Pearl of the South Pacific (1955)
Virginia Mayo and Dennis Morgan were a long way from the glory years at Warner Brothers by the time they teamed together here in the South Pacific. Or should I say a facsimile of the South Pacific brought to us via producer Benedict Bogeaus, scriptwriter Jesse Lasky Jr. and the sure hand of director Allan Dwan.
It’s one of those fine hokey melodrama’s that’s hard to resist that picks up as if we’re missing an entire first reel. A schooner on the open sea, Miss Mayo looking ravishing and Morgan hungover. He awakes as if he’s been shanghaied, but in seconds we realize they’re past lovers only now she’s taken up with Morgan’s loose cannon of a partner David Farrar. (Me thinks it’s a spiteful union.) “You know, it’s a funny thing. Even when I hated you, I loved you. “ Mayo gets to sit topside, look good and cause the two men to throw fists at each other while they head towards an unchartered isle that apparently has a treasure trove of black pearls. Yes, the plot has hit the fast forward button to get us to the meat of the script in a matter of moments.
It’s not like they’ll be welcomed by the natives of the island who are overseen by an elderly white man played by Basil Ruysdael. “ships bring evil.” he tells the natives that he Lords over. The natives still worship temple Gods and have no knowledge of the outside world. Morgan and Farrar are forbidden to leave the schooner while anchored off the island shore but Virginia wisely comes topside in a Missionary’s getup. Begrudgingly, Ruysdael allows her onto the isle but quickly sees thru her ruse. It won’t be long before Mayo is running about the island in her Dorothy Lamour outfit.
Not yet seeing the righteous path, Mayo bewitches a young island native played by Lance Fuller. With a little sultry seduction, she intends to have the youngster lead her to the black pearls. Still to come is double dealing partners, a native uprising, a secluded lagoon with a giant octopus (shades of Wake of the Red Witch), and an attempted murder. Then of course there’s the matter of Mayo choosing between the three men she has attempting to fetch pearls so that she may live the life of luxury her beauty demands.
Don’t be shocked if you figure out each twist and turn before they hit the screen. This is strictly the “B” formula brought to us in color and the soundstage intermingled with some sea side shots from Dwan and his second unit. When watching a lower tier film like this you get settled in and sometimes find a surprising camera angle that desperately wants to push the flick into the above average production. There’s just such a shot here featuring native girl Lisa Montell and the use of an overhead crane for a long take in the native temple. Nice to know it’s not the strictly workmanlike effort being delivered by the production unit.
Virginia Mayo has long been one of my favorite beauties from the glory years though by the end of the decade would only appear on film occasionally. Like Mayo, Morgan was nearing the end of his acting career and only sparsely would he appear in film and television over the next few years.
Going over the credits of screenwriter, Lasky Jr. I couldn’t help but notice he’s the credited writer on DeMille’s Reap The Wild Wind. I say this knowing there’s an Octopus fight in that film. Borrowing plot points from himself though he didn’t write Red Witch which is closer to this underwater struggle versus Wild Wind. Producer Bogeaus would specialize in these B budget affairs throughout the fifties featuring some well known actors. Movies like Escape To Burma with Stanwyck and Ryan ( surely filmed on the same stages) or Appointment In Honduras with Ford and Sheridan. He’d close out the decade producing one more go around with Virginia, Jet Over the Atlantic.
I picked this one up on DVD thanks to a VCI release should you be wishing to secure a copy to solidify the fact that it’s Virginia Mayo who is the real Pearl of the South Pacific.