The Cast


Nancy Kwan .... Linda Low
James Shigeta .... Wang Ta
Benson Fong .... Wang
Jack Soo .... Sammy Fong
Juanita Hall .... Madame 'Auntie' Liang

Reiko Sato .... Helen Chao
Patrick Adiarte .... Wang San
Kam Tong .... Doctor Li Beulah Quo
Soo Yong .... Madame Fong
Victor Sen Yung .... Frankie Wing
Ching Wah Lee .... Professor
Arthur Song .... Doctor Fong
James Hong .... Headwaiter
Miyoshi Umeki .... Mei Li
Spencer Chan .... Doctor Chou

The following performers were uncredited

George Chakiris .... Party Guest
Jon Fong .... Tradesman
Virginia Grey .... TV Heroine 
Robert Kino .... Tailor Frank Kumagai
Cherrylene Lee .... One of Sam's girl friends
Virginia Lee .... One of Sam's girl friends
Willard Lee .... Tradesman
Weaver Levy .... Policeman
Laurette Luez .... TV Mexican girl
Ward Ramsey .... Bank Manager
Herman Rudin .... Holdup manTV Sheriff
Paul Sorenson .... TV Great White Hunter
Beal Wong .... Square Dance caller


 

 

The Crew

 

Directed by
Henry Koster

Writing credits
Joseph Fields
C.Y. Lee

Produced by
Joseph Fields
Ross Hunter

Original music by
Ken Darby
Alfred Newman
Richard Rodgers

Lyrics by
Oscar Hammerstein II

Cinematography by
Russell Metty

Film Editing by
Milton Carruth

Production Design by
Alexander Golitzen
Joseph C. Wright

Art Direction
Alexander Golitzen
Joseph C. Wright

Costume Design by
Irene Sharaff

Choreography
Hermes Pan

  

 

The Songs

 

Main Title

The film begins with three booming chords by the orchestra, with a distinctive Chinese sound, over the Universal-International logo. This leads into the overture of "A Hundred Million Miracles". The credits are very clever, appearing inside a pair of Chinese screens/curtains, which open and close to reveal the titles. After the director’s credit, the music becomes more lush with a combination of "Love Look Away" and "You Are Beautiful", as we chart the journey of Dr. Li and Mei Li to America.. The visuals are a series of lovely delicate Chinese paintings depicting a ship leaving China, crossing the Pacific, approaching San Francisco (the Golden Gate Bridge), crossing under the Golden Gate Bridge, and heading toward the city. At this point, the painting dissolves to the actual shot of San Francisco Bay, and the ship by which Dr. Li and Mei Li have smuggled themselves into America (hence the confession by Mei Li later: "My back is wet".

 

A Hundred
Million Miracles

Alone in San Francisco, and knowing no one, Dr. Li and Mei Li are attempting to find their sponsor, and Mei Li’s intended husband, Sammy Fong. But, they are hungry and broke, so Dr. Li suggests that Mei Li perform a Flower Drum Song to raise some quick cash. They perform this in a park near Chinatown. The crowd joins in. A policeman, who asks for their license, interrupts them. After some help from a helpful citizen, the address is translated from Chinese to English, and the policeman escorts them to the Celestial Garden to find Sammy Fong. There is a brief reprise of this song when Mei Li is presented to Master Wong as a possible bride for his son, Wang TA But, it is not as complete as the stage version, and does not appear on the original soundtrack recording.

 

The Other
Generation

In the home of the old master, now named Master Wong Chi-Yang (variation from the stage name of Wang Chi-Yang), the conflict of generations is revealed. Master Wong is exasperated with his two sons, Wang TA and Wang San. Wang TA just wants money to take out "tomatoes", and Wang San is wearing his baseball uniform, won’t sit down for breakfast, and speaks to his father with language, which sounds disrespectful ("Bye, Pop. Don’t take any wooden chopsticks"), but Master Wong is not sure. His sister-in-law Madame Liang explains that that is American slang. They then commiserate about the "Other Generation". After a verse, the action shifts to the garden of the house, where Wang San and two girls, lament their frustration with their elders, the "Other Generation". They get all the verses from the original stage version of this song, while the elders get theirs cut to one. The number breaks into a dance number with the three smiling rights into the camera, which is disconcerting and "stagey". Then, Wang San has a jazzy solo dance, which ends with him throwing a baseball, and an off screen window is heard smashing. The trio hides, and raises their heads in three successive beats, to end the song. The song had more motivation in the play as specific events triggered the song for the elders (Wang TA’s presentation of the very inappropriate Linda Low, a showgirl, as his future daughter in law). With this motivation removed, the song is not as satisfying, and gives Benson Fong and Juanita Hall very little time together.

