Breening Thursday #28: “South Pacific” from 1958


Today is Thursday, so it is time for another Breening Thursday article. On Sunday, we republished an article by Movie Critic of Movies Meet Their Match. This article was our article for May in our monthly guest series, What the Code Means to Me. Every participant in this series gets to make two suggestions for the next movie which I will breen, and Movie Critic suggested two Broadway musicals from the Shurlock Era, South Pacific from 1958 and Thoroughly Modern Millie from 1967. I decided to take her first suggestion, since I saw this film many years ago, it being part of our collection. Ironically, our last Breening Thursday topic from a guest writer, White Shadows in the South Seas, was also a story about white men on Polynesian islands. Thank you for this suggestion, Movie Critic! This Rogers and Hammerstein musical has a sound core but enough problems to make it an interesting breening challenge.

Image result for South pacific 1958

This movie is two and a half hours long. That is largely because it contains all the music from the stage play. All the other Rogers and Hammerstein film adaptions from this period cut some of the songs, but this not only retained all the stage songs but reinstated a song which was cut before the play’s opening. I think it’s very interesting that there was a Renaissance of film adaptions of Broadway musicals in the Shurlock Era. The first Rogers and Hammerstein musical ever to be adapted as a film was made by 20th Century Fox in 1955; this film was Oklahoma! It was followed by Carousel and The King and I in 1956, South Pacific in 1958, and The Flower Drum Song in 1961. Musicals by other composers, such as Guys and Dolls from 1955, Pal Joey from 1957, West Side Story from 1961, and The Music Man from 1962, were also adapted during this time period. Isn’t it remarkable that these films were suddenly made when Geoffrey Shurlock took charge of the Production Code Administration? I think that this was no coincidence.

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These projects were suddenly attempted because filmmakers knew that Broadway material was often too questionable for film standards, with questionable situations, risqué costumes, and profanity in and between songs. It’s not that these movies couldn’t have been made under the Code. As I will show with this film, all of these plays were breenable. However, after Mr. Breen had retired, filmmakers didn’t have to worry about the strenuous self-regulation which would have been necessary to make the stage works Code-compliant films. During the Shurlock Era, they could include all the questionable content in the plays and even add some. I will outline South Pacific‘s plot as I breen it, giving away as little of the story as possible. With no further ado, let the breening begin!

Image result for south pacific 1958 airplaneWhen the film opens, we see a small airplane flying over the South Pacific. We see that the outside of the plane is painted with images and words. The plane’s name, which is painted in large letters, seems to be “Bouncing Belch.” That is quite vulgar. The airplane’s name should be changed.

Image result for south pacific 1958  john kerrNext, we see the plane’s cockpit. A small figure of a baby is hanging from the ceiling by a rope which is around its neck. That is rather violent and morose, since the poor baby looks like it has been hanged. This should be eliminated.

Related imageThe men in the plane look down at the island where they are going to land, which they call “The Rock.” We see a naval base, and the camera pans in for the first song. The sailors are singing “Bloody Mary” about a native woman of the same name (Juanita Hall). Every verse of the song ends with the line, “Now ain’t that too – bad.” The dash doesn’t stand for darn. The blatant profanity should be replaced with the line, “Now ain’t that just too bad.”

Related imageThe ringleader of the men is Luther Billis (Ray Walston). He is trying to sell grass skirts which the men made to Bloody Mary, who sells many native souvenirs. When the Polynesian woman is stubborn about his financial deal, he calls her “sweaty-pie.” At first I thought that he was sarcastically calling her “sweety-pie,” but I realized I was wrong when he called her “sweatso” in the next sentence. Such references to perspiration are extremely vulgar. Instead, he should sarcastically call her something like “sweety-pie” and “sweetheart.”

Related imageThe depiction of the sailors in this movie reminded me of the characterization in Mister Roberts from 1955, a very crass early Shurlock Era Navy film set during World War II. In both films, many sailors are seen without shirts for long periods of time; sometimes they are even shown in just their shorts. However, the similarity goes far beyond wardrobe. There is a general stereotype regarding the sailors, and it isn’t a good one. There is an underlying, undeniable implication that the US sailors are up to no good. Their interest toward and longing for women is licentious. Their behavior toward the officers is disrespectful. Their whole attitude gives the general impression that they are rebellious ruffians who are up to no good. That is hardly an acceptable depiction of American servicemen! Yes, sailors have always been noted for their longing for women during long sea duty and their use of salty language. However, in Code films, servicemen of every branch of the military were generally depicted as wholesome, patriotic, hard-working Americans who were doing their duty to their country. Of course, there can always be one troublemaker. In this case, it is Luther Billis. However, the other men should have a higher standard. Their attitude toward women should not seem so lustful, their behavior should not be so rowdy, and they should be more respectful toward officers.

