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ABC reworks one of America's favorite movie musicals.

Some Enchanted Remake

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The 1958 movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" had a lot going for it — beautiful scenery (it was filmed on location in Hawaii), a strong score ("Some Enchanted Evening" is one of the finest love songs ever written for stage or screen), and a powerful story (from James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 novel, "Tales of the South Pacific").

It also had a lot going against it.

Uppermost among the movie's flaws was director Joshua Logan's misguided decision to jazz up the song sequences by color-tinting scenes in shades of blue, purple and yellow. It looked hokey in 1958, and it looks even more hokey today.

Another strike against the movie was the fact that almost every song was performed by a voice double, with the exception of those sung by Mitzi Gaynor and the male chorus. Rossano Brazzi (Emile de Beque), John Kerr (Joe Cable), Juanita Hall (Bloody Mary) and France Nuyen (Liat) just couldn't sing well enough to carry the musical load.

In addition, there are those who have complained for years that the movie's timing is off — that there are pauses where none are needed and vice versa — and that whole scenes were added, scenes that were not a part of the stage version.

But despite its flaws, "South Pacific" still stands as one of America's favorite movie musicals. Fans fell in love with the characters created on-screen by Gaynor, Kerr, Brazzi, Hall, Nuyen and Ray Walston (as Luther Billis). The mystical beauty of the island of Bali Hai captured imaginations, and the story's direct criticism of racial prejudice helped, albeit in a small way, to shape the country's social conscience.

So, it's fair to ask, what's the value of a remake in 2001?

First and foremost, ABC-TV's made-for-TV version avoids the problems Logan introduced. There's no unimaginative attempt to color-tint the musical scenes, and each of the actors in this new version sings his or her own songs.

The cast of the ABC version is also perhaps a notch better and more experienced than the 1958 version's cast. But that introduces its own problem. They're experienced because they're older than the original cast was: Glenn Close (as Lt. Nellie Forbush) is a bit long in the tooth to be playing a young nurse, and Harry Connick Jr. has too many miles on his face to be playing a Marine in his 20s. Also, while Rade Sherbedgia (de Beque) is a better actor than Brazzi was, his voice isn't as strong as Brazzi's voice-double's was. Perhaps saddest of all, Robert Pastorelli can't make the ship tattooed on his belly roll with the waves as Walston did in the movie's hilarious "Honey Bun" sequence.

There is one actress in this remake, however, who is far better than her 1958 predecessor. She is Lori Tan Chinn, who plays Bloody Mary with a zest and elfin impudence that brings a new and delightful dimension to the character. Who knew the leathery old Tonkinese broad could be so charming?

Both movie versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical have their good and bad points, and neither is clearly better than the other. If you've never seen the original, here's a chance to experience one of the best stories to come out of World War II in a version more faithful to Michener's intent. And if you've seen and liked the original, the remake opens up parts of the story that were lost to Logan's 1958 tinkering and experimentation.



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