 

I Enjoy
Being a Girl

This is one of the most recognizable songs from the score. So much so, that in a recent recording "Opening Night"(which was a compilation of all the Rodgers and Hammerstein overtures from "Oklahoma!" to "The Sound of Music"), the overture of "Flower Drum Song" was altered. The original song "Like A God" was removed from the overture, and "I Enjoy Being a Girl" was inserted in its place.

The number involves Linda Low getting dressed for a date with Wang TA This filming of this number uses special effects, very similar to other filmed musicals of its day. There is a split triple screen to show Linda Low (Nancy Kwan) in different Irene Shariff outfits. Nancy Kwan is a lot of fun to watch, and she obviously enjoys being a girl very much indeed!
I Enjoy Being a Girl

 

I'm Going to
Like it Here

A very simple song, beautifully song by Myoshi Umeki as Mei Li, just as she did on stage in 1958. As she walks around Master Wong’s beautiful garden, she expresses her joy at being in this house, and having met the Master’s eldest son, Wang TA Mei Li knows that it is the intention of her father, Master Wong and Madame Liang, that Wang TA will fall in love and marry her. Trouble is, no one bothered to tell poor TA, who is head-over-heels over Linda Low!

 

Chop Suey

The first "production" number involving a large chorus at the graduation party given by Master Wong in his lovely garden, to celebrate Madame Liang’s graduation from Citizenship School. Sung by Juanita Hall as Madame Liang, she sings of the odd things that Chinese find in American culture. There are some lyric revisions to reflect the times. The line "Harry Truman, Truman Capote and Dewey" becomes "Bobby Darrin, Sandra Dee and Dewey". Is this because Universal-International released the film, and Darrin and Dee were Universal stars at the time of this film? Who knows? The chorus takes more verses away from Madame Liang, which cuts Juanita Hall’s part. Thank God that at least they let her do her own singing, instead of dubbing her as was done in the film of "South Pacific". What nitwit decided that an actress who created a role on Broadway did not have the vocal skills to recreated it vocally in film?!? But, that is a "South Pacific" comment, and this is "Flower Drum Song". The song ends with a "square dance" number, which is very odd, but at least the cast seems to be having fun. There is one odd shot when Master Wong and Madame Liang bump into each other from the back. They both look pretty annoyed with the other, and it is a but uncomfortable. Plus, it seems unlikely that Master Wong, who holds on to the Chinese traditions as tightly as he can, would participate in a square dance in his own garden!

 

Love Look Away

A classic song of hopeless love, sung by Helen Chow, who is secretly in love with Wang TA TA has his hands full, what with Linda Low and Mei Li! Poor Helen doesn't have a chance.
Love Look Away

 

Grant Avenue

It is Chinese New Year, and the family of Master Wong is watching a parade through Chinatown from the balcony of their home that overlooks Grant Avenue. The float from the Celestial Garden stops in the middle of the street in front of their home, and three performers are revealed: a traditional old world Chinese father, his wife, also in traditional garb, and a dutiful daughter who is kneeling piously between them. The father and mother sing in a slow chant-like manner the bridge from "Grant Avenue": "Western street with Eastern manners, tall pagodas with golden banners, etc. , while the daughter observes them. At the end of their verse, the daughter breaks into "Grant Avenue", and reveals herself as Linda Low! The number turns into an extended dance routine, which tends to stop the action of the film dead. Production numbers like this really drag out the pace of a film. In the play, the song is performed at the graduation party for Madame Liang, after Linda Low drops in with her "brother" "Commodore Low" (really Sammy Fong’s MC, Frankie Wing!). She breaks into the song to liven up the party, and the whole cast gets involved. The films’ version is not as effective, and becomes just another big "production" number.

