That should have been the tagline on the Blue Hawaii poster (instead of “Elvis Presley Rides the Crest of the Wave”). The 1961 musical is less a motion picture than a moving postcard, but it was the King’s biggest box-office hit, the eighth highest grossing film in the year of its release, and a still impressive number 14 the year after. Shockingly, the movie’s soundtrack, littered with the likes of “Ito Eats” and “Slicin’ Sand,” became his most popular album. The RCA Victor LP held down the number one spot on the Billboard chart for 20 weeks, a record that remained unbroken until Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors overtook it in 1977, the year of Presley’s death.
Like all of Presley’s films for Paramount, Blue Hawaii was produced by Hal Wallis. Unlike 1957’s Loving You and 1958’s King Creole which preserved if toned down his rebellious rocker image, Blue Hawaii gave us a tame Elvis that the whole family could safely see together. It would also provide the template for most of the Presley movies to come: a tropical location with lush scenery, bikini-clad cuties, and an LP’s worth of songs, some of them downright ghastly.
It may have represented the start of the downward spiral that Presley’s career would take in the mid-1960s, but Blue Hawaii has its supporters among the faithful. After all, this is the movie that introduced the lovely “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the song that closed his concerts after he returned to live performing in 1969. The other songs are coated in too much sugar to compete with “Jailhouse Rock,” but they are agreeable in the movie’s setting. There’s also a good cast with Angela Lansbury on hand as Elvis’ mother even though, at age 35, she was only ten years his senior. If Lansbury doesn’t incite lust in the male audience, there are several luscious babes that should do the trick. There’s Joan Blackman for those who like brunettes and Jenny Maxwell for the gentlemen who prefer blondes.
Blue Hawaii is attractive, alright, but it’s also the very definition of fluff. Elvis still had the opportunity to show he had the dramatic chops for a serious acting career (Flaming Star, Wild in the Country), but Blue Hawaii’s massive success, along with his complacent attitude toward Colonel Parker’s mismanagement of his career, guaranteed that the few gems in his filmography would be outnumbered by the likes of Girl Happy, Clambake, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. If nothing else, Blue Hawaii is the best of that lot.
© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks