Hawaii Goes to the Movies

This is article number 100 of Pacific Voyages.

Yeah, balloon drop!

After two years of diving with you to the sunless deeps (yes, deeps, what poets say), crossing vast oceans and losing one’s teeth to scurvy and heads to cannibals this centennial edition is about movies filmed in and about Hawaii.

From Here to Eternity 1953)( is a film about a character played by Burt Lancaster who is having an affair with his superior officer’s wife played by Deborah Kerr. The film was a huge hit. This is strange because, by any standards, the movie is dull, the story unbelievable and Deborah Kerr as a temptress is unconvincing as she usually played nuns and housewives. The film’s popularity stems from a single shot in a one minute beach scene. It’s where Burt and Debby roll around in an illicit romp. This was hot stuff in ‘53 when Mamie Eisenhower could be watching.

“Oh, Burt. You beast!”

Maybe you have to have been born more than a half century or more ago but the Roger’s and Hammerstein 1958 movie South Pacific based on a book by James Michener is simply grand if you like 50s musicals which I definitely do.

The film was shot with a special camera called a Todd-AO. Mike Todd developed this system which had a faster frame rate and special color filters. In the theater the image jumped out at you almost like 3D. Remember 3D from ten years ago? Well, like 3D, Todd-AO was a bust. Coincidentally (or not) Todd was married to Elizabeth Taylor who tested for the lead in South Pacific, but due to a bout of stage fright she wasn’t able to sing. Doris Day almost got the part and she would have been fine. Mary Martin did a great job but Doris had better hair. What were they thinking with that haircut? Well at least she was trimmed up for her next hit, Peter Pan.

I heard her gas oven exploded and took the hair but it could be a rumor

Elvis was at his best in 1961 with Blue Hawaii. It’s a fairly straightforward beach romp and is really just a flimsy celluloid frame to hang a whole lotta Elvis songs on.

“Elvis is your personal guide to the Polynesian paradise+

On screen Elvis is just returning home from the Army which he was, in fact, doing in real life. In the film, he picks his career back up where he left it, teaching pretty girls how to surf.

To many today Elvis is some once famous singer from 60 years ago. He died on the toilet of a possible OD 34 years before Billie Eilish was born. Elvis the Pelvis was just 42 and had run completely out of gas; but during his brief reign he was The King.

When he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show he jumped and jived his hips so provocatively that Baptists burned his records as their daughters shrieked in fainting spells and a young Lindsey Graham clutched his pearls. A few years later, ‘peak stage-sexy’ was reached when Jim Morrison wore leather pants so tight his ‘meat and two veg’ screamed, “Let my people go!” as he requested a, “Baby (to) come and light my fireeeer!” Trust me kids, that kind of cool will not be repeated. Morrison died at 27 (yeah, drugs). Jeez, I have socks older than that.

Beat this Ed Sheeran

In 1962, one of my favorite actors (hey, he was a he-man, man), Charleston Heston starred in Diamond Head as the embodiment of white privilege playing a plantation owner whose sister falls for a man of Hawaiian descent. Everyone is against the union including the man’s Hawaiian mother who says, “There are only 11,000 of us left.” She doesn’t want her blood thinned anymore than Heston does. Chuck’s wife and son had died but he keeps his Chinese-Hawaiian girlfriend a secret. She ends up pregnant and he urges an abortion to keep the blood unpolluted. She refuses. He wants nothing more to do with her or his son. She dies in childbirth and the sister takes the baby. Finally Chuck comes to his senses and accepts his son and sole heir.

The film is about racial animosity and since Hawaiians were halfway between white folks and black folks skin-tone-wise it could be a discussion which, it being just prior to the Civil Rights Movement, is a bit amazing. In his career Heston played a remarkable number of Jews considering he was a “cold dead hands” brand of Republican.

Caption Heston was so old he was using an 18th century flintlock.

The Descendants (2011) is a complicated story of a man (played by George Clooney) whose wife is in a fatal coma after a boating accident. He is also trying to sell a multi-generational estate. He discovers that she was having an affair and though he’s sad she is dying he’s mad as hell at her at the same time. It might be the last film we will see where the white folks are depicted owning most of the land unless Mark Zuckerberg’s life story includes his bazillion acres on Kauai or Larry Ellison’s biography depicting his ownership of the entire island of Lanai. So maybe not.

Midway is the 2019 movie about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent Battle of Midway Island. Midway Island is part of the Hawaiian archipelago but not part of the State of Hawaii. It’s a US territory. This is because the US claimed Midway before snatching Hawaii. It’s 1,500 miles from Hawaii and about 12,500 miles from Japan. As war movies go Midway is pretty darn good. Lots of CG action and heroics. In December 1941 the Japanese had the upper hand with ten aircraft carriers to our four in the Pacific. The story of Midway involves some clever code breaking and an educated guess where the Japanese fleet would be. It could have been north or south of Hawaii but we figured north and in a decisive battle all four of their carriers in the group were sunk.


Two carriers sent to the bottom by the same two man flight crew. After smoking the first ship they returned to their carrier to pick up another bomb. These planes carried a single bomb. And get this, 39 of 43 Navy dive bombers were shot down in this battle and one of the remaining four gets two carriers! This battle broke the back of the Japanese navy. The film is incredibly vivid and a great history lesson.

Since it had no A-list stars it only cost $100 million but looks far more expensive. Pirates of the Caribbean, On Crimson Tide cost almost 400 million and that was ten years ago. Midway only did $138 million and until it hits double the cost it is considered a loss as the exhibitors and marketing double the cost.

From Here To Eternity cost $2.4 million (less than 10 million today) and got 8 Academy Awards and 13 nominations. It’s black and white and dull as a cana beans. Midway got bupkis. Fix! Fix!

If you see just one of these films see South Pacific. It was made before the ice caps started crapping out; prior to every beach being covered with snickers wrappers and nary a baby seal is clubbed. Singing, dancing, feasting, falling in love and nobody dies.

End note:

It was two years ago that Margaret and I shut down Buck’s and never returned. We can be found somewhere in the South Pacific…

A special thanks to webmaster extraordinaire Ryan Sport and to my faithful editors Margaret MacNiven, Jim Warren and Janis Johnson. Without them I would look dumber than I do. And a thanks to all who have made comments. Keep em comin’.

So on to the next 100!

Easter Egg. This is my favorite scene from all the films I have seen

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