 

Gliding Through
My Memoree/
Fan Tan Fannee

It is still Chinese New Year, and this number takes place at the Celestial Gardens as part of their floor show` It is performed by Frankie Wing, who had earlier shown up as Commodore Low, Linda’s overprotective"Brother". As in the play, the number is performed in a risqué manner, which greatly upsets the conservative family of Wang TA who has been given a prominent table up in front. The old master gets progressively aggravated until the climax, when Linda Low (who has been setup by Sammy so her future in-laws can see what she does for a living) comes out to perform a striptease to the tune of "Fan Tan Fanny". The number ends with the Wong Chi-Yang family leaving in haste from shock, and with Linda paying back Sammy Fong for double-crossing her with a "bath" courtesy of a full champagne bucket over his head.

 

Dream Ballet

A holdover from the stage play, a drunk and humiliated Wang TA ends up celebrating the New Year with lovelorn Helen Chow. TA passes out in Helen’s apartment the ballet takes place as a dream. In the play, the story of the ballet is TA trying to decide between the "good" girl, Mei Li and the "bad" girl Linda Low. In the film version, Helen Chow dances it, as she comes to terms with the hopelessness of her love for Wang TA It is very stylized, and beautiful in its own way. The actress playing Helen Chow gets to literally "let her hair down", and get slinky and sexy. Alas, TA has no interest in her. Fortunately, this Helen Chow is spared the fate of the character in the C.Y. Lee novel. That Helen, in despair over TA’s rejection, takes a fatal plunge from the Golden Gate Bridge! We assume that the screen Helen takes it in stride.

 

Sunday

Sammy Fong at last asks Linda Low to marry him, and they imagine their life together. What was an ensemble piece on stage, with various crossovers of characters, is redone for the film in a surreal manner. Here, in a fantasy sequence, Sammy and Linda have a Sunday entertaining family and friends, while their young daughter, dressed in a cowboy outfit, watches a "cowboys and Indians" TV show. In a special effect, the characters from the TV show climb out the TV (still in black and white!), and engage in a chase through the apartment with the other characters. The chase is the classic right to left, multiple door chase scene which has been done countless times. It seems a bit gimmicky here, but it generally fun.

 

You are
Beautiful

TA has finally discovered that he loves Mei Li, and asks to marry her. Mei Li, however, walked into Helen Chow’s apartment and saw TA’s jacket the morning after he had passed out there. Although we know that nothing happened, Mei Li however, thinks the worst. TA tries to reassure her of his love and fidelity with this song, but it does not convince Mei Li. She and her father move back with Sammy Fong to force him to honor his original contract to marry Mei Li as his "picture bride". This song was repositioned from the stage play from the beginning of the play to almost the end, and was originally sung by Wang TA to his aunt, Madame Liang!
You are Beautiful

 

Don't
Marry Me

The placement of this song was changed in the transition from stage to screen. In the play, it was performed at the graduation party at Master Wang’s, as Sammy Fong tells Mei Li that she had better get Wang TA to fall in love with her, or else she would be stuck with him, and all of his bad habits! The screen placement is more effective, coming later in the film. Sammy is still trying to convince Mei Li to not marry him, but now they both know that they have no choice. Sammy’s mother will cut him off if he opposes her and doesn't marry Mei Li, and Mei Li knows that she must honor the contract as her father wishes her to do. A delightful montage precedes the song as Sammy takes Mei Li for a tour of a typical night for Sammy Fong (drinking, gambling, carousing, etc.), so she can see what she is getting into. The song begins as the pair are riding home on the back of the milk truck, in classic style. Jack Soo and Myoshi Umeki have great chemistry together, and they sing and dance charmingly. I love this number. In the play, it was boring, badly placed, and unmotivated.

Like in "The Sound of Music" (The Lonely Goatherd, My Favorite Things, Do Re Mi), and "West Side Story"(Cool and Gee, Officer Krupke), films can and do sometimes improve on the original stage plays on which they are based by repositioning the order of some of the songs.

 

Wedding
and Finale

Wang TA comes to Sammy’s house, and begs Mei Li’s forgiveness. She knows that she loves him and wants to marry him, but cannot dishonor her father by breaking the contract with Sammy Fong. Mei Li vows to pray for a solution, and gets it while watching the "Late, Late Show" on television. This scene dissolves to a beautiful traditional Chinese wedding that winds its way through the streets of Chinatown, the visual supplemented by a spirited rendition of "A Hundred Million Miracles".

At the Three Family Associations, the wedding begins, and is ended abruptly when Mei Li reveals her "wetback" status, which causes Sammy’s mother, Madame Fong to void the contract. Sammy then proposes to make Linda Low his bride and her daughter-in-law ("It’s okay, Mom. She got here the old fashioned way. Her mother!"). Wang TA announces that he will marry Mei Li in spite of her immigration status, and a double wedding takes place.

