Flower Drum Song (1961)

Flower Drum Song
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Joseph Fields from a musical play by Fields and Oscar Hammerstein III and a novel by C.Y. Lee
Universal International Pictures/Fields Productions/Hunter-Fields
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Madame ‘Auntie’ Liang: Chop Suey. Chop Suey. / Living here is very much like Chop Suey. / Hula-hoops and nucelar war, Doctor Salk and Zsa Zsa Gabor, / Bobby Darin, Sandra Dee and Dewey, Chop Suey.

This stood up well to fond memories from my musical-besotted youth.

Mei Li (Myoshi Umeki) and her father arrive in San Francisco, having stowed away on a cargo ship.  They have jumped the immigration queue so that Mei Li will be young enough to still qualify as the photo bride of her intended, Sammy Fong (Jack Soo).  Sammy, a nightclub owner, is in a long-term relationship with dancer-singer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan), is a bit of a rake, and is utterly unsuited to Mei Li.

Mei Li and her father end up boarding with Wang Chi-Yang (Benson Fong) who has been looking for a wife for his son Wang Ta (James Shigeta).  Wang Ta, on the other hand, is infatuated with Linda.  A dressmaker, Helen, is in love with him.  Upon their first meeting, so is Mei Li.  It is all very complicated.

The rest of the story traces the myriad of misunderstandings and mishaps that lead to the correct pairing of the various young characters.  At the same time, it humorously deals with the immigrant experience and the generation gap.  With Juanita Hall as “Auntie”, a citizenship scholar and fan of the New World.

I think I actually saw this in the theater in my childhood when it came out.  I know we had the soundtrack at home.  Anyway, that’s enough to almost guarantee I would still love it and I did.  It’s impossible to add any objective criticism.

This was the first Hollywood production with an all-Asian cast, if you count Nancy Kwan and Juanita Hall who were both mixed race.  The DVD includes a nice commentary with the still delightful Nancy Kwan and a film historian.

Flower Drum Song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.


Clip – Jack Soo and Myoshi Umeki

2 thoughts on “Flower Drum Song (1961)

  1. Could NOT agree with you more. Miyoshi Umeki is enchanting and this is an absolutely lovely film – and a lavish Ross Hunter production. I first saw it on television in 1968 and I’ve loved it ever since then – it’s a pity it’s so under-rated and there are ridiculous accusations of its being racist. I would LOVE to know in what way it’s racist – it’s a lovely film, with a superb Rodgers and Hammerstein score and terrific performances. Vastly entertaining! They just DON’T make them like this anymore!

    • Nancy Kwan and the film historian on the commentary couldn’t figure out how it was racist either! The source novel was written by a Chinese who lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Some people just want to deny historical reality and/or have no sense of humor.

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