Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii is a romantic western Hawaiian dream come true: a rejection of traditional  western values and customs in favor of the (supposedly) carefree lifestyle of native Hawaiians. Elvis plays Chad, an heir to a pineapple company, who returns from two years overseas in the Army. His parents want him to take on the family business, but he wants to make his own way, working as a tour guide with his girlfriend Maile (sounds like “Miley”) and hanging out with his “beach boy” friends.

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Glad to be home?

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel this way, but Chad comes across like a bit of a jerk. When Maile first picks him up at the airport, he kisses the airline stewardess on his way out of the plane to make her jealous. To calm her down as they drive off, he assures her (through song) that he was almost always true to her. Even when he meets up with his friends, they ask him all about life overseas and what girls he met, but he doesn’t ask them any questions in return. They missed him, but he didn’t miss them?

But this is an Elvis movie, and Elvis movies are all about the music. The songs in Blue Hawaii are top-notch, with the highlight ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as well as “Rock-a-Hula Baby” (performed during his welcome-home party at his parents’ estate) and “Slicin’ Sand,” a bizarro song Elvis sings with his tour group.

The real scene-stealer, however, is Angela Lansbury as Chad’s mother. From the very first scene when she’s serving an unnamed cocktail to the countless Mai Tais she clutches, she simply can’t keep the drinks coming fast enough. Of all the non-native Hawaiians, she is the most unabashedly racist (calling her Asian servant “Ping Pong”) and classist, though she is nothing like the monster she portrays in The Manchurian Candidate. She is barely even a villain, her greatest fault being ignorance and not hatred or even evil.

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One of the film’s Mai Tais in action

Blue Hawaii comes from a very different time and place, but is a delightful journey for anyone who revels in the romanticized vision of the islands so common in the 1950s & 60s. (I know I do!) Filmed on location, we get some great exterior shots of beaches, hotels, restaurants, and even the interior sets are gloriously mid-century modern. This is a vacation to a dream world you “can’t help falling in love” with.

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