After an eight month break, I am continuing my rewatch of Elvis Presley movies. Next up in the random sequence is Blue Hawaii – his eighth movie. Except for the Elvis: That’s The Way It Is documentary, I’ve probably seen this one more than any of the others.
“Ecstatic romance … Exotic dances … Exciting music in the world’s lushest paradise of song!”
Blue Hawaii (Paramount)
Wide Release: November 22, 1961 (United States)
Starring: Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury
Screenplay By: Hal Kanter
Story By: Allan Weiss
Music Score By: Joseph J. Lilley
Produced By: Hal B. Wallis
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Just before filming began on Blue Hawaii, Elvis performed a benefit concert for the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. It would prove to be his last live performance until the June 1968 shows captured for the ELVIS television special (NBC) and his August 1969 concert series at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.
In Blue Hawaii, Elvis stars as Chadwick Gates – and I can’t even get started on this post without noting that if there was ever a less Elvis character name than “Chadwick” in one of his movies, I sure don’t know what it is. Anyway, after a 2-year stint in the U.S. Army, where he served in Europe, Chad returns to Kahalo, Hawaii, where he has lived for the last 15 years with his parents. His father is an executive at the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company, and Chad’s entire future has been neatly laid out for him there – mostly by his mother.
Chad is having none of it, though. Instead, he hides out for a week at a beach shack until his father gets word through Chad’s girlfriend, Maile Duval, that he needs to come home before his mother finds out. The return home does not go well, particularly for the audience.
This is where we are introduced to one of the most annoying characters in any Elvis movie ever: Chad’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Lee Gates – portrayed by Angela Lansbury, who was only nine years older than Elvis.
Mrs. Gates is from Georgia, and, as much as the Hawaiian portrayals in this film unfortunately are often stereotypes, so, too, is Blue Hawaii‘s portrayal of a Southerner. Mrs. Gates, of course, has to speak in an over-the-top Southern accent, call her husband “Daddy,” and bring up the Civil War, including a required reference to General “Stonewall” Jackson of the Confederacy. She also notes embarrassment around the fact that a war hero relative was a “Yankee” (i.e., he fought for the North/Union, rather than the South/Confederacy).
Mrs. Gates is alcoholic, racist, classist, and just all around insufferable.
All that said, Roland Winters, who plays Mr. Fred Gates, Chad’s father, does an excellent job playing off of Lansbury’s outlandishness. Winters gets two of the funniest lines of the movie – in two separate scenes. In the first, Mr. Gates has just commented to his wife that Maile is pretty.
Mrs. Gates: “Daddy, aren’t you forgetting yourself?”
Mr. Gates: “I’m trying, Mother. I’m trying.”
Later, Chad storms out of the house after an argument with his parents.
Mrs. Gates: “Oh, Daddy, what did we do wrong?”
Mr. Gates: “Offhand, I’d say, we got married.”
Maile is portrayed by Joan Blackman. The character’s father is French and mother is Hawaiian. Blackman and Elvis often seem wooden together in Blue Hawaii, though they would have much better chemistry in the following year’s Kid Galahad.
Shunning the fruit company, Chad instead decides to become a tourist guide and is soon hired by Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear), who owns the tourism company where Maile works. Okay, it’s not really Floyd the Barber, but Mr. Chapman does appear otherwise to be the exact same character that the beloved McNear played on the Andy Griffith Show from 1961 to 1967.
Chad’s first assignment? Escorting an attractive schoolteacher and four teenage girls around Hawaii, naturally. Jealousy and hilarity ensues. Well, jealousy anyway.
Jennie Maxwell’s portrayal of angry teenager Ellie Corbett soon livens up the movie, including this zinger she launches at Chad: “I believe you’re being paid to show us a good time. When does it start?”
Considering that Blue Hawaii is his eighth movie overall and his fourth since returning from the Army in real life, Elvis’ acting is disappointingly poor several times – particularly when he does this high-pitched yelling thing that he tends to revert to in his movies when he seems uncomfortable in a scene (e.g., “I’ll getcha!” in one of the scenes of this movie).
I suspect director Norman Taurog was simply not focused on getting the best acting performance out of Elvis, and Hal Kanter’s flimsy script doesn’t help matters, either. Elvis had natural talent as a singer and musician, but he should have taken acting classes to hone his craft if he was serious about making films. 1957’s King Creole had already proven what Elvis could do under the guidance of an inspiring director (Michael Curtiz).
While Elvis may stumble on the acting side at times in Blue Hawaii, he brings his A-game on the music side. There are a number of stone-cold classic songs here, especially “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – which he sings in a beautiful version to Maile’s grandmother on her 78th birthday.
