This I Have Learned…A Movie for All Time

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

With the extra time I have on my hands these days, I decided to watch one of my favorite movies, South Pacific, on Turner Classic Movies. Leave it to Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the lyrics for its third and uber-successful panoramic movie. The other two, Oklahoma! (1955) and Carousel (1956), were equally as successful.

Based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, about the WWII Pacific Conflict, the play South Pacific premiered on Broadway in 1949 and was an immense hit. When South Pacific was brought to the screen in 1958, it was nominated for three Academy Awards, ultimately winning for Best Sound Mixing.

The movie is not only about some of the lives of those who served in the Pacific Conflict during WWII, but also about prejudice. However, Rodgers and Hammerstein did not allow the dark topics of war or prejudice to overshadow their music. The music Rodgers and Hammerstein imbued in South Pacific was about relationships and being carefree. After seeing the movie, the viewer comes away with not a feeling of the ravages of war, but with a feeling of exhilaration. This, despite the fact that Rodgers and Hammerstein surreptitiously planted the seeds of how prejudice develops in children through the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”

The two other successful plays/movies, Oklahoma! and Carousel, had parallel story lines in each movie. The lyrics and the music in these movies, however, belie the seriousness of some of the topics in the films, namely death, recriminations, and jealousies.

All three of these masterful, musical works of art allowed movie goers to escape from what was happening in their own lives, as in the late 1940s and in the mid-1950s our country was reeling and emerging from two wars. And, sitting in a dark theater to be so joyfully entertained, helped Americans forget, if only for two hours, the pain they had endured for years.

This, I have learned.