The Chinese screens appear, and open and close to reveal the ending credits.

From Stage
to Screen

 

There was definitely some carryover from stage to screen from the 1958 play to the 1961 film. The book of the play was co-authored by Joseph Fields and Oscar Hammerstein II. Joseph Fields wrote the screenplay. This helps to keep the stage-to-screen transition less disruptive than it might have been. However, the film was released by Universal-International, which was a break as most Rodgers and Hammerstein films were released by Twentieth Century-Fox (Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific). The film has a very ‘studio’ look to it, although there were location shots in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

There is a definite shift of character emphasis between stage and screen. On stage, Wang TA was the major character. In the film, Jack Soo, as Sammy Fong, takes a larger role. Incidentally, Jack Soo was in the original Broadway cast as the Emcee at the Celestial Bar, Sammy Fong’s employee. In the film, he was Sammy Fong. Ed Kenney’s Wang TA had two songs, James Shigeta’s Wang TA had one song.

There is a lot of song shifting between stage and screen. The play begins with "You Are Beautiful", song by Wang TA to his aunt, Madame Liang (played by the wonderful Juanita Hall, who created the role, and repeated her role in the film). In the film, this song is moved to the later half of the film, and is sung by Wang TA to Mei Li, as a love song.

The song "Fan Tan Fanny" is sung by an unnamed performer at the Celestial Bar prior to the arrival of the Wang Chi Yang family at the end of Act I. It leads into the song "Gliding Though My Memoree". When Linda Low appears at the end to do her strip tease, she reprises "Grant Avenue". In the film, Linda sings "Fan Tan Fanny", when we first meet her at the Celestial Gardens. She reprises this tune at the end of "Gliding Through My Memoree" which leads into her striptease, which sends the old master and his family on their way

The song "Grant Avenue" is performed in the play at the graduation party for Madame Liang from citizenship school, by Linda Low. In the film, it is presented as a street dance as part of a Chinese New Year parade. In general, dance has a much larger part in the film than the play. Carol Haney choreographed the play. Hermes Pan did the film. The production numbers in the films tend to drag in my opinion, especially "Grant Avenue".

The song "One Hundred Million Miracles" is first performed in the home of Wang Chi-Yang. In the film, Dr. Li and Mei Li perform the song in a park in San Francisco, presumably to raise some cash.

The play has a great song "Like a God", sung by Wang TA to Mei Li. This was cut for the film. Other than that, the score stayed somewhat intact. The biggest casualties were shaving verses out of the songs to shorten them. One example is the song "The Other Generation". In the play, Madame Liang and Wang Chi-Yang first perform the song in exasperation after the embarrassment of seeing Linda Low’s striptease at the Celestial Bar (renamed the Celestial Gardens in the film). The song is performed early in the second act. Then, later in the second act, the kids (Wang San and his friends) reprise the song with their own version. In the film, the song occurs early in the film, and is motivated by the elders’ exasperation with the kids (Wang San, particularly). The elders get a much-truncated version from the stage, and immediately, the kids version begins to counter the elders’. And the kid’s verses are cut as well, allowing for an extended dance session to showcase Patrick Adiarte’s skills. It is a jazzy, 60’s type dance, which dates the film.

Linda Low is pretty much the same in stage and screen, played by Pat Suzuki on Broadway and Nancy Kwan in film. Myoshi Umeki plays Mei Li in both versions. Also repeating their roles were Patrick Adiarte and Juanita Hall, Sammy Fong was played by the very un-Chinese Larry Blyden on stage, with some pretty heavy makeup, and Wang Chi-Yang was played by Charlie Chan’s "Number One Son" Keye Luke on stage, and by Benson Fong on screen.

There is an opening up of the action, which is typical from stage to screen. The play begins in the house of Wang Chi Yang, and the arrival of Dr. Li and Mei Lei in San Francisco, Wang Chi-Yang’s holdup outside the bank, and Dr. Li and Mei Li’s meeting with Sammy Fong all occur offstage. In the film, we see them all. Chinatown is more prominent, since it was filmed on location. In the play, most of the action occurs in the home of Wang Chi Yang. 

Incidentally, the only name change that I am aware of has to do with the old master, Wang Chi-Yang. In the film, his name becomes Wong Chi-Yang. Something wrong with Wang?

 

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