Related imageLuther is desperate to go to the nearby island of Bali Ha’i, which is off-limits to enlisted men. He longs to go to the island where Polynesians run wild and the French girls have been relocated. Like all the other men, he is desperate for female companionship and fun away from the base. He wants to find an officer who will charter a boat so that they both can go to the Boar’s Tooth Ceremony. He tells the other men how exciting the native ceremony is supposed to be. He wistfully says, “There’s dancing, drinking… everything.” The last word, especially the way it is said, is very suggestive in this situation. Instead of everything, he should say, “and beautiful women.” It’s better to specify that he’s just talking about attractive females than to leave it unsaid, since that makes the audience think of questionable situations.

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This soon leads the sailors into a song about the fact that they don’t have enough female companionship, “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” In this song, there is another instance of profanity in the line “You know – well.” Instead, they should say, “You know darn well.”

Related imageLater in this song, they sing the lyric, “As the soft and wavy frame/Like the silhouette of a dame.” This reference to a woman’s figure, accompanied by a drastic pantomime of an hourglass figure, is too pointed. Instead, they should say, “As the lithe and lovely frame, etc.” The hourglass pantomime can remain, but it should be toned down a little.

In this scene, we see a few sailors who are taking a shower. They are behind a thatched curtain which covers their mid-sections and is painted with the words, “Look But Do Not Touch.” They are too clearly implied to be naked. No gentlemen should be shown showering under any circumstances in this primitive setting.

Image result for south pacific 1958Soon, a young officer who was in the plane at the opening enters the base and introduces himself to the other men. He is Lieutenant Joseph Cable of the Marine Corps (John Kerr), who has come to this island on a special mission. When Bloody Mary first sees him, she is instantly impressed by his good looks. She says, “You saxy man!” The italicized word is obviously a mispronunciation of the suggestive synonym for attractive. In the next few minutes, she proceeds to use the unacceptable word four more times, twice in reference to Lieutenant Cable and twice in reference to a girl he may have back home. This word should be replaced with pretty.

Image result for south pacific 1958 ray walstonWhen Luther meets Joe Cable, he immediately thinks he may be the officer to get him to Bali Ha’i. He quickly begins to sell him on the charms of the island and the excitement of the Boar’s Tooth Ceremony. He explains, “Women dance with just skirts on.” This blatant reference to topless dancing, although geographically accurate, is highly unacceptable. Instead, he should say, “Island girls perform native dances.”

In this same speech, Luther concludes his sales pitch with the suggestive line, “And everybody gets to know everybody pretty well.” This line is unacceptably risqué. It should be deleted or replaced with something acceptable.

Image result for south pacific 1958 boar's tooth ceremonySoon after this, one of the nurses on the island, Ensign Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor), is called to Captain Brackett’s (Russ Brown) office, where she is questioned about a private French plantation owner, Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi). The Navy needs this French ex-patriot’s help on a dangerous mission, and the officers know that Nellie has been seeing the handsome middle-aged Frenchman. In this scene, Nellie is wearing unacceptably short shorts. She should be wearing a skirt or slightly longer shorts.

Image result for south pacific 1958 Mitzi GaynorIn a later scene, Nellie takes a shower in a make-shift hut, while several other nurses stand or sit around in bathing suits or other casual outfits. We can see too much of Nellie’s person as she is taking a shower. If she is shown at all in the shower, we should only be able to see her from the neck up. Her shoulders and legs must not be visible.

Related imageAfter she gets out of the shower, Nellie wears an extremely short robe, which she loosely ties around herself. The idea that she is wearing nothing more than this flimsy garment is very suggestive. She should be wearing a thicker robe which reaches at least to her knees.

Image result for south pacific 1958 Mitzi GaynorIn the same scene, several of the other nurses present are wearing indecently short shorts or exposing tops. They should all be properly covered.

Image result for south pacific 1958 Mitzi Gaynor Later in that scene, Emile arrives. Embarrassed by how little she is wearing, Nellie rushes back into the shower. While visible from the shoulders up, she takes off her robe and puts on a midriff top which looks suspiciously like the top of a two-piece bathing suit; it reveals too much of her chest. She also wears white shorts. This outfit is very revealing. Instead, she should put on something like a decent sundress. Also, she should not be shown taking off her robe.