Years later, Elvis would reminisce about another musical highlight, saying, “We did a movie called Blue Hawaii, and in the movie, there was a song called the ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song,’ and it was so real, it took me two years before I realized, it was just a movie.”
Blue Hawaii has some highlights, including the idyllic locations, great music, and a sense of escapism, but overall, it feels like a missed opportunity. Its subsequent success at the box office, however, would help lock Elvis into mostly similar movies going forward.
Frank Atienza, who played Ito O’Hara in Blue Hawaii, later played a Kohn villager in “The Omega Glory” (1968) episode of Star Trek.
Ron Veto, who has an uncredited role as a Hawaiian in Blue Hawaii, later appeared in numerous Star Trek episodes as a member of the crew of the USS Enterprise as well as other uncredited roles on the show.
Blue Hawaii Tote Board
- Punches: 21+
- Songs: 15
- Kisses: 13
Songs In Blue Hawaii
- “Blue Hawaii” (1961), written by Leo Robin & Ralph Rainger
- “Almost Always True” (1961), written by Fred Wise & Ben Weisman
- “Aloha Oe” (1961), written by Queen Liliuokalani
- “Hawaiian Beach Chant (Slap Happy/Shave And A Hair Cut)” (1961) [performed twice], performed by the Surfers, written by unknown
- “No More” (1961), written by Don Robertson & Hal Blair, based on “La Paloma” by Sebastián Iradier
- “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (1961), written by George Weiss, Hugo Peretti, & Luigi Creatore, based on the classical composition “Plaisir d’Amour” by Giovanni Martini
- “Rock-A-Hula Baby” (1961), written by Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, & Florence Kay
- “Moonlight Swim” (1961), written by Sylvia Dee & Ben Weisman
- “Ku-U-I-Po” (1961), written by George Weiss, Hugo Peretti, & Luigi Creatore
- “Ito Eats” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
- “Slicin’ Sand” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
- “Hawaiian Sunset” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
- “Beach Boy Blues” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
- “Island Of Love” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
- “Hawaiian Wedding Song (Ke Kali Nei Au)” (1961), written by Charles E. King, Al Hoffman, & Dick Manning
The Mystery Train’s Blue Hawaii Scorecard
- Story: 2 (out of 10)
- Acting: 3
- Fun: 7
- Songs: 8
- Overall: 5 (For Elvis Fans Only)
Blue Hawaii Around The Web
- @CineFile – “The Elvis Files: Blue Hawaii (1961)” by Joanna Arcieri
- Trailers From Hell – “Blue Hawaii 4K” by Glenn Erickson
- Deena’s Days – “Blue Hawaii 1961: Elvis’ 8th Movie” by Deena Dietrich
- Elvis Today Blog – “Blue Hawaii on New Year’s Eve” by Thomas Melin
- Graceland.com – “Starring Elvis Presley Podcast: ‘Blue Hawaii'” featuring Libby Perry and Sheena Barnett
- Graceland.com – “Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Hawaii'”
- Beat Of Hawaii – “60 Years Ago Elvis’ Blue Hawaii + Jets Transformed Hawaii Travel”
- Rob On Location – “Blue Hawaii”
- Atlas Obscura – “The Not-So-Chill History of Hawai‘i’s Breeziest Shirt” by Sabrina Imbler
- Hawaii University International Conferences – “‘Pop’ Goes Hawaii: The 20th Century Origins of Tourism in Hawai’i & the Impact of U.S. Pop Culture on Women in the Islands of Aloha” by Megan Monahan, Ph.D
- Moody Blue Elvis Blog – “Blue Hawaii (1961)” by Ashley Renay
- ElvisBlog – “50th Anniversary Movie Pictorials: Blue Hawaii, 1961” by Phil Arnold
- Internet Movie Cars Database – “Blue Hawaii, Movie, 1961”
- Internet Movie Planes Database – “Blue Hawaii”
- Elvis In Hawaii – “Blue Hawaii”
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT
My Number One All-Time Favourite movie right here. It represents the best and the worst things about his films.
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Wait… your favorite movie or your favorite Elvis movie?
Have you written about Blue Hawaii yet? If so, send me the link, and I’ll add it to the list above.
My Number One Favourite Movie of All-Time. I have a list of 25 with four movies at the top above all the others. Blue Hawaii, Number One!
Thanks but I haven’t written about it yet. Well, I have but only Part One – it’ll be a big 2-part Scene By Scene job like Diner was. Maybe this summer!
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We are definitely on different pages when it comes to Blue Hawaii. I had to round up to score it even 5 out of 10.
Well…it’s been with me for many, many years, I just love the escapism of it and Chad Gates lives my absolute dream life. It has always really resonated with me. Even the evil fact that it spelled the end of his chances for dramatic roles in Hollywood lends to its aura.