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Film Review: Blue Hawaii
In 1961, Norman Taurog released Blue Hawaii which starred Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury, Nancy Walters, Roland Winters, John Archer, Howard McNear, Steve Brodie, Darlene Tompkins, Iris Adrian, Hilo Hattie, Jenny Maxwell, Pamela Austin, Lani Kai, and Tiki Hanalei. The film grossed $4.2 million at the box office, becoming the 10th top grossing film of 1961 and 14th for 1962. The script was nominated by the Writers Guild of America in the category of Best Written American Musical, the film itself won a fourth place prize Laurel Award in the category of Top Musical of 1961 and the soundtrack was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture or Television.
Chad Gates comes back home from the army and is content to just be in Hawaii with his surfboard on the beach with his friends and girlfriend, Maile. However, his mother wants him to join the family business and take over management at the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company. Instead, Chad goes to work as a tour guide at Maile’s agency.
Going back to the formula that Presley’s films had initially started with, Blue Hawaii is a rather interesting and enjoyable film. The plot actually makes some sort of sense in regards to what Chad wants out of life and presents some relatability as he just got home and wants to be able to enjoy life following time in the army. He doesn’t want to be bogged down in a job that he doesn’t see himself in as he just got out of a life where he didn’t see a future. Ironically, the minute he chooses to do something that he sees as giving him a future and has meaning, his mother keeps trying to pressure him out of it while his father seems reluctant but is willing to let him give it a chance.
Speaking of his mother, she’s also a bit of a racist, particularly in how she doesn’t quite approve of Chad’s relationship with Maile, who is a native Hawaiian. Though it does end up biting her at the very end humorously as she’s informing who she thinks is just some lady about how great her soon-to-be daughter in law is, when it turns out that the lady is Maile’s grandmother. Apart from the racism, she is an annoying character as a whole as she never shuts up, instead choosing to always try and steer people’s choices in the way she wants them to go in her shrilly voice. It’s no wonder that Chad just wanted something else out of life. The girls that he shows around Hawaii are also pretty annoying, considering that they won’t take no for an answer when putting the moves on Chad.
But what’s notable is that Presley seems to be really improving as an actor. He gives off a very well-done performance in this film and probably gives the best performance, with Lansbury coming in as a close second as his mother. His desires to stay on the beach and do nothing but be a beach bum upon his arrival come off very well as does his indignation at wanting to remain in the family business. Presley also seems to be showing off some life experience when the tourist girls are throwing themselves all over him. His resulting exclamation and reluctance to let their advances get anywhere seems too realistic to have not been drawn from experience.
There’s also some really good humor found in the film with a lot of it coming after Elvis and his friends get arrested in the latter half of the film. For one, it’s laughable that they would be allowed to have their instruments in a holding cell. Following his release, there’s good humor in a bit that happens with Chad and his employer, who tells him that he’s fired and upon being told he can’t, he does it again. Chad comes back with the line that he can’t be fired because he quits and then quits a second time for effect. Chad’s first appearance in the film also lends itself to some humor as he’s first seen kissing one of the flight attendants and then tells Maile who was watching that it was nothing and just watch to see what he’s going to plant on her. That scene also has a humorous portion where the guy behind him wants out of the plane and says that when he came back from the army, all he got was coffee and donuts.
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