Grade: CBlue Hawaii (1961)

Director: Norman Taurog

Stars: Elvis Presley, Angela Lansbury, Joan Blackman, Roland Winters, Howard McNear

Release Company: Paramount

MPAA Rating: PG

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Norman Taurog: Blue Hawaii


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No one ever watches an Elvis Presley movie for subtle themes and great acting. Strictly money generators, producers demand a contrived script that showcases the charismatic Rock ‘n Roll icon in what he does best—crooning a ballad or wiggling his hips while rocking out, all driving females to near orgasmic glee. Blue Hawaii ranks as another in the prototypical Elvis movie genre. Rich in quality music, the film is equally feebly constructed dramatically and sinks to embarrassing ineptness in acting quality. Elvis stumbles through his part predictably, but the real shocker is Angela Lansbury's outlandish parody of a haughty Georgia belle—a performance that the veteran actress will never revisit without donning a paper sack. How could Lansbury ever portray such a superficially clueless, over-the-top idiotic matron? As if to make up for her ham-fisted performance, Lansbury makes the recovery of the century a year later as the subtly evil mother in The Manchurian Candidate.

With 14 songs (averaging a musical number every 8 minutes), Blue Hawaii would appear to fit into the musical genre. However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a musical as "a film or theatrical production typically of a sentimental or humorous nature that consists of musical numbers and dialogue based on a unifying plot." Certifiably sentimental, this Elvis vehicle also contains the requisite musical numbers, but it's only unintentionally comical and stretches the meaning of "unified plot" beyond the spirit of the dictionary's definition.

Son of a head executive of the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company, Chad Gates (Presley) returns to Honolulu after a two-year military stint in Europe. But instead of heading to his parents' palatial dwelling, Chad just wants to hang loose in his picturesque beachside shack, drift on his surfboard, sing with his beach buddies, and fool around with his girlfriend Maile (Joan Blackman). After five days he finally makes an obligatory pilgrimage to his parents home, and it's no wonder he'd choose to go his own way. The biggest mystery becomes figuring out why the hell his father (Roland Winters) ever married Sarah (Lansbury) in the first place. He seems repelled over her pathetic pleas for "some sugar" from her son "Chadwick" and looks like he'd like to give her a "dope slap" throughout their scenes together. Truth be known, Chad's father is probably silently envious of his son's lifestyle of women and song (This IS an Elvis movie).

Rejecting the security and riches of taking over the family pineapple business, Chad decides to make it on his own—abruptly interrupting his scenic lunch date to rush off to interview forgetful old Mr. Chapman (Howard McNear, who plays Floyd the barber in the "Andy Griffith Show") to become an island tour guide. This leads to Chad shepherding around a female schoolteacher and her covey of high school girls (three of which appear to be in their mid twenties or more), but even more important provide ample excuse for a "comic" subplot where Chad's girlfriend can work up a good envy and easy beachside luau scenes for Elvis' musical numbers.

Indeed, as in many of the Elvis genre, the highlights involve the musical set pieces. A real bonus this time around are the gorgeous Technicolor location shots around Honolulu and Kauai back in the days when the island paradise wasn't overrun with resort hotels and tourist cattle calls. Just the opening credits with Elvis serenading the title song over images of soft white sands, swaying palms, and turquoise blue waters may be enough to make a rental worthwhile:

"Dreams come true
In blue Hawaii
And mine could all come true
This magic night of nights with you"
Other favorites make the film memorable, and part of the fun is noting the silly contrivances to afford Elvis singing opportunities—from singing in a speeding car to the radio, to a charming rendition of "Can't Help Falling in Love" accompanied by a music box present, to a jailhouse tune (just how did Elvis and his mates smuggle those guitars and bongos into the cell). As a film, Blue Hawaii is amateurishly slung together and telegraphs all its moves well in advance, but Elvis fans will still want to watch and listen for nostalgia sake. Mainstream fans will revel in the more widely known hits, but hard core fans will thrill to the lesser known songs like "Moonlight Swim," silly songs like "Ito Eats," and cultural tidbits like "Aloha Oe" and "Ku-U-I-Po." Whether this mediocre film is worth 102 minutes of your time depends solely on how much you want to see Elvis sing these songs in their original setting.

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