I had a spot of terrific luck today. My weekly trip to the local Goodwill yielded a special treasure: the soundtrack to South Seas Adventure, the sadly lost 1958 three-strip Cinerama film. The soundtrack is a mix of sweeping orchestral stereophonic spectacle and more grounded and familiar sounds of the Pacific (with sweet, silly little sheep-shearing ditty thrown in for good measure).
It’s heartbreaking that the print appears to be lost. The three-strip Cinerama films are fantastically immersive color-saturated extravaganzas, and getting a travel tour of the Pacific islands in that format, from that era, would just send me. I’ve long been curious about the film. Some description can be found in this contemporary New York Times review. Here is the description found in the notes on the LP jacket:
Cinerama takes you on a South Seas Adventure to tropical islands set like sparkling jewels in dreamy cerulean waters. Thrill to the lure of sunbrowned, luscious maidens and a paradise of coconut palms, coral strand and blue lagoons. Enchanted South Pacific archipelagos beckon with all the beauty and color of a painter’s palette. Stepping stones in the vast expanse of far-away seas, they promise romance, adventure, excitement—an irresistible blend of fascinating people and exotic places.
[…puffery about the stereo recording…]
The adventure begins with the blast of a cruise ship whistle as the luxury liner sets sail for Hawaii, our first stop. Like the other passengers, our excitement is at high pitch, and we find ourselves busy learning the hula dance even before the ship reaches the high seas. Young and old, old and reserved sing and sway to the accompaniment of traditionally favorite melodies like “Little Brown Gal,” “Little Grass Shack” and “Hawaiian War Chant.” Fun, music, dancing and superb food make the short trip seem even shorter, and before we know it, we find ourselves approaching famous Diamond Head.
Arriving in Honolulu, we are welcomed with traditional island hospitality. The resplendent glory of Hawaii is apparent as the ship docks, and we are greeted with the strains of “Aloha Oe” and “Song of the Islands” echoing across the water. During our stay, every day is more glorious than the last one. We spend our time swimming, sailing, watching spear fishing and surf riding. Everywhere there are flowers and fruit to remind us of the fertility of Hawaii, in the miles and miles of pineapple fields, the vast areas of sugar cane, the fabulous flower groves and gardens. At night there are native celebrations, festivals, feats, contests of various sorts, or exciting visits to fashionable night clubs, where one hears authentic music and dances. But the churning sound of the seas always returns to fill our ears, remind us that this is the world’s most beautiful water paradise.
It’s worth noting that the cast list for the film includes “Don the Beachcomber,” played by himself. Sounds like the film had a scene filmed at Waikiki’s Don the Beachcomber!
The next stop on our journey is Papeete, Tahiti, and we sail there in a two-masted schooner, passing the equator and taking part in the traditional “crossing the equator” ceremonies. Half the population of this jewel of French Oceania turns out to meet our ship, and we go ashore to the accompaniment of a band. We are fortunate in reaching Tahiti on July 14th, Bastille Day, when the festive spirit is high. One of the most inspiring points of the day’s celebration is a dancing contest in which scores of grass-skirted Polynesian maidens reach an ecstasy of motion as they ripple to the accompaniment of drums and native instruments. Another spectacle is a coconut-spearing contest, in which dozens of young men attempt to pierce the husk of a coconut mounted at the top of a tall pole. Tahiti was the magic realm that inspired Paul Gauguin to paint his priceless pictures of natives and landscapes, that was immortalized in Joseph Conrad’s novels and in the Polynesian Idyl, by Pierre Loti.
Our adventure continues, and we head towards the island of Tonga, the crossroads of Polynesia and Melanesia. Seldom visited by tourists, Tonga remains remote and relatively invulnerable to the influence of western civilization. It was one of the islands discovered by mariner and explorer Capt. James Cook, who charted the sea lanes and coasts in the South Pacific during the latter part of the 18th century.
Tonga’s firmly Christian nature is the result of the successful zeal of missionaries who came there many years ago. They took the strictly phonetic Tongan language of twelve characters and translated the Bible, psalms and hymns into their native tongue. Their influence is felt deeply in musical education, which is widespread and because of which everyone on the island sings.
We hear a chorus of 400 school girls singing a native tune—”Ma Ulu Ulu,” (“There is a Happy Land Far, Far Away”), a church choir singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s famous chorale “The Heavens are Telling.” Finally, another choir performs the magnificent “Agnus Dei,” from Handel’s “Messiah,” with native Polynesian words. As the final Amen dies away, the thunder of the surf hurtling through blow holes and over rocks along the island shore engulfs us, reminding us of man’s close affinity to nature.
From Tonga it is only about 250 miles northwest to the Fiji Islands, the most important island crossroads of the Pacific. Here age-old tribal customs prevail to this day, and the man-eating warrior of yesterday still casts a shadow over his successor. The temper of the people can be felt in tribal dances, which natives regard almost as essential to life as food. Everywhere we see brilliant colors—the white skirts of dark-skinned Fijian soldiers, miles of jungle broken by radiant blue tropical streams, brilliant multi-colored native costumes and jewelry. Here we are constantly reminded that Fiji is part of the British Empire, and a red-coated army band does its share to help remind us.
About 500 miles due west of Fiji lie the New Hebrides and Pentecost Island, haven of early sailors and slave traders throughout the South Pacific islands. Here is found one of the most remarkable sights in the world—a jumping tournament by natives who leap to the earth from a tower 100 feet high, their ankles bound with ripe liana vines. They say this contest originated when a jealous native husband chased his wife up a tree. If she jumped to the ground unhurt, the gods held her as innocent, and the husband was supposed to jump after her to prove he was right. Craftily, the woman tied vines to her legs to break the fall. The man jumped without the vines and broke his neck. Thereafter, the men staged a diving performance to prove their superiority.
From the New Hebrides we travel to another world, New Zealand. We leave behind the atolls, lagoons and coral beaches for a rugged terrain. Here, as in Europe, there are fjords, lush valleys, rushing trout streams and ski runs. Here is the Maori tribe, a race of one time fierce warriors and daring sailors who made their way across in open canoes to New Zealand from Tahiti centuries ago. Theirs is a remarkable culture that fought the white man to a draw and as a result has achieved complete equality. This is mirrored partially in the poi dance, performed by the women, and the haka dance, performed by the men, both enacting major events in Maori history.
In New Zealand also are huge volcanic regions which New Zealanders have exploited by building steam generating plants for powering industry. There are installations where you can hear the live steam as it escapes from beneath the crust of the earth, its earth-shaking power harnessed for practical use.
The last leg of our journey is Australia, land of opportunity and last frontier of the West. Here are vast cities and vaster wastelands, rich highland of metal ores, huge stretches of outback where millions of sheep are raised to provide wool for the rest of the world. The sounds of Australia are typical—bleats of the sheep as their wool is shorn and as the sounds of the clippers echo above the din, band music as lifeguards parade on Bondi Beach in Sydney, and the sound of airplane motors a Australians use this most efficient means available of traveling back and forth across the vast land regions.
We visit Sydney’s famous Botanical Gardens on “New Australians Day,” and the air is filled with swirling bagpipes playing the stirring strains of “Scotland the Brave.” Our visit to Australia ends with a picnic in the outback country, and we hear the nostalgic “Waltzing Matilda” and “Auld Lang Syne” as our adventure draws to a close.
Don’t miss these nifty old newspaper advertisements for 1964 showings of South Seas Adventure at the Villa Theatre in Salt Lake City—you can see larger views of these ads at the Villa Theatre website.