Blue Hawaii (1961)

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Can’t help falling in love with Elvis for the Beach Party Blogathon.

As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t be a party, beach or otherwise, without Elvis. Even though Elvis fans have mixed feelings about Blue Hawaii as one of the movies that steered his career almost exclusively into fluffy formula films instead of more dramatic roles he was capable of, it’s a movie that’s impossible to dislike because it’s so fun, colourful and entertaining. The plot is simple as can be. Elvis plays the heir to a pineapple empire, who has just returned from military service. All he wants to do now is relax on the beach, go surfing (not that you actually see him do any in this movie) and hang out with his island musician buddies and his girl Maile (Joan Blackman). He resists the life plan his parents (Angela Lansbury and Roland Winters) have for him, which involves pulling him away from those friends and molding him for an executive position in the pineapple company.

To make his own way, he gets a job as tour guide for the travel service where Blackman works, and he does a fine job impressing his batty boss (Howard McNear) and showing a glamorous teacher (Nancy Walters) and her four teenage students around the islands. He does such a good job that his attention to his clients is mistaken for romance and makes Blackman jealous. Matters are complicated further when he fights to protect one rude and difficult student (Jenny Maxwell), and gets thrown in jail. After some more misunderstandings, he finds a compromise that puts his desire for freedom and fun in the sun to work for his parents’ company.

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The concept of Blue Hawaii hit producer Hal Wallis’ sweet spot: good clean fun, a Bing Crosby-style setting and soundtrack for his star, and yet another picture drawing on Elvis’ recent real-life Army stint. Blue Hawaii is a feast for the eyes because of Elvis’ and Blackman’s good looks and the gorgeous wardrobe design (I want to make so many of the fabulous dresses seen in this picture). Most of all it serves as the perfect travel ad for Hawaii, featuring a variety of appealing sights–plantation, resorts, shoreline, sea, city and suburbs–as well as glimpses of island culture by way of a luau and a big wedding scene.

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Hal Kanter, director of Elvis’ Loving You (1957) adapted the screenplay, originally called Hawaii Beach Boy. Kanter knew Elvis could handle more serious acting and wanted to include the plot twist that Elvis was adopted and the kindly pineapple executive Jack (John Archer) is actually his father, but it was a step too far from fun and sun for Blue Hawaii director Norman Taurog. Taurog was uncomfortable enough with the rebellion involved in having Elvis go directly from airport to beach and not see his parents for four days.

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Elvis’ G.I. Blues (1960) co-star and one-time girlfriend Juliet Prowse was supposed to play Maile, but her demands for perks, expenses and star billing were too much for Wallis to approve. As she was supposed to come work on loan-out from Fox, her walking off this project in protest got her suspended at her home studio. The role was offered to Pamela Tiffin (who was later in the beach movie For Those Who Think Young, 1964) but she was advised to turn the role down, since an Elvis movie might set her career back. Accounts conflict on whether Joan Blackman and Elvis disliked each other or had a romance, but they made a great on-screen couple, and made Kid Galahad (1962) together. Jenny Maxwell was great as the pouty, smart mouthed and suicidal brat Ellie; after failing to get the title role of Lolita (1962) her career soon faded.

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Lansbury plays an airheaded snob and overprotective mother, and is totally delightful at it. In a constant tizzy and fluster about her boy’s safety, his future, his choice of lower class girl, native buddies, his involvement in music and his swivelling hips, she makes the most of every overreaction, dead faint, exaggeration of her heritage and mispronunciation of Hawaiian names. She’d been working on Broadway and was also advised not to take the part but eagerly accepted the chance to be in an Elvis movie. And just like in The Manchurian Candidate, she was nowhere near the right age to be playing this man’s mother.

