In the seventies, it was practically against the law to make a movie if you didn’t have character Bob Balaban in it. Balaban’s scene-stealing, supporting performances in movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Absence of Malice” made his face very familiar to moviegoers. These days, his producing credits include “Gosford Park.” He and co-producer Ileen Maisel are prepping a remake of the classic 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific,” according to showbiz daily Variety.
The duo announced their acquisition of the right on July 8th, believe the key is to combine the fantasy world of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein songs with the gritty realism of wartime romance and racism. Balaban and Maisel are talking to screenwriters now, and won’t shop the project to prospective directors until they’ve got a completed script in hand.
Balaban’s Chicagofilms and Maisel’s Amber Entertainment will produce the movie, along with Netherlands-based Imagem, owner of the Rodgers and Hammerstein copyrights. Maisel and Balaban will produce with Imagem chief financial officer Denis Wigman and Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein company.
“We want to show how people really did talk and act in 1944, which is something that the film and play don’t come anywhere close to showing,” Maisel told Variety. “What we’re going to do is to make the songs the emotional underpinning of the story. So the songs will be the emotional ying to the realistic yang.”
And unlike many modern musicals, the new “South Pacific” producers won’t delve into the realm of magical realism. “This isn’t going to be something like Martin Scorsese’s ‘New York, New York,’ ” Maisel also noted.
The original feature film adaptation of the stage musical was produced in 1958 by 20th Century Fox and directed by Joshua Logan. Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall and France Nuyen starred. If you blink you’ll miss him, but Tom Laughlin, later known to sixties movie audiences as “Billy Jack” appears briefly as a Navy pilot. ABC aired a disappointing made-for-TV version in 2001 with a painfully long-in-the-tooth Glenn Close as the ingenue nurse Nellie Forbush, and Rade Serbedzija anemic as the mysterious, Conradesque Emile de Becque. Crooner Harry Connick, Jr. was adequate as Lt. Cable.
Preliminary plans are to shoot the movie in Bali, which has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Bali was also occupied by Japan during World War II.