Monday, August 4, 2008

All good Americans love Blue Hawaii

Elvis' Blue Hawaii has been much maligned over the years.

Yes, it's been lumped in with those "other" Elvis movies, but Blue Hawaii really stands out as a piece of art. Well, not really. It's entertaining stuff, however, and I adore the cheesy little film. You should enjoy it, too. Every good American should, in fact.

Elvis has always fascinated me. Back in the bad old days when I made my living as a lawyer, I had a velvet Elvis hanging on the wall in my office. My little brother bought it for me after he found someone selling Elvis paintings out of the back of his car somewhere in Tennessee or Mississippi. The painting featured a profile view of Elvis and if you looked closely enough you'd notice a tear rolling down his cheek. Funny stuff.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Elvis' career is how well his horrible movies did. One of the more tolerable and amusing of the lot is Blue Hawaii.

Before I get into all of that, I need to take a minute to vent my frustration at JD over at I Do Things so You Don't Have To. Her concept for a blog is so brilliant that I'm sickly jealous and I don't mind admitting it. That idea should have been mine, but I'm too late. Darn.

Yes, I could call this post "I Watch Blue Hawaii so You Don't Have To," but no. That's all JD's concept and she's built up a great site around it. Some of us have fantastic ideas while some of us (just me, actually) are stuck howling about how great Arkansas is and rambling about random stuff.

Such is life.

At any rate, Blue Hawaii. This little gem, filmed in 1961, was presented as a comedy and it largely succeeded in that regard. But, here's what makes the film so great -- it succeeded in ways that the writers never could have imagined. This movie is, indeed, so awful that one must wonder if there was any script at all or if the actors just ran around making up stuff between songs. I love this movie dearly, and here are just a few reasons why:

1. Elvis' status as a terrible human being is celebrated throughout the movie. Let's take a look at the facts. Elvis comes back from the Army and his steady girlfriend meets him at the airport. When she catches site of Elvis, he's busily kissing a stewardess. He then launches into a song in which brags about being "almost always true" to her, thus hinting at plenty of infidelities while overseas. Elvis' roving eye is portrayed as just a natural, casual thing.

2. Angela Lansbury. She was 36-years-old when this was made and was cast as Elvis' mother. Elvis was 26-years-old at the time. That's funny stuff.

3. It features one of the worst rock n' roll songs of all time. Of course, I'm referring to "Rock-A-Hula Baby," a song that is so laughably bad that you can't help but love it. And the scene in which Elvis sings the dreadful tune is perfect. Elvis crashes his own party with a bunch of his lag-about Hawaiian friends and launches into song. After the song is over, Elvis and his friends leave the scene of the party, which was at his parents' house. Angela Lansbury turns to Elvis' father (Roland Winters) and asks, "What was that?" Winters delivers the line of the movie -- "Something we're going to have to get used to, dear. It's the sound of youth."

That exchange kills me every time.

By the way, "Rock-A-Hula Baby" was actually a hit, thus proving that Elvis had reached a point in his career where he could have read the ingredients from a cereal box and it would have sold.

4. The stereotypes would be insulting if they weren't so funny. Elvis' Hawaiian friends are portrayed as lazy beach bums who don't wear many clothes. One of them is a glutton. They stand in direct contrast to Elvis' industrious family and most "natives" portrayed in the film are either servants or employees of white folks. Regardless, the natives are fun-loving and considerably less uptight that the white folks, and Elvis finds happiness after striking that balance between goofing off and running a serious business.

5. A lot of this thing is just wildly inappropriate by today's standards. Elvis, at one point, winds up working as a tourist guide and is called on to escort a hot teacher and her underage students (all girls, of course). One particular vixen runs out on Elvis in a huff when he refuses her advances. He winds up bending her over his knee and spanking her. Such contact would get you jailed today.

So, there are a just a few things of note to this great, American film. The budget for this film was so low that everyone except for Elvis must have been paid off with a case of beer apiece and the results are expected. It's still a lot more enjoyable than the rest of his films and there are actually a couple of things here that are so well done that you'll be surprised.

First of all, Elvis shows off his skills as a crooner with the title track. Yes, "Blue Hawaii" was a song originally written for the late, great Bing Crosby. Elvis had long expressed his desire to be a crooner, and he was able to indulge himself fully here. The song just works.

