Last weekend we watched the first in the Sunday Night Classic Movie series. Rach’s mother Margaret (aka “Gum”) got first pick, and chose a favourite from her youth, Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley.
Released in 1961, Blue Hawaii was Presley’s eighth film, and followed a pattern common to most of Elvis’s movies: a loosely connected series of songs interspersed with lots of pretty girls and occasional narrative elements.
Let me give you a quick run-down of the tissue-thin plot. Chadwick (“Chad”) Gates, played by Elvis, is a young GI returning to Hawaii after two years of military service in Europe. Chad is happy to be re-united with his French-Hawaiian girlfriend, Maile (pronounced “my-lee”), and his gang of eccentric yet musically gifted beach buddies, but he quickly reveals an underlying restlessness and uncertainty about his future.
Also waiting for Chad are his somewhat overbearing parents, whose deepest wish is that their son make a career in the family’s flourishing pineapple business. (Chad’s mother, a domineering Southern dame, is played by the venerable Angela Lansbury. This despite the fact that Lansbury is English and only ten years older than Presley.)
Chad’s desire to strike out on his own leads to the central conflict of the film, an ideological clash between himself and his parents regarding the importance of career success, financial independence, and so on. Furthermore, when Chad lands a job as a tour guide to an attractive American school teacher and her four amorous female pupils it’s clear that this temptation will test the strength of his commitment to his beloved Maile.
I won’t spoil the film for you by giving away the ending, but I will comment briefly on some of the more noteworthy or otherwise mystifying scenes:
- early in the first reel a Corgi appears on the beach and is brutally rough-housed by Chad and his pals before making off with Maile’s bikini top
- Chad’s parents’ butler is a bumbling young fellow of Asian appearance whose name is “Ping Pong”
- a young girl, one of Chad’s clients, driven temporarily insane by a combination of unrequited love and long-term parental abandonment, steals a pink jeep which she proceeds to crash into a grove of palm trees before attempting suicide by drowning. Chad drags her from the water and dispenses his unique brand of psycho-therapy, a good old-fashioned spanking!
- the use of greenscreen technology is woefully bad, as in the “picnic” scene, where the waves of distant Waikiki Beach are seemingly frozen in time
The songs are nothing to write home about either. The only one you’re likely to know is “Cant’ Help Falling in Love”, which is sung by Elvis to Maile’s grandmother on the occasion of her 78th birthday. Other musical interludes include “Rock-a-Hula Baby”, “Slicin’ Sand” (a beach dance party rave-up), and the classic Hawaiian tune “Aloha Oe”. As luck would have it, we own a copy of the Blue Hawaii soundtrack album, purchased from a recycle centre for 20c. We’ll be sure to give it a spin on Christmas Day.
This was the first of three Elvis films to be filmed in Hawaii and makes good use of the local scenery. A number of scenes are shot around Waikiki, with Diamond Head dominant in the background. I was delighted to learn that the early “beach shack” scene was filmed at Hanauma Bay (shown below), a popular swimming and snorkelling beach about 15km from Honolulu. I swam there when I visited Hawaii in 1997, and it’s a gorgeous spot, with a crystal clear lagoon surrounded on three sides by the sheer walls of an ancient volcanic crater.
Blue Hawaii is a harmless beach romp, suitable for the whole family. Blissfully free of plot and characterisation, with the occasional double entendre (delivered with Elvis’s trademark wry grin) to keep things spicy. Three-and-a-half stars.