Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II saw their Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical WWII musical South Pacific hit the big screen March 19, 1958.
The film adaptation of classic musical, starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi, follows the lives of U.S. military men, nurses and residents of a Polynesian island during World War II.
Ted Chapin, President of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization: A Concord Music Company, spoke about the film and its place in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon while sharing set photos from the Fox and R&H archives with Playbill.
“South Pacific hit the country in the post-WWII emotion; it meant a great deal to Rodgers and Hammerstein and to fans of the musical," he says. "And so they wanted to make a movie as well as they could."
By the time South Pacific entered production, the musical was already a long-running Broadway hit, with national tours and London productions also in operation. “A lot of cast members in the film had been in South Pacific onstage as well,” says Chapin. “By the time they filmed it, they had so many cast members to pick from.”
Chapin also spoke about the film’s use of color filters during the musical numbers: “I don’t know that a lot of movie people understood that in theatre, when a song started, the lighting would change—usually very subtly—but the lighting would take you somewhere a little different from where the rest of the show was.
“I think that what Joshua Logan did was say, ‘What if we translate that into movie terms?’ We’ll never know whether, in fact, he was told he could remove the color. And the concept wasn’t very well-received, even though the film did well at the box office. But it’s an idea. They were risk takers, and it happened to be a risk that didn’t set the movie world on fire.”
Chapin also points out, "It’s always fascinating to see what you have to do—especially on a beach—with lighting, cameras, and the rails for the cameras to roll down. And then filmed on location in Kauai. Apparently, to this day, where they shot the film is one of the big tourist spots."
In 2018, the film returned to commemorate the 60th anniversary. (In 2009 the film underwent a stunning restoration for its 50th anniversary Blu-ray release, with photochemical restoration of its original 65mm negative, in addition to a 8k high definition scan of the brand new interpositive.)