Eventually, Emile is summoned to Captain Brackett’s office, where the captain, Lt. Cable, and Commander Harbison (Floyd Simmons) try to convince him how necessary his help is to the war effort. However, they have no authority to force him. Emile explains that he must refuse, since he finds his life to be sweet. Also, he doesn’t believe that the Navy really will save the world from bullies through its efforts. Lt. Cable grows angry, since he feels that the Frenchman’s lofty philosophy is just an excuse for the fact that he doesn’t want to risk his life now that he is engaged to a beautiful young woman. Joe angrily says, “Oh, to – with this.” This line contains unacceptable profanity. Instead, he should say something like, “Oh, skip all this” or, to be rougher, “Oh, hang all this.”

Image result for south pacific 1958 boar's tooth ceremonyAfter his mission is derailed by the fact that De Becque refuses to help, Joe decides to go to Bali Ha’i with Luther. They are quickly escorted to the Boar’s Tooth Ceremony by two very savage-looking native men. At the actual ceremony, we see brief glimpses of a lot of barely-dressed natives doing very strange dances and participating in barbaric activities. The scene is very brief, since Joe quickly leaves the gruesome ceremony, and the camera follows him. However, what little we see is quite grotesque. The savageness of the ceremony should be toned down considerably. It can still be realistic, but it shouldn’t be so barbaric.

Joe follows Bloody Mary through the jungle. As they are walking around the island, they pass a man who is wearing a particularly indecent loincloth. It barely covers him at all. He should be wearing a loincloth which at least covers his lower torso.

Related imageBloody Mary brings Joe to her house, where he meets her beautiful daughter, Liat (France Nuyen). Soon after Bloody Mary has withdrawn, chuckling wickedly, Joe and Liat passionately kiss. This kiss is much too lustful and too long. It may be romantic, but it should not be excessively passionate. The scene fades out on the kiss. This is very suggestive. They should kiss briefly and then stare at each other fondly.

Related imageLater on the same day, Joe sings “Younger than Springtime” to Liat. He sits on the floor as the native girl lies in his arms. He cradles, holds, and kisses her during and after the song. Their behavior is very amorous and intimate. I think that the familiarity between them hints of an illicit affair. The song is very innocent, but the behavior between them is quite base, especially because they have barely spoken to each other. Since he speaks just a little broken French and she just a little broken English, they can only converse in a few rocky phrases. This whole scene between the two sweethearts seems unacceptably suggestive, partly because of the dim lighting. Firstly, the scene should be brighter. Secondly, he should be wearing a shirt. Thirdly, they should both be sitting up, looking at each other as he sings. He may hold her hand or stroke her arm or face occasionally, but he should not be constantly cradling her in his arms. They may kiss once in the middle of the song, but it must be an acceptable length and not overly lustful. We don’t want to emphasize an implication about an American soldier thoughtlessly having an affair with a native girl while in a distant land. This doesn’t seem like true love, which is contrary to what their relationship really is.

Related imageNext, we see the other pair of sweethearts, Emile and Nellie. He has thrown a party for her, and now all his friends are leaving. He urges her to stay and talk with him on his terrace a little while. She agrees. She is quite intoxicated in this scene. Eventually, they kiss. This kiss is overly passionate. It should be less lustful.

Image result for south pacific 1958 rossano brazziDuring this scene, they sing a duet reprise of Nellie’s romantic solo, “A Wonderful Guy.” After the song, they kiss very passionately. As well as being lustful, many of the kisses in this film look open-mouthed. This kiss, like all the kisses in this film, should be close-mouthed, restrained, and decently short.

Image result for south pacific 1958 nuyen and kerrIn the next scene, Joe goes back to Bali Ha’i to visit Liat. She runs down the hill to meet him as he disembarks. She jumps into his arms, and he kisses her very aggressively and lustfully. This kiss should not look so passionate or so violent. A shorter, gentler kiss would look more romantic.

Related imageLater, Joe and Liat splash around in a lagoon together. In that scene, Bloody Mary sings “Happy Talk” to them while Liat does movements to accompany the song. Near the end of Mary’s song, the young sweethearts kiss while she is still singing and looking on happily. This kiss is definitely open-mouthed and is quite unacceptable. If a kiss is included, it should be much more restrained and close-mouthed.

In a later scene, Nellie and several other nurses rehearse for their Thanksgiving show. One of the girls is wearing an indecent bathing-suit top. All the nurses should be properly attired while rehearsing.

Related imageAt the Thanksgiving performance, Nellie is the star of the show, dressed like a sailor in a baggy white uniform. She sings a song called “Honeybun,” pretending to be a gob singing about his girl. The introduction to the song contains the following lyric: “Where she’s narrow, she’s narrow as an arrow,/And she’s broad where a broad should be broad.” The italicized word is a forbidden expression for a woman due to its pointed reference to her hips, and the whole lyric is rather vulgarly specific about female anatomy. Instead, it could be replaced with something like, “Her waist is as narrow as an arrow,/And her beauty is not a façade.”

