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USA 1961
Directed by
Henry Koster
131 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Flower Drum Song

As a musical, Flower Drum Song, an adaptation of the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein stage version of the novel of the same name. is nothing to write home about. In general the songs are unremarkable and Hermes Pan’s choreography is equally so although a couple of fantasy numbers involving the seamstress, Helen (Reiko Sato), and then one of the two main couples, Sammy and Linda, towards the end of the film are well done. The musical is however of some historical interest as it has an all-Asian cast (with the exception of African-American actress and singer Juanita Hall who played the Tonkinese native, Bloody Mary, in South Pacific (1958) and who here plays Auntie Liang), something which was quite radical for its day although given the typical Hollywood musical comedy treatment and its patronizing attitude towards the Chinese-American community it probably wouldn't have over-challenged audiences in 1961. By today's standards it is, needless to say, hopelessly dated

The story revolves around two couples, Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) and Wang Ta (James Shigeta) and Sammy Fong (Jack Soo) and Linda Low (Nancy Kwan) and their usual genre preoccupation with getting married, which this time is complicated by differences in Eastern and Western mores. Although the set design and art direction is often impressive, Koster’s direction is no more than dutiful, the cast rarely show much spark dramatically with their stereotypical characters, the film founders in the overly coy style of the period (producer Ross Hunter and cinematographer Russell Metty had worked with Douglas Sirk to create some of the latter's '50s classics such as Magnificent Obsession,1954). The film was nominated for five Oscars but picked up none.




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