Much of the fundamental charm, grace and novelty of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s [1958 Broadway hit] Flower Drum Song has been overwhelmed by the sheer opulence and glamour with which Ross Hunter has translated it to the screen. As a film, it emerges a curiously unaffecting, unstable and rather undistinguished experience.
The dominant issue in the screenplay, based on the novel [The Flower Drum Song] by C. Y. Lee and adapted from the legit book by Joseph Fields and Oscar Hammerstein, is the clash of East-West romantic-marital customs as it affects four young people of Chinese descent living in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
The four are Nancy Kwan, a gold-digging, husband-hungry nightclub dancer; Jack Soo, a kind of Chinese Nathan Detroit; James Shigeta, most eligible bachelor in Chinatown – the student prince of Grant Avenue; and Miyoshi Umeki, ‘picture (or mail-order) bride’ fresh (and illegally) off a slowboat from China and ticketed for nuptials with Soo.
As in most R&H enterprises, the meat is in the musical numbers. There are some bright spots in this area but even here the effect isn’t overpowering. Music supervisor-conductor Alfred Newman has fashioned some rousing orchestrations, with the assistance of Ken Darby. Dong Kingman’s watercolored title paintings are a delight.
1961: Nominations: Best Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Scoring of a Musical Picture, Sound