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Blue Hawaii ’s 14 songs were recorded in a marathon session in L.A., March 21- 23, 1961, and were the most ever included in an Elvis movie. The title track “Blue Hawaii” was originally recorded by Bing Crosby in 1937 for Waikiki Wedding. The beautiful “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was based on a 18th century French melody, and was the hit single from the movie, climbing to #2 on the charts. Dolores Fuller wanted to play the role of the elegant teacher but Hal Wallis said no, he wanted her for her songwriting skills; she co-wrote “Rock-a-Hula Baby,” the second single from the soundtrack album, and a moderate hit that just missed the top 20. Every big sequence in the movie has a song to go with it, and each song fits the plot, whether it’s a serenade to Blackman’s grandma at her birthday bash, a song meant to sell the sights to his tour group, or just some ditty that follows on a joke made at a buddy’s expense. Elvis does a fabulous job with all the vocals which helped make Blue Hawaii Elvis’ biggest selling LP. It entered the charts on October 23, 1961, remained there for 79 weeks total and sat at #1 for 20 of them.

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After the studio session, Elvis flew straight to Hawaii and took part in a benefit concert to raise money to build the memorial to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. His reception at Honolulu airport by over 3000 hysterical teenagers prompted fellow benefit performer Minnie Pearl to marvel at the sheer pandemonium and also fear for his safety. The Hawaii portion of the shoot happened March 27-April 17 in several locations that showcased the sights and beauty of the islands. In their downtime, Elvis’ gang and some of the actors had such wild parties that Hal Wallis ordered a 10 p.m. curfew and separated the male and female quarters. Some lucky guests got to enjoy special hotel dining room entertainment — impromptu country jams with Elvis and the great Patti Page, who was married to Wallis’ dance director Charles O’Curran. Look closely and you’ll see Page as an extra in the movie’s wedding scene, sitting in the canoe.

At the end of April shooting moved to Hollywood for scenes that included (amazingly) the beach party scene, and that phase wrapped on May 1. Blue Hawaii finally came out in November and was a massive hit, grossing over $4 million. As one of his biggest films, it set the audience-pleasing Elvis formula of fun, loads of songs, smiles and romance, some action and not too much drama. However you feel about that, you just can’t help falling in love with this movie as an example of the ultimate beach movie or good-time Elvis musical.

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Sources:

Elvis! Elvis! Elvis! The King and his Movies by Peter Guttmacher

Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave by Thomas Lisanti

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

gifs source 

Beach Party Frankie Annette

This post is part of the BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON hosted by Silver Screenings & yours truly, Speakeasy.

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24 thoughts on “Blue Hawaii (1961)”

  1. Thanks for including all the background info to this movie. Can you imagine being at the hotel where Elvis was staying and being treated to one of those jam sessions? Fabulous!

    I have to see this, to see Angela Lansbury. She is superb in everything.

    So glad you brought Elvis to the Beach Party!

    1. You have to, you’ll like the whole thing, but as a Lansbury fan you’ll enjoy how she spreads the accent on thick and just is so perturbed by everything! Thanks, Elvis must be at this party, glad he made a couple appearances.

    1. It is, and as a fan I like them all, just to see him, but at the same you always wonder what his career COULD have been. But all that aside, this is lots of fun. Thanks for reading

  2. Funny I just mentioned this movie, on Ruth’s blog (Silver Screenings), just yesterday.
    I agree Blue Hawaii is impossible to dislike. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable. Love the music, clothes, the scenic beaches.
    And I agree Angela Lansbury is brilliant as an air headed snob. I actually did a mini-write-up on this flick, earlier this year.
    Chk it out
    https://nononsensewithnuwansen.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/dvd-films-from-last-month-part-iii/
    Beautiful Review here, and way more insightful than mine.

    1. It is a good time and easy on the eyes and ears. I LOVE the dresses! Lansbury was so funny, I’m glad she not only took this kind of role but you can tell she enjoyed it and that makes a big difference. Thanks for the link I’ll check that out, and thanks for reading!

  3. I enjoyed all the history you wrote about here. Yes, it was the first of Elvis’ fluffy type beach movies, but in my opinion, a step above what followed. It’s really too bad, because many people (including me), thought Elvis could have had a career as a serious actor. “Love Me Tender” and “King Creole” were excellent examples of that. Angela Lansbury was terrific as the Southern Belle Mom. She wasn’t that much older than Elvis at the time, so talk about good acting! 🙂

    1. You’re right it was a step up, not a wonder that people wanted more of the same. I agree that he had some great acting in him, if only he got the chance. When you read about the movies that almost were it’s a shame he missed out (Thunder Road with Mitchum is my favourite), but like you, I think he was super talented. Thanks for reading and being part of the fun.

