Musical Monday: Blue Hawaii (1961)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Blue Hawaii (1961) – Musical #3

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Norman Taurog

Starring:
Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury, Nancy Walters, Roland Winters, Howard McNear, Steve Brodie, Iris Adrian, John Archer, Jenny Maxwell, Pamela Austin, Darlene Tompkins, Christian Kay, Jose De Vega

Plot:
Chad Gates (Elvis Presley) returns home to Hawaii after serving in the U.S. Army. His parents Fred and Sarah Lee Gates (Winters, Lansbury) are eager for him to join their successful family business, Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company. Instead, Chad wants to break out on his own and be a tour guide of the islands. He works for the agency where his girlfriend Maile Duval (Blackman) works. His first assignment is to show the islands to teacher and a group of teenagers.

Trivia:
• “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was released on the soundtrack of “Blue Hawaii.”
• Presley’s leading lady was originally supposed to be Juliet Prowse, who co-starred with him in G.I. Blues (1960). However, Prowse wanted Paramount to pay for another studio’s make-up artist (she said she had a difficult face to makeup and wanted someone who knew her) and have the studio pay to fly her secretary to Hawaii for a companion. Producer Hal B. Wallis declined. Wallis and Prowse’s home studio of 20th Century Fox weren’t pleased with her when she eventually dropped out of the film.
• The album for this movie was on No. 1 on the Billboard Top records for 20 weeks.
• Angela Lansbury, who plays Elvis’s mom, was only nine years older than him.
• Pamela Austin was billed as Pamela Kirk. This was her first film.
• Singer Patti Page has an uncredited role in the film.
• Elvis’s most successful film to this point and the 18th top grossing film of 1961.
• Working title was “Hawaii Beach Boy”
• Filmed on location in Hawaii.

Joan Blackman and Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii.”

Highlights:
• Edith Head costumes
• Hawaii scenery

Notable Songs:
• “Blue Hawaii” performed by Elvis Presley
• “Aloha Oe” performed by Elvis Presley
• “Can’t Help Falling in Love” performed by Elvis Presley
• “Moonlight Swim” performed by Elvis Presley
• “Rock-A-Hula-Baby” performed by Elvis Presley and Joan Blackman

Elvis Presley and Joan Blackman in “Blue Hawaii.”

My review:
Maybe you haven’t been able to go on a vacation this year because of COVID-19. If that’s the case, I recommend diving into BLUE HAWAII (1961). It will either make you feel depressed because you aren’t in Hawaii, or make you feel like you are visiting the islands – but either way it’s a joy to watch.

As far as Elvis Presley’s musicals go, “Blue Hawaii” is my favorite. This film is the first Elvis movie I saw as a little kid, and I still have memories of watching it as a child.

Presley plays Chad Gates who returns from to Hawaii after serving in the Army. His rich parents want him to join the family pineapple business. But his ambition is to be a tour guide (dream big, Chad) and work with his girlfriend Maile – who his mother doesn’t like. His first job assignment is to be the tour guide for a pretty teacher and a group of teenage girls. One of the teens, played by Jenny Maxwell, is thoroughly a brat; causing trouble and has no interest in the tour.

Though the teen tour is the main focus of the film, it takes about 40 minutes to get to this plot point. Which is less of a problem than you would think.

Throughout the film, Elvis sings 14 songs, including the title song “Blue Hawaii” (originally written for the Bing Crosby Paramount film, Waikiki Wedding) and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Some of the songs start to sound the same, but there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Even “Rock-A-Hula-Baby” is an extremely fun number.

In addition to the beautiful Hawaii scenery and gorgeous Edith Head costumes, one interesting aspect of the film is Angela Lansbury playing Elvis’s mother. For reference, Lansbury was born in 1925 and Presley was born in 1935. But Lansbury is hilarious playing against type as a dizzy, southern mother.

Angela Lansbury plays Elvis’s mother in “Blue Hawaii.”

While “Blue Hawaii” is so fun, there is one disappointing aspect.

Elvis Presley had ambitions to be a serious actor. This same year, he was offered the lead role of Tony in “West Side Story.” However, with the success of “Blue Hawaii,” Col. Parker and Hal B. Wallis decided there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Most of his films that followed used the same story formula, but weren’t as good as “Blue Hawaii.” He would never have the opportunity to have the dramatic career he dreamed of, according to Elvis Presley: Silver Screen Icon by Steve Templeton.

I think Presley’s film career could have been as successful as singers Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, who were able to flex their acting muscles.

Despite all this, “Blue Hawaii” is such a fun and dreamy film. It’s the perfect colorful film for summer.

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