Tuesday, February 21, 2017

indelible moment: "South Pacific" (1958)

The scene occurs near the end of Act I in Joshua Logan's 1958 Todd-AO film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," just after Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) performs in the Thanksgiving variety show for the seabees. Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi) is waiting for her backstage, talking to Lt. Joe Cable (John Kerr), who will sing the concise but powerful "Carefully Taught," featuring Richard Rodgers' prescient lyric.

Nellie [To Emile]: I've been meaning to call you but...

Emile: You have asked for a transfer. Why?  What does it mean? 

Nellie: I'll explain it to you tomorrow.

Emile: No. Not tomorrow. Now. What does it mean?

Nellie: It means that I can't marry you. Do you understand? I can't marry you.

Emile: This is because of my children.

Nellie: It's not because of your children - they're sweet.

Emile: It is their Polynesian mother then - their mother and I.

Nellie: Yes. I can't help it. It isn't as if I could give you a good reason. There is no reason. This is emotional. It's something that is born in me.

Emile: It is not. I do not believe this is born in you.

Nellie: Then why do I feel the way I do? All I know is I can't help it. I can't help it!  [To Cable]  Explain how we feel!  Please, Joe!  Nellie departs 

Emile [To Cable]: What makes her talk like that? Why do you have this feeling, you and she? I do not believe it is born in you. I do not believe.

Cable: It's not born in you. It happens after you're born.

Cable sings, Emile listens

(Music No. 39 - "CAREFULLY TAUGHT")

You've got to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught before it's too
Before you are six or seven or
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught...

You've got to be carefully taught!

Great song, arguably (and sadly) the song of the times - although I'm sure Trump would complain about the lousy melody and bad rhymes and dismiss Rodgers and Hammerstein as overrated (or, worse, liberals) and "South Pacific" as a disaster. And its status as a classic? Fake news.


Emile said...


Richard Hanson said...

That song never ceases to amaze me. It was brave of R&H to write it back in the '40s and it would be brave if someone wrote it today. It's timeless. Unfortunately.

Kiki said...

It might be mentioned that the producers asked O. Hammerstein2 to take the song out of the show because it wasn't "pleasant." Hammerstein, to his eternal credit, said, "It stays or no show." I think I heard that on a Stephen Sondheim interview

Sheila said...

Love this, Joe, especially how you worked the Prez into your final graph which would seem outrageous if it was about any other person. I'm sure he'd have problems with "The Sound of Music" if Julie Andrews dared to question him.

Marvin said...

Joe, very timely!

Joyce said...

Wonderful point taken.

william said...

R&H were splendid heroes of the theater and have a place in our collective hearts.