Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Cockeyed Optimist on Josh Logan's "South Pacific" (1958)

Glenn Kinney signs in with wide eyes - very wide - on the very wide-screen "South Pacific"
"Bali Hai. It may call you" is the title of a wonderful March 26th post delivered by Glenn Kinney on his essential site, Some Cam Running.

Check it out.

In the meantime, I have my own SP story. Theories invited. Here goes...

Back in the late 1970s when he was booking films for RKO in New York, the late Ralph Donnelly staged a roadshow-musical series at the Cinerama on Broadway. He managed to unearth an original Todd-AO print of "Oklahoma!" from the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization - and it was scarily gorgeous. Scary because the huge, huge figures on the screen looked so incredibly lifelike. I remember the dream ballet, backed by Oliver Smith's expansive, haunting set, being particularly striking.

Difficult to shake.

Ralph couldn't locate "South Pacific" in Todd-AO for the engagement, but he did find a 65mm roadshow print that had Spanish subtitles. What was curious about this print was that it was a slightly different version of the movie: The chronology of its opening scenes were closer to the play. This version opened with the Emile and Nellie scene (and the songs "Cockeyed Optimist" and "Some Enchanted Evening") and then segued into the seabee numbers ("Bloody Mary" and "There Is Nothing Like a Dame"). The aerial stuff involving John Kerr and Tom Laughlin that connected them were alternate shots of what we've become used to seeing over the years.

A year or so ago, when Fox Home Entertainment released the two-disc "South Pacific" that included the 170-minute "roadshow version," I was hoping that it would be this scrambled version that Ralph screened at the Cinerama. It wasn't. I can't explain why the print I saw all those many years ago had a different opening - except that, perhaps, at one time, Josh Logan entertained the idea of keeping the film closer to the play and prepared and tested two versions. (I've a hunch that Paul Osborn's original shooting script opened with the Emile-Nellie sequence.)

What confounds me is how Spanish-speaking countries obviously saw a different version than we did - or is this the version that originally opened at the Rivoli in '58 and played for a while before being replaced with the film that's been most widely seen for the past 50 years.

Again, any theories out there?

BTW, I also have this soft spot for Logan as a director of film. For reasons that I can't entirely explain, I tend to like all of his stuff.

"Tall Story," anyone?


Sylko said...

I saw "Tall Story" back in the early '90's on cable. Jane Fonda was a girl who was trying to nab Anthony Perkins by pretending to be a girl who was only interested in an education. I remember being surprised that Jane Fonda was in a movie like that, but I enjoyed the film.

It made me a bit sad that Anthony Perkins got typecast after Psycho, because I really liked him in that movie.

Ben said...

I love how Glenn mentions his stint in his high-school production of "South Pacific." Thanks for sharing.

joe baltake said...

Actually, Perkins did a lot of interesting work following "Psycho," including "Goodbye Again," "The Trial," "Phaedra" and, yes, "Tall Story." He was excellent in all of them but, alas, Norman Bates overtook his life - at least in the public's eyes.