Then, you've got another ballad which stands as, possibly, the best "movie song" ever written -- "Can't Help Falling in Love." When that songs shows up in the midst of the cheese that is Blue Hawaii, one can't help but understand why Elvis is still revered. He was a great talent and that song reinforces that fact to many and proves it to others.

If you're one of those proud Americans who just enjoys the heck out of junk culture, go watch this movie right now. It's so terrible that it's earned a place in our "anything goes" culture. It's more fun than a bag full of cats, too.

22 comments:

The Mad Celt said...

Great movie...but "Jail House Rock" was my favorite. My God, they'll NEVER make another Elvis!

FishHawk said...

A velvet Elvis hanging on your office wall... Okay, I get the career change now.

maria said...

it's a nice movie and elvis is my dad's favorite, i grew up listening to his songs because of that. although i didn't like the songs then, i kinda like them more now.

cheers!

Bald Eagle said...

I agree with your assessment on I Do Things blog. Beyond a great idea and brilliant design, she's just a hoot. She makes my list of bloggers I'd most like to meet.

Cheers!

JD at I Do Things said...

Oh, now I am blushing. Thanks, guys! And Ethan, you could have titled the post "I Watch Blue Hawaii So JD Doesn't Have To"---tho after reading your post, I kind of want to watch it myself. (I think I saw it a long time ago but don't remember much.) Anyway: very funny review.

And Bald Eagle? I'm going to be in Toronto the week of the 18th and am cooking up a meeting with at least one other blogger, so hop aboard!

The Natural State Hawg said...

the mad celt:

Well, "Jailhouse Rock" is too close to being a real movie.

This one, on the other hand...

The Natural State Hawg said...

fishhawk:

That was, actually, an accidentally brilliant move on my part. If someone thought it was as funny as I did, that was someone I could relate with and we'd get along fine. If someone hated it, then I was dealing with a person with no sense of humor.

Then, of course, there were the people who liked it a little too much. 'Nuff said!

The Natural State Hawg said...

maria:

My daughter and I have watched this one time and time again. Hopefully, she'll feel the same as you one day about this film!

The Natural State Hawg said...

bald eagle:

She is, indeed, a hoot. I love that blog.

And, yes, I'm really sickly jealous. JD had a great idea...

The Natural State Hawg said...

jd:

Heh. You can watch it and call is "I watch Blue Hawaii so you don't have to."

That's only fair and right...

Allure said...

I love Elvis. He is the best and no one can equal him. (Not even jacko ugh!)

lala said...

as a little girl I was always glued to the t.v. watching his movies...and then I grew up.

I always feel bad for Elvis, besides Sinatra and probably more, he was the first real "super star" and with that comes a lot of pressure.

It's said that he hated doing those cheesy films and always wanted to do something more serious (like his first movie, can't remember the title, but it was in black and white)

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Never cared for Elvis and I thought all his movies were pretty lame. My mother on the other hand loved him. She was devastated when he died. Very well done critique on this film too. Have a great day. :)

Elle said...

Ooh, Elvis, Angela Lansbury and spanking. Blue Hawaii may have to go up on my Netflix queue...

Canucklehead said...

I (heart) JD. That is all.

book_it said...

It's amazing how Elvis and his movies did so well. Good thing he could sing and swivel his hips I guess. ;)

The Natural State Hawg said...

allure:

Yes, Elvis is still the king.

My little brother, after drinking a lot of whiskey one night, painted that bold message on the street in front of his house with latex paint.

Ah, college...

The Natural State Hawg said...

lala:

Say it ain't so! Outgrow Elvis? Nooooo!

I believe the movie you're thinking of is "Love me Tender."

The Natural State Hawg said...

sandee:

Thanks for the comment, and you need to rush right out and get a copy of Blue Hawaii. Give Elvis another chance!

The Natural State Hawg said...

elle:

You put that on your Netflix cue right now. Don't go burning that movie to a DVD, now. I know that nobody who ever gets films through Netflix does that, right?

The Natural State Hawg said...

canucklehead:

Don't we all? She's a hoot!

The Natural State Hawg said...

book_it:

Have you seen the "dancing Elvis clock?" The one where his legs served as the pendulum? I owned one of those once, too.

Yes, the clock captured Elvis in all his swivel-hipping glory (or "War Between the States-hipping glory" for you "Rocky & Bullwinkle" fans).