My friend Paul reminded me of a curious movie moment that I had safely tucked away in the recesses of my mind.
It involves Joshua Logan's lavish 1958 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific."
Twenty years after the original roadshow release of the film, another friend, the New York exhibitor Ralph Donnelly, programed the film as part of a roadshow-musical revival when he was booking Broadway's Warner Cinerama theater. It was a rare print, Ralph told me, that he acquired from the people overseeing the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate. ("South Pacific" was made independently by the Magna Theater Corporation and was only distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox.) Alas, Ralph's print was not in Todd-AO but in standard 70mm. Still, it was the original roadshow version, Ralph promised.
This was major because "South Pacific" initially ran 171 minutes when it premiered at the Rivoli Theater in New York and, shortly thereafter, was trimmed to 157 minutes (following the scathing reviews) for the roadshow presentations throughout the rest of the country. For years, the 171-minute running time persisted in details about the film, even though it was displaced by the 157-minute version.
Well, the print that Ralph screened was the shorter 157-minute version. However, it was special in another way. This version, which was made for the Mexico run and had Spanish subtitles, hewed closer to the play, which immediately introduced the Emile De Becque and Nellie Forbush characters and opened with the back-to-back "Twin Soliloquies" and "Some Enchanted Evening" numbers, followed a scene later by the Seabees' "Bloody Mary."
Every version of "South Pacific" that I've seen - the roadshow and general release versions and the assorted home-entertaiment presentations - has opened with the "Bloody Mary" number.
Given that Ralph presented a 70mm print of the film and not the Todd-AO version, my hunch is that he had a preview print that was prepared for the Spanish-speaking market and that, by the time the film opened, the chronology of the opening numbers was changed. Commercially, I guess, it made more sense to open the film with the rousing (and witty) "Bloody Mary" than with the somber classic, "Some Enchanted Evening."
Anyway, when I bought the two-disc DVD of "S.P." a few years ago, I was hoping that the advertised roadshow version on one of the discs might be the one we saw back in '78, plus the missing footage. It indeed turned out to be the 171-minute version (which includes mostly deleted dialogue scenes, all of them seemingly involving Ray Walston's Luther Billis) but it didn't have the alternate opening that screened at the Warner Cinerama.
By the way, Ralph was able to secure an original Todd-AO version of R-&-H's "Oklahoma!" for his series, a print which was a-mazing, so eerie in its clarity that the figures on the screen looked lifelike - only magnified a thousand times over, of course.
Paul's reminder of that screening of "South Pacific" makes we wonder if that rare Mexican print still exists, if it is still in the archives of the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate. I hope so.