Elvis Movies: BLUE HAWAII

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.

Elvis Presley is Chad Gates in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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.

Chadwick’s mother has entire life plotted out for him in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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.

Angela Lansbury is Mrs. Sarah Lee Gates and Elvis Presley is Chad Gates in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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.

Joan Blackman is Maile Duval in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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.

Howard McNear is Mr. Chapman and Elvis Presley is Chad Gates in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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?”

Jennie Maxwell is Ellie Corbett and Elvis Presley is Chad Gates in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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.”

Hawaii is the real star of 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

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.


Boldly Go

Frank Atienza, who played Ito O’Hara in Blue Hawaii, later played a Kohn villager in “The Omega Glory” (1968) episode of Star Trek.

Frank Atienza is Ito O’Hara and Elvis Presley is Chad Gates in 1961’s BLUE HAWAII (Paramount)

Frank Atienza (far right) is a Kohn villager in the 1968 STAR TREK episode “The Omega Glory” (Paramount)

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

  1. “Blue Hawaii” (1961), written by Leo Robin & Ralph Rainger
  2. “Almost Always True” (1961), written by Fred Wise & Ben Weisman
  3. Aloha Oe” (1961), written by Queen Liliuokalani
  4. “Hawaiian Beach Chant (Slap Happy/Shave And A Hair Cut)” (1961) [performed twice], performed by the Surfers, written by unknown
  5. “No More” (1961), written by Don Robertson & Hal Blair, based on “La Paloma” by Sebastián Iradier
  6. “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
  7. “Rock-A-Hula Baby” (1961), written by Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, & Florence Kay
  8. “Moonlight Swim” (1961), written by Sylvia Dee & Ben Weisman
  9. Ku-U-I-Po” (1961), written by George Weiss, Hugo Peretti, & Luigi Creatore
  10. “Ito Eats” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  11. “Slicin’ Sand” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  12. “Hawaiian Sunset” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  13. “Beach Boy Blues” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  14. “Island Of Love” (1961), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  15. “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


 


“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

The Pacific War Memorial Commission Proudly Presents In Person: Elvis Presley

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ benefit concert in Hawaii for the Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial. Below is a repost of a feature I wrote last year about this event.


Elvis was nervous at the start of the show, but the screaming audience has since calmed his fears. Truth is, he learned to use his nervous energy to his advantage on stage years ago. Despite all that has changed in his life, the fuel that powers him continues to be his fans.

This concert is a little different from most of the others, though. This time, he is in Hawaii to raise money for a cause that is very important to him. Colonel has worked out most of the details, of course, including talks with NBC to have the concert aired on TV.

A few songs in now, Elvis glances at his hastily scribbled list to see what is up next. It turns out to be one of his favorites, one sure to get a reaction from the crowd. “Treat me like a fool,” he begins and is met with more yells of approval. He still knows his audience, no matter what anybody says.

After introducing the band and backup singers, it is time for another song. He first heard this Drifters number back in 1954, but didn’t get to record it until he was out of the Army. “It was a night, ooh what a night it was, it really was such a night,” he sings into the microphone.

This time, the audience is a little quiet at first. They don’t know this one as well. No problem, Elvis throws a little leg into it and is instantly rewarded with more cheers. Secretly, he is glad Colonel’s deal fell through and those NBC cameras aren’t here after all. No need to tone this show down.

The year is 1961, and Elvis is in Hawaii to help raise money for the USS Arizona memorial. Just over seven months from now will mark the twentieth anniversary of the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the United States into the middle of World War II.

That attack sunk the mighty Arizona, forever entombing over 1,000 officers and crew below the water in the battleship. Yet, a memorial commission established in 1949 is still having trouble finding the money to start construction on a proper tribute to the fallen.

* * *

Though NBC ended up not filming the show, fortunately at least the audio was captured and preserved for us to still hear today. It appears on the 1980 “Silver” boxed set Elvis Aron Presley, which received a CD release in 1998. The sound quality is not great, but it is certainly listenable.

I pulled this set out for the first time in years yesterday and loved hearing this top-notch and exciting concert. It also reminded me that quite some time ago I had set aside a related book for later reading. As is often the case, by the time “later” came, I had forgotten about it.

Elvis In Hawaii by Jerry Hopkins (author of Elvis: A Biography and Elvis: The Final Years) is an oversized book filled with text and photos about Elvis’ various excursions to Hawaii, including this 1961 concert. One of the cool pieces of memorabilia in the book is Elvis’ handwritten set list for the show, which helped inspire today’s post. Interestingly, he originally planned to sing “Doin’ The Best I Can,” a 1960 album cut from G.I. Blues, before scratching it out and replacing it with his 1956 hit “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Of course, Elvis would return to Hawaii a number of times after this show, including the 1973 cancer fund benefit for which the television cameras of NBC and the world were present, Aloha From Hawaii.

USS Arizona Memorial in 2006

USS Arizona Memorial in 2006

The 1961 USS Arizona benefit raised over $50,000 for the memorial as well as turned a spotlight on the issue to encourage contributions from others, including the US Congress. On Memorial Day 1962, the memorial was finally dedicated.

