Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 14, 2022)
Summer 2022’s hit biopic Elvis skirted over Elvis Presley’s time as a 1960s movie star. That turned into a major part of his career, though, and 1961’s Blue Hawaii lets us see his biggest hit from that period.
After he finishes his stint in the US military, Chad Gates (Presley) returns home to Hawaii. There he reunites with his parents Fred and Sarah (Roland Waters and Angela Lansbury), both of whom expect him to take over the family fruit business.
However, Chad enjoys his own ideas about his future, as he prefers to hang out with his girlfriend Maile Duval (Joan Blackman) and work as a tour guide. Chad deals with these competing demands and attempts to sort out his future.
In the aforementioned 2022 Elvis, the film opines that Elvis’s “Hollywood Period” existed as the nadir of his career – or close to it. We get the impression that Elvis worked as an actor to the extreme detriment of his music.
Presley’s stint as a top star would suffer pretty badly in the wake of the Beatles-led British Invasion, but as of 1961, he remained top of the charts. The movie’s soundtrack spent a whopping 20 weeks at number one, and it spawned a legit Elvis classic with the hit single “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. The movie itself sold buckets of tickets as well.
Nonetheless, Hawaii shows Presley’s further departure from the music that made him famous. Rather than come across as the dangerous rocker of the 1950s, the Elvis of Hawaii seems safe as milk.
Oh, Hawaii tries to paint Chad as a “bad boy” - briefly. For instance, when he gets off the plane, he smooches with a flight attendant to make Maile jealous, and he soon sings a song about how he was “almost always” faithful to her.
Despite these token efforts to give Chad a feisty sheen, the film undercuts them. Presley goofs it up so much in the role that it becomes difficult to view Chad as anything other than a silly dope.
Actually, the movie abandons any glimpses of a risqué Chad quickly. After Elvis croons how he didn’t cheat on Maile too much, he loses virtually all of his minor edge and feels like a different character, one without any spark at all.
The songs don’t help. “Almost Always True” sets the low bar via its light vibe, and Elvis never reminds us of his reputation as a sexy rocker.
Cripes, the movie neuters Elvis so much that it forces him to utter endless repetitions of “hello dere”, the catchphrase of bug-eyed comedian Marty Allen. How far the King fell.
Not that Hawaii offers much beyond Elvis, as the movie itself feels flimsy as can be. When the Beatles made A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, it revolutionized the formula for films with rock stars because it showed intelligence and wit.
In other words, Night existed as a movie in its own right. Like too many of Elvis’s projects, though, Hawaii gives us nothing more than fluffy product.
And dull product at that, as Hawaii never threatens to come with any charm or life. The filmmakers apparently thought that the combo of Elvis and Hawaiian landscapes would do a lot of to the heavy lifting, so they didn’t both with a script that went anywhere in terms of plot and characters.
Perhaps that was enough for undemanding Elvis fans circa 1961. None of this makes for an entertaining movie, though.
Hawaii can’t even use its hit song right. Oddly, it uses the romantic “Can’t Help Falling In Love” as Chad’s good-natured ode to Maile’s grandmother.
And Hawaii tosses in a woefully miscast Lansbury as a ditzy aging Southern belle, too! Hawaii offers the piffliest of piffle.