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A rousing tropical drumbeat begins the overture to Elmer Bernstein's Oscar-nominated musical score for Hawaii (1966). Sweeping and rich, it comments neatly on this intriguing film's epic scope and ambition. James Michener's best selling novel of the same name was the basis for this tale of Reverend Abner Hale, an overbearing New England missionary determined to bring Christianity at any cost to the unenlightened natives of Hawaii during the 1800s. Filmed on location in Hawaii, Norway, Tahiti and New England, this gorgeous-to-look-at movie boasts all the ingredients of a blockbuster.
From the beginning, however, Hawaii was a troubled production. Director Fred Zinnemann originally cultivated the project, bringing on board the formerly blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo, to pen the script. When United Artists balked at the duo's plan to divide the lengthy story into two separate movies, Zinnemann jumped ship and went on to direct A Man For All Seasons that year instead. Eventually, George Roy Hill took over the directing reins, though he was reportedly fired and re-hired at least three times before the picture was completed. In an ongoing struggle with the film's producers to have more control over the finished product, Hill had unknowingly garnered the loyalty of cast and crewmembers who rallied their support. Even so, Hill was never fully satisfied with the final result, having been caught in the position of trying to please studio executives and adhere to his own vision. Hawaii wound up costing over ten million dollars, a hefty sum at the time, though every penny is visible on the screen in its authentic picture postcard scenery, detailed period costumes, and special effects.
The stellar cast of Hawaii brings to life a fascinating blend of well meaning but flawed characters. Swedish actor Max von Sydow (whose real-life sons play his on-screen son Micah at ages 7 and 12) portrays the stern Reverend Hale while Broadway musical star Julie Andrews takes a dramatic turn as his dutiful wife Jerusha. Tahiti native Jocelyne LaGarde was plucked from obscurity for the crucial role of Queen Malama, her only appearance in films, after an exhaustive casting search. A pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O'Connor plays Julie Andrews' father, and fans of The Sound of Music(1965) will recognize young Heather Menzies as Andrews' sister when just the year before she played one of the singing von Trapp children, Louisa. Bette Midler also makes her blink-and-you'll miss it screen debut in Hawaii as an extra on the ship bound for Hawaii.
Though dismissed at the time as an expensive disappointment, Hawaii went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actress for LaGarde, Best Musical Score for Bernstein and Best Original Song ("My Wishing Doll"). Its beauty and power as a cautionary tale have been rediscovered through the years, with a message that still packs a punch. The omitted portion of Michener's novel was filmed two years later as a sequel, The Hawaiians (1970), though none of the original players were involved.
Producer: Walter Mirisch, Lewis J. Rachmil (associate producer)
Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: James Michener (novel), Dalton Trumbo, Daniel Taradash
Production Design: Cary Odell
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins
Film Editing: Stuart Gilmore
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Principal Cast: Julie Andrews (Jerusha Bromley Hale), Max von Sydow (Abner Hale), Richard Harris (Rafer Hoxworth), Gene Hackman (Reverend John Whipple), Carroll O'Connor (Charles Bromley).
by Andrea Foshee