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"Flower Drum Song" (1961)


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Any fans of Flower Drum Song (1961)? It's on TCM at 5:45pm Eastern this Tuesday.

 

I don't remember the movie very well as its been probably a few years since I last watched it, I think it had a predictably stereotypical view of Asian-Americans that may have been common in its time but which probably wouldn't be considered acceptable today. The songs are nice, though.

 

*Flower Drum Song* (1961)

A refugee travels to Chinatown as a mail-order bride.

Cast: Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Juanita Hall, Jack Soo Dir: Henry Koster C-131 mins, TV-G

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They had to find an entire cast of Asian actors who could speak English, which wasn't easy at that time, so they couldn't afford to be choosy. They had many Japanese and Koreans ( both of whom look decidedly different) playing Chinese. James Shigeta in a major role was one example. I believe Miyoshi Umeki was also in the film.

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It stands up fairly well, and some of the songs are delightful. The younger characters are questioning some of the stereotypes and the older characters are bemoaning the younger generation's lack of respect for tradition. Typical in that sense. What could make it seem dated is the fact that, at a time when major musical adaptations like "South Pacific" , "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music" did at least some location shooting, "Flower Drum Song" was done entirely on sound stages. Ross Hunter produced, so it looks great, but it has that air of unreality that set-bound musicals can get.

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> {quote:title=DougieB wrote:}{quote}

> What could make it seem dated is the fact that, at a time when major musical adaptations like "South Pacific" , "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music" did at least some location shooting, "Flower Drum Song" was done entirely on sound stages. Ross Hunter produced, so it looks great, but it has that air of unreality that set-bound musicals can get.

 

Ah, yes, that is a good point, also. I don't recall any actual footage of San Francisco's Chinatown in the movie, which is a shame, because it's very beautiful there.

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I've always liked FLOWER DRUM SONG, but my only complaint is that it was all filmed in a studio and not on location. While the Grant Avenue street set was pretty well done, it still looked like an indoor set. Of course, I have that same complaint about two of my other favorites BRIGADOON and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS.

 

Sure, by today's standards it was pretty much a stereotypical portrayal of Asian-Americans, but I will give them credit for using real Asian actors instead of Caucasians in makeup.

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The thing that might make it dificult to modernize is the arranged-marriage angle. In 1962, it may still have had some credibility, as a familiar though antiquated notion, but I doubt that there is much of a modern audience who would buy it. Without it, you'd have to totally rework the story line. If it were done today, it would probably have to be done as a period piece. Still, it's a sweet show and I would be interested in seeing a stage production of some sort.

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> {quote:title=DougieB wrote:}{quote} The thing that might make it dificult to modernize is the arranged-marriage angle.

 

I don't think that's as true as you may think. Even today there are certain religious and cultural groups around the world where arranged marriages are pretty much the norm. We don't hear a lot about it, but it happens right here in this country. The fact that she came into this country illegally would certainly be relevant today. I think there would need to be some changes in the book, but the major change would be an updating of the musical production numbers.

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