finest achievement, but not far behind are two other great theatrical dramas - South Pacific and Carousel. Sadly, Oklahoma! is available in Australia only in a paltry pan-and-scan version which makes a mockery of its grand Todd-AO filming - only Region 1 has that movie in proper widescreen. But this Region 4 edition of South Pacific is the real thing - wide, grand and terrific.
Oscar Hammerstein II had an amazing history. In the 1920s he crafted Showboat in collaboration with composer Jerome Kern. He adapted Bizet's Carmen in the 1940s, to create the sensational Carmen Jones. Hatred of intolerance is a common thread through Hammerstein's work. Listen in Showboat to Ol' Man River. Or, in South Pacific, to Carefully Taught, a bitter attack on racial prejudice. It's still strong, badly-needed stuff.
One of my very best friends is in fact a god-daughter of Oscar Hammerstein; her parents were amongst Oscar and Judith Hammerstein's best friends. When she visits Glitter City from her abode in Melbourne, we play Rodgers and Hammerstein until my wife screams "Desist" in disgust - musicals aren't her strong-point.
But they're mine. I first saw South Pacific in about 1959, when I was a very young teenager. I was bowled over by the actress France Nuyen who plays the Tonkinese maiden Liat. She taught me what longing and yearning meant. I remember seeing it a half dozen times in a fortnight, hopelessly awash in its weird beauty and romance.
I say weird beauty, because director Joshua Logan took the advice of his cameraman and filmed South Pacific in a pretty unique way - using colour filters to wash the screen in all shades of yellow, blue, magenta... mood colouring for every occasion. I remember it worked wondrously well on the big screen. It looked hideous on video and television. But here on DVD it seems totally appropriate, in a crazy atmospheric way - very beautiful in a richly overdone manner.
But a lot of South Pacific is richly overdone, and you have to accept that to love it. How else could you accept Nellie Forbush striding along the beach singing Cockeyed Optimist, or the still ravishingly beautiful France Nuyen's Liat making eyes at Lieutenant Kable (John Kerr) while her mum Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) sings the incredibly corny but wonderful Happy Talk? You just have to go with the flow... in science-fiction circles, it's called a 'willing suspension of disbelief'.
South Pacific has an ace up its sleeve - it boasts one of the greatest songs ever written for the stage, Some Enchanted Evening, made famous in its Broadway version by the great Italian baritone Ezio Pinza. This film version, mimed by Rossano Brazzi to the voice of an unnamed Italian baritone, can't quite get to Ezio's level, but comes close. And while Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie Forbush is no Mary Martin (Mary Martin's Broadway recording with Ezio is still the definitive CD), she can be tolerated. Just.
The DVD has some special features the usual television or video presentation lacks - a special overture before the movie begins, intermission music and special music to be played as the audience shuffled out. And they all sound just wonderful. It's as if I'm in the Melbourne cinema again, waiting for Liat...
Television buffs will recognise Ray Walston as the leading marine, in songs including Bloody Mary. This was one of his biggest roles before he became our favourite Martian; he made a good marine as well.
This PAL transfer appears to be taken from the same source as the NTSC version. The only difference is in running time due to the PAL speed-up factor; the US version is about seven minutes longer.
For a non-anamorphic transfer, the picture is generally excellent, and certainly better than this movie has been seen in any format for a couple of decades at least (though I'm hanging out for a big screen revival). There are the occasional aliasing or apparent edge enhancement effects, but most are not obtrusive. The only real source of annoyance is a glaring green halo that for a few seconds surrounds Rossano Brazzi's head as he mimes Some Enchanted Evening.
The Region 1 and Region 4 discs share the same scene indexing (43 tracks in all). The American disc gives a name to each track, for easy selection of song-highlights. The Australian edition for some reason drops these identification tags.
The menu offers both the original two-channel stereo, or Dolby 5.1.
They both in fact sound virtually identical. They both offer great stereo placement, and slightly exaggerated movement of voice-tracks to match screen movement - a bit overdone when watching on a 68cm screen, but it would be great for a projection system.
The PAL speed-up effect in this case is beneficial. It lifts Mitzi Gaynor's very average voice up in pitch so that it moves closer to the light zest of Mary Martin. It's an artificial enhancement, but it works OK.
One of the glories of this DVD is the detail that comes through from the orchestral sound - the strings sound burnished and beautiful; there are clean, detailed layers of sound. The orchestration sounds totally ravishing; it does Rodgers and Hammerstein great justice.