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Blue Hawaii (1961) is quintessential Elvis: plenty of songs, plenty of girls, and a setting that accents both. This time, the scene is Oahu and Kauai and the girls are his sweetheart (Joan Blackman), an attractive school teacher (Nancy Walters) and her four teenage students. The film also represents one of the biggest successes in the long collaboration between Hollywood powerhouse producer Hal B. Wallis and Presley.
The legendary Wallis (Casablanca , Rooster Cogburn, ) first encountered Presley on a 1956 broadcast of a Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey show and predicted to his wife that "Elvis would soon be the most talked about newcomer in the business." He called Colonel Tom Parker the next day and told him he'd like to sign Elvis to a film contract. "I knew instinctively that the Colonel was interested but playing it cool. He was a genius at getting every possible inch of financial mileage out of his astonishing protg," Wallis said in his autobiography Starmaker.After badgering Parker, Wallis finally succeeded in getting Elvis to Hollywood for a meeting and a screen-test, the results of which were electric:
"When I ran the test I felt the same thrill I experienced when I first saw Errol Flynn on the screen. Elvis, in a very different, modern way, had exactly the same power, virility, and sexual drive. The camera caressed him."
Under Wallis' tutelage - and Parker's approval - the camera would continue to caress Elvis through their nine features together, from Loving You (1957) to Easy Come, Easy Go (1967).
Screenwriter Allan Weiss, who wrote Blue Hawaii from his own short story "Beach Boy", remembers Elvis' initial screen-test well. "In viewing the test, one thing was clear: It would be a mistake to try to force this strong personality into a preconceived role. His parts must be tailored for him, designed to exploit the thing he did best - sing...he was much more comfortable and successful in lighter pictures that cast him as a singing personality," Weiss said in The Entertainers.
Weiss wrote five more features for Presley afterwards, learning how to best craft his lead characters to Presley's personality and style. In Blue Hawaii the character of Chad, he recalled, was "essentially a loner who appreciated women-preferably in quantity-but whose underlying attitude was audacious and arrogant, even a little contemptuous. Presley fit this characterization easily and well. Perhaps some element of it was close to the real person underneath."
Weiss was impressed by Presley's innate ability to gauge his audience and he learned to listen to it: "If he asked me to explain a joke in the script, I learned that it wasn't that he didn't understand it, but that he thought it was vague or not funny. At first, not knowing this, I would explain the joke and leave it in-to find at the preview no one laughed."
Whether or not Elvis could have done broader, deeper roles will never be known. Parker kept a tight reign on his projects to assure the biggest financial success. Many argue that King Creole (1958), Presley's second film with Wallis, which stretched him further than most of his other parts did, delivered his best performance. It was reportedly the actor's favorite film.
Elvis was surrounded by plenty of veteran talent in Blue Hawaii, including Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate, 1962) as his mother and Roland Winters, the third actor to play Charlie Chan, as his father. Howard McNear, forever remembered as Floyd the Barber on The Andy Griffith Show (1960), appears as Maile and Chad's boss, the pleasantly confused Mr. Chapman.
The character of Maile (Blackman) was originally slated for Juliet Prowse, who had been Elvis' love interest in G.I. Blues (1960). But according to Reel Elvis! by Pauline Bartel, her demands marred the deal. Prowse wanted to use her makeup man from her home studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, and insisted that her secretary accompany her, all expenses paid. She also wanted a change in her billing clause. Wallis ultimately said 'no thank you' and informed Prowse that she was off the film. Within 48 hours, Blackman, who would return as Elvis' love interest the following year in Kid Galahad, (1962) was signed on.
Though Wallis has professed his long friendship with Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' keeper wasn't always easy to have on the set. On one particularly complicated day of shooting, Parker came barging from his trailer straight into the shot, ruining the scene. Elvis was wearing his own watch on camera, though his contract forbid use of his personal wardrobe. "If you want that watch in, you'll have to pay us another $25,000!" Parker warned Wallis, who calmly asked Elvis to take it off.
No discussion of an Elvis movie would be complete without mention of the soundtrack and Blue Hawaii's was a successful one, spending twenty consecutive weeks at the top of Billboard's LP charts (1961-1962) and earning a Grammy nomination. "Can't Help Falling in Love", sung to Maile's grandmother (played by Flora K. Hayes, a former Hawaii Territorial Representative to Congress), spent 14-weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 list and was a hit in the UK as well. It became Elvis' signature song, one which he would close concerts with during the '70s.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Hal Kanter; Allan Weiss (story)
Cinematography: Charles Lang, Jr.
Art Direction: Hal Pereira; Walter Tyler
Music: Joseph J. Lilley
Film Editing: Terry Morse
Cast: Elvis Presley (Chad Gates), Joan Blackman (Maile Duval), Angela Lansbury (Sarah Lee Gates), Nancy Walters (Abigail Prentice), Jenny Maxwell (Ellie Corbett), Pamela Kirk (Selena 'Sandy' Emerson), Darlene Tompkins (Patsy Simon), Christian Kay (Beverly Martin).
C-101m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Emily Soares