Though no one knew it at the time, the show also marked Elvis’ last live appearance for over seven years until the studio audience tapings of the 1968 ELVIS television special and his full-fledged 1969 Las Vegas shows. Instead, for better or worse, most of the rest of his 1960s career would focus on making movies.

* * *

Elvis knows he could stay on all night and they would stay, but the show is winding down now. He won’t be leaving Hawaii yet, though.

In just a couple of days, he has to start filming a new movie, Blue Hawaii. Though Mr. Wallis once told him it was to be a “drama,” Elvis is no longer so sure of that after reading the script and recording over a dozen songs for the soundtrack back in Hollywood just a few days ago.

Being on stage in Hawaii is a lot better than that stuffy recording studio. “We’d like to do a spiritual song for you, ladies and gentlemen, from our religious album called His Hand In Mine,” he says. “It goes something like this.”

He launches into “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot.” For that moment on stage, all is right in his world.

Looking Back at Elvis’ Benefit Concert in Hawaii

Elvis was nervous at the start of the show, but the screaming audience has since calmed his fears. Truth is, he learned to use his nervous energy to his advantage on stage years ago. Despite all that has changed in his life, the fuel that powers him continues to be his fans.

This concert is a little different from most of the others, though. This time, he is in Hawaii to raise money for a cause that is very important to him. Colonel has worked out most of the details, of course, including talks with NBC to have the concert aired on TV.

A few songs in now, Elvis glances at his hastily scribbled list to see what is up next. It turns out to be one of his favorites, one sure to get a reaction from the crowd. “Treat me like a fool,” he begins and is met with more yells of approval. He still knows his audience, no matter what anybody says.

After introducing the band and backup singers, it is time for another song. He first heard this Drifters number back in 1954, but didn’t get to record it until he was out of the Army. “It was a night, ooh what a night it was, it really was such a night,” he sings into the microphone.

This time, the audience is a little quiet at first. They don’t know this one as well. No problem, Elvis throws a little leg into it and is instantly rewarded with more cheers. Secretly, he is glad Colonel’s deal fell through and those NBC cameras aren’t here after all. No need to tone this show down.

The year is 1961, and Elvis is in Hawaii to help raise money for the USS Arizona memorial. Just over seven months from now will mark the twentieth anniversary of the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the United States into the middle of World War II.

That attack sunk the mighty Arizona, forever entombing over 1,000 officers and crew below the water in the battleship. Yet, a memorial commission established in 1949 is still having trouble finding the money to start construction on a proper tribute to the fallen.

* * *

Though NBC ended up not filming the show, fortunately at least the audio was captured and preserved for us to still hear today. It appears on the 1980 “Silver” boxed set Elvis Aron Presley, which received a CD release in 1998. The sound quality is not great, but it is certainly listenable.

I pulled this set out for the first time in years yesterday and loved hearing this top-notch and exciting concert. It also reminded me that quite some time ago I had set aside a related book for later reading. As is often the case, by the time “later” came, I had forgotten about it.

Elvis In Hawaii by Jerry Hopkins (author of Elvis: A Biography and Elvis: The Final Years) is an oversized book filled with text and photos about Elvis’ various excursions to Hawaii, including this 1961 concert. One of the cool pieces of memorabilia in the book is Elvis’ handwritten set list for the show, which helped inspire today’s post. Interestingly, he originally planned to sing “Doin’ The Best I Can,” a 1960 album cut from G.I. Blues, before scratching it out and replacing it with his 1956 hit “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Of course, Elvis would return to Hawaii a number of times after this show, including the 1973 cancer fund benefit for which the television cameras of NBC and the world were present, Aloha From Hawaii. Only two songs appear in both his 1961 and 1973 benefit concerts in Hawaii. Can you name them?

USS Arizona Memorial in 2006

USS Arizona Memorial in 2006

The 1961 USS Arizona benefit raised over $50,000 for the memorial as well as turned a spotlight on the issue to encourage contributions from others, including the US Congress. On Memorial Day 1962, the memorial was finally dedicated.

Though no one knew it at the time, the show also marked Elvis’ last live appearance for over seven years until the studio audience tapings of the 1968 ELVIS television special and his full-fledged 1969 Las Vegas shows. Instead, for better or worse, most of the rest of his 1960s career would focus on making movies.

* * *

Elvis knows he could stay on all night and they would stay, but the show is winding down now. He won’t be leaving Hawaii yet, though.

In just a couple of days, he has to start filming a new movie, Blue Hawaii. Though Mr. Wallis once told him it was to be a “drama,” Elvis is no longer so sure of that after reading the script and recording over a dozen songs for the soundtrack back in Hollywood just a few days ago.

Being on stage in Hawaii is a lot better than that stuffy recording studio. “We’d like to do a spiritual song for you, ladies and gentlemen, from our religious album called His Hand In Mine,” he says. “It goes something like this.”

He launches into “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot.” For that moment on stage, all is right in his world.