Hawaii at the Movies


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Have you ever watched a movie about Hawaii and wondered where it was filmed? Or even worse, watched a film about Hawaii, filmed in Hawaii, and still thought you were in a foreign country? Hollywood has a hard time accurately portraying Island life. This month, we forced our editorial intern to dust off her VCR, fire up her DVD player and max out her Netflix account to find 10 films in which Hawaii appears as itself, and decently so. Here are her findings.

Photo: Courtesy RealClassics.com

From Here to Eternity (1953)

I’ll admit, up until last week, I didn’t know much about Montgomery Clift except that my grandma fancied him. I didn’t know he looked like a tougher, more dangerous (and therefore more appealing) James Dean. Luckily, From Here to Eternity taught me that, and not to trust the older generation’s criteria for “best kissing scene.”

Made in 1953, the Fred Zinnemann flick follows two Army men stationed at Schofield in the few months prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), an unhappy enlistee, and Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift), an ex-boxer with a passion for the bugle, escape the testosterone-ruled barracks in bottomless whiskey glasses and the arms of two beauties.

Which leads to that famous kiss: Lancaster rolls around in the surf with his commanding officer’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr. Not so hot. Sure, his swimming trunks are awfully brief, her shoulder straps sort of undone and, in it’s day, people thought it was racy. Even steamy. Now it seems tame. At least this scene gave us a better name for this secluded beach near the Halona Blowhole—it’s otherwise known as Cockroach Beach. Definitely not hot.

Hawaii’s role here is basically as scenery—Schofield Barracks, downtown, the beach. Locals never appear on-screen.

Hawaii Authenticity: 6
Entertainment Value: 9


Punch Drunk Love (2002)

Not many scenes of this Adam Sandler flick are shot in Hawaii, but the most poignant ones all happen at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Enjoying a romantic dinner along Waikiki Beach with Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), Barry Eagan (Sandler) takes in the Royal Hawaiian’s live entertainment (complete with hula dancers) and says, “It really looks like Hawaii here.” Well, not really, Barry. Unbeknownst to this toilet plunger store owner, the Waikiki district of tiki torches and hula dancers is not the real Hawai‘i. But the film’s romanticized vision of Honolulu is hard to resist.

Director P. T. Anderson’s Hawaii is nothing but sunshine and paradise. Sunlight seeps into Honolulu’s open-sky airport, Waikiki Beach is an uncluttered spot ideal for late-night strolls and the Royal Hawaiian’s pink hues provide the ideal light for an impromptu smooch. Punch Drunk Love’s Hawaii may not be accurate, but at least it’s a compliment, suggesting that the Islands’ beauty can cure even Sandler’s perpetually angry character.

Hawaii Authenticity: 1
Entertainment Value: 7


Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii (1961)Elvis as a Hawaiian beach boy. Need I say more? The first of three Elvis films set in Hawaii, Blue Hawaii is the extra mozzarella stuffed in your pizza crust: It seems like a good idea until the second slice. But Blue Hawaii has something even the best pizza lacks: musical numbers. Lots of musical numbers.

Elvis plays Chad Gates, an heir to a pineapple kingdom who harbors a beach bum fantasy. So, instead of living the gilded dream in his Kahala home (with his more-than-irritating mother, played by Angela Lansbury) Chad becomes a tour guide. Toss in some background surfers—and, in this film, locals are pretty much background characters—and strategically placed ukulele (who paddles with an ukulele in hand?) and the 100-minute film turns into 14 music videos.

Of these, “Aloha Oe” takes the authenticity award, but “Can’t Help Falling in Love” has nestled itself into pop and local culture. Just the other day, I was having lunch at Nico’s and the live entertainment busted out the Elvis tune. While the over-the-top musical may be pure processed cheese, at least it’s served atop a Hawaiian pizza.

Hawaii Authenticity: 2
Entertainment Value: 4

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Honolulu Magazine June 2018
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