Image result for south pacific 1958 mitzi gaynorLater in the song, there is the following lyric: “Her lips are pips!/I call her hips/’Twirly’ and ‘Whirly.'” The pointed reference to a girl’s hips is unacceptable. The lyric could be replaced with something like the following: “Her lips are pips!/Beneath those lips/Her teeth are pearly.”

Image result for south pacific 1958 thanksgiving showLater in the show, several nurses are dressed in various chorus girl costumes. Many of them are wearing unacceptably short shorts or skirts, and some have revealing tops. All the nurses in the show should be wearing properly-covering costumes.

In the same show, a male member of the cast wears a very small loincloth. He should be wearing a more covering costume.

Image result for south pacific 1958 ray walstonLuther comes on later in the show dressed as a woman in a grass skirt with a coconut top and a stringy blond wig. The men in the audience heckle their comrade in the show and even throw things at him. One man in the front row reaches up and turns over a leaf which is hanging on the front his skirt, showing that it says “SPAM” on the other side. This is quite vulgar. The action and the word should be removed.

Nellie repeats the whole songs as Luther dances around as “Honeybun.” When she repeats the previously-mentioned lyric about hips, Luther turns to either side, revealing that one hip has the word “Twirly” on it, and the other has the word “Whirly.” This will have to be eliminated, since the accompanying lyric has already been removed. Instead, Luther can bear his teeth goofily to show how “pearly” they are.

Image result for south pacific 1958 ray walstonWhen playing this female character, Luther pointedly adjusts his coconut top. This is vulgar, since it is supposed to be a woman’s chest. This action should be removed.

At the end of this number, one of the other men reaches under one of Luther’s coconuts and pulls out cigarettes, which he mockingly begins offering to the men. This action is totally unacceptable. It is true that Luther is a man, so there is nothing indecent to be seen beneath his coconut shells. However, the fact that he is wearing a female costume makes this action very indecent and vulgar. It should be eliminated.

At the end of the show, Nellie comes out wearing a dress. This dress has a very high slit on of the legs, revealing her leg all the way up to the thigh. The slit should not come up higher than the knee.

Image result for south pacific 1958 airplaneLater, Luther stows away on the secret mission on which Joe and Emile are embarking. He clumsily falls out of the airplane and ends up in a rubber raft, being showered with bullets from Japanese on a nearby island. The pilot of the airplane in which he was flying, Lt. Buzz Adams (Tom Laughlin), says, “I’ll come back and pick up the pieces if there are any.” This is rather grotesquely morbid. Instead, he should say, “I’ll come back and pick him up if it isn’t too late.”

Image result for south pacific 1958 ray walstonAfter he is rescued, Luther is harshly reprimanded by the captain for costing the Navy so much money and effort to rescue him. However, the co-pilot of the airplane (Richard Harrison) defends Luther’s actions, saying that he acted as a decoy and created enough confusion for the airplane to land easily without being noticed. When Captain Brackett sarcastically asks if he should give him a medal, Luther suggests that he would like some more freedom. Enraged, Captain Brackett tells him to get out of his office. After saying, “Get out” a few times, he yells, “Get the – out of here!” Even in the Navy, profanity should be avoided. Instead, he should say, “Get out of here this minute!”

From their hideout on an enemy-occupied island, Joe and Emile give reports of Japanese activity, which the soldiers at the base use to go after the enemy. When one such report is given, all the pilots drop what they’re doing and run to their planes. We see a few men behind some flimsy palm fronds in a makeshift shower. They quickly grab their towels so they can join the others, and we see far too much of them. As before, the men showering should be removed.

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That concludes my breening of this film! It has quite a few problems for a movie from 1958. Just three years into the Shurlock Era, Hollywood was already falling apart. Blatant profanity was being flippantly used, vulgar references to female anatomy were being made, and love scenes which were shocking to the average American of the 1950s were splashed across the screen. This movie was very successful, and the music of the score is timeless. Wouldn’t the soaring melodies, the epic romances, and the message about racial equality have been just as powerful without these unacceptable elements? I think so. I enjoyed delving into this film and considering how it could have been improved by breening. I hope you enjoyed it, too. Thank you for suggesting this topic, Movie Critic! If you haven’t watched this movie in awhile, why not buy the DVD from Amazon by following the link below? You can refresh your memory and appraise my breening points. Come back tomorrow for my next Film Fashion Friday article!


Click the above image to buy this movie on DVD at Amazon and support PEPS through the Amazon Affiliate program!

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