  4. This certainly looks like a fun an colourful movie! I have only seen two Elvis films, Loving You and King Creole, but this one might be my next, because your great review really made me curious about it!

    1. Those are good too, I’m biased as a fan of his but definitely see this one too, one of his most fun movies. Thanks for reading!

  5. Kristina, my older sibligs often watched Elvis’ movies, so your Beach Party Blogathon with Elvis is just the ticket for this swell post! (Also, it’s our young grad is celebrating!) Have a great weekend, my friend, as always! 😀

    1. That’s wonderful! all the best to all of you and a fun week for all of us, looks like. Thanks so much for stopping in and I’ll be visiting you soon, once I start making the rounds on today’s posts 🙂

  6. I as you know love the King and his music and strictly because of his presence enjoy his later films. But the early ones like this and those that came before it are better examples of film making as opposed to crank’em out for profit pics. And tell us true….would Kristina of Speakeasy fame turn down a role opposite the King for fear of ruining her career?

    1. are you kidding?! Nobody could talk me out of it. Angela Lansbury had the right idea. Yeah as we’ve discussed, what we have of Elvis movies, I like them and have fun watching even the lesser ones because it’s him. But when you read/think about what might have been, it’s such a shame because compare to a career like Sinatra who got some amazing films. But so it goes. “What might have been” applies to many stars. Thankyou, thankyouverymuch.

  7. I was practically raised on Elvis and, as a kid, I’d watch Blue Hawaii again and again, everything about it was so different from rainy England. Now I’m not sure I love it so unconditionally – as you say it certainly steered Elvis’ career in a certain direction. I wasn’t actually aware that actresses were advised against starring in his movies, his legacy is so overwhelming it’s hard to imagine not wanting to be a part of it. The beauty of hindsight!
    Thanks for co-hosting this fun blogathon!

    1. I know, isn’t that something, it surprised me too to read how many serious actors or aspired to be, were told not to do this type of thing. You couldn’t talk me out of it, ha. Really fun movie, not a wonder you got so much joy out watching it! Thanks for reading.

  8. Wow, I didn’t realise this film featured so many songs, or that Angela Lansbury featured in it – amazing how she got these roles much older than her real age. This is yet another of the blogathon entries that has me vowing to see the film in question! Great piece and the illustrations you have chosen are stunning too.

    1. Lansbury is wonderful in anything frankly, she never disappoints, and this is such fun, she slathers on that southern accent and is so terribly shocked at everything. The whole thing is fun and of course a must if you have any liking for Elvis 🙂 Thanks for reading and for joining in the fun. Best!

  9. Great post! I love Elvis movies. They’re fun, full of great music, and the man knew how to smoulder. I’ve wanted to see Blue Hawaii for two years now, but it’s remained elusive. Hopefully I’ll remedy that this year…

    1. I agree, Elvis fans always love to watch him in anything, and I think that movies like this must appeal to people who don’t even like him, they’re just so fun. Thanks for reading.

  10. This really sounds like a lot of fun! It’s great to find out this is one of Elvis’s better beach movies. I will definitely look for it. Between the scenery and the songs, I think I would enjoy it. Thanks for an informative review!

  11. First: thanks for this delightful blogathon!
    Second: you’re right! Blue Hawaii is simple and charming, perfect for a lazy weekend film. The beautiful colors and clothes were my favorite things, but I can’t deny the songs are great, Elvis as a pineapple empirte heir is amusing and Andela Lansbury is way too young to be Elvis’ mother.
    Kisses!
    Le

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for being part of it! The music is great, and I love the look of the movie, those clothes are gorgeous and nice look at Hawaii, I never looked into it but I bet it boosted their tourism for a while. Fun movie and blogathon.

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