I saw my first movie in the UK when I was five years old. it was 1959, and Dad was on leave from Nigeria. We were living in the family home in Droitwich, and Granny, Mum, and I went to Birmingham’s West End Cinema to see a much-celebrated American import.
Those were the days before movie ratings, when folks who attended such things were adjudged to be, and trusted to be, capable of making decisions as to what was the appropriate age level for attendance. And knowing that the film in question was of the sort that my granddaughter–many decades later–would dub a “pretty dancing movie,” Granny and Mum were fairly sure I’d enjoy it at some level, even if I didn’t completely “get” all the nuances. And, since I was a well-behaved child, they thought they could count on my not throwing a tantrum or making a scene, even if I did get a bit fed up or out of my depth.
As it turned out, I was enchanted (even though it was a matinee performance). By the scenery, the story, and the characters. It’s an experience I remember fondly and vividly.
Looking back on it, sixty-three years later, I wonder why that is. After all, the themes of the movie–racism, prejudice, miscegenation, illicit sex, and yes, Virginia, a bit of toxic masculinity–should, by twenty-first century standards, have sent my childish self into orbit and future lifelong therapy (and perhaps resulted in Granny and Mum being arrested for child abuse). And yet I pretty much noted them, rolled with them, filed them away, and figured them out.
By the time the movie ended, I had no doubt at all about who were the “good” guys, and who were the “baddies.” Of what was “right,” and what was “wrong.” And I could see that the heroine, just like those in many of my favorite childhood stories, had learned some lessons, grown as a person, and become a better human being as a result of her travails.
Ahead of its time in some ways. So hokey in others. But–in either way–not really a child’s movie.
Except, I found it so.
The star of South Pacific was Mitzi Gaynor. Of Hungarian descent, she was born Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber ninety one years ago, on September 4, 1931, making her today one of the last survivors of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
An established Hollywood presence, she’d been featured in several song-and-dance movies by 1958, when she was tapped to fill the shoes of Mary Martin (who’d performed the role for years on Broadway but who was now found a bit wanting in the attractiveness and age department when it came to the big screen). Gaynor (a very capable song-and-dance girl in her own right) would, it was felt, fill the movie role to perfection.
And thus did Hollywood find its own Ensign Nellie Forbush.
When she found out his deep, dark secret:
For the quote of the day:
And the finale. “Of course, there’s always a chance.”
Happy Endings! May we all find them and bring them to pass. (Perhpas this really is my theme song):
Of course, I remember other things about the movie, in particular My (future) Favorite Martian (I’d have picked another link, but most of them have either been disabled or don’t work):
I can’t get any of this “out of my heart.”
Not. This. Heart.
And I don’t expect I ever will.