Top 10 Movie Classics Set In Hawaii
10 movies that helped put The Hawaiian Islands on the map
1) Hawaiian Holiday (1937)
Pan Am Airlines launched service to the glamorous and tropical Hawaiian Islands. With
the end of WWII, a war that brought Hawaii into the fold with the Dec.
7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, interest perked in this exotic
destination that now held massive historic relevance for the U.S.
Hollywood took note and answered the thirst for knowledge by tapping
Hawaii’s gorgeous islands in what would become a flurry of films that
today stand as classics.
One of the first clips to hit the big screen was a Disney cartoon called Hawaiian Holiday. Not literally shot in Hawaii in technical terms, Walt Disney Productions’ animated short film amuses with the stellar cartoon cast of Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and both Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Fun rolls out as Mickey plays a slide guitar, Donald strums a ukulele, Minnie dances in a grass skirt, and Goofy attempts to surf.
2) From Here To Eternity (1953)
Most studios deemed James Jones’ 800-page novel as unfilmable due to its rough language and blatant depiction of sex. In fact, The Motion Picture Production Code (The Hayes Code) of the 1930s required that films must avoid mixed-race relationships, pointed profanity, illegal drug trafficking, or “inference of sex perversion.” Cinema’s scope has certainly changed!
Columbia Pictures head, Harry Cohn, and Director Fred Zinnemann not only shot the film, but also assembled one of the most high profile and well-regarded casts in Hollywood history.
Set in 1941, the plot finds Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transferring to Schofield Barracks on Oahu. Learning of the private’s boxing prowess, Capt. Dana Holmes (Philip Orbin) is determined to have the adamant anti-boxing “Prew” represent the company to the point of forcing subordinates to make Prew’s life miserable. Meanwhile, Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) has a torrid affair with Army wife Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr), Prew’s buddy Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) faces adversity from sadistic Sgt. “Fatso” Judson (Ernest Borgnine) and Prew begins falling in love with a “social club” employee named Lorene (Donna Reed). Amid this Army chaos, the Japanese are plotting to bomb Pearl Harbor.
Perhaps the most memorable scene featured in any movie ever shot in Hawaii is of Sgt. Warden and Karen in an adulterous embrace as they’re awash in the surf at East Oahu’s Halona Beach Cove that’s now referred to as “From Here to Eternity” beach.
Another Karen Holmes scene is the movie’s final one where she discovers her connection with Lorene as they sail out of Honolulu Harbor. In the background, only the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and The Moana make any visible presence.
3) South Pacific (1958)
Though several movies had already been filmed on Kauai, this musical comedy propelled “The Garden Island” into a preferred setting for romance.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s score defines a delightful audio stage for this Pulitzer Prize winning musical, adapted from James A. Michener's best-selling novel “Tales of the South Pacific.” Stationed overseas during WWII, WAVE officer Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) falls in love with a wealthy French planter named Emile DeBecque (Rosanno Brazzi).
After DeBecque refuses to assist the U.S. Navy in a reconnaissance mission against the Japanese, Nellie finds her inbred bigotry aroused when she discovers that he has fathered two mixed-race children. When his partner Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr) is killed and DeBecque is seemingly lost in battle, Nellie prays for Emile's safe return. These dramatic South Pacific scenarios are offset by the comedic antics of "Big Dealer" seabee Luther Billis (Ray Walston).
Trivia: Hanalei is the grand geographical star. South Pacific’s opening scenes were filmed at Black Pot Beach at the mouth of the Hanalei River. Mitzi Gaynor’s famous rendition of “Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” was filmed at Lumahai Beach near Hanalei, while the Birkmyre Estate overlooking Hanalei Bay was doubled as DeBecque’s home.
A March 9, 1957 tsunami halted production by destroying numerous north shore homes and the Kalihiwai Bridge. As a result, filming trucks had no access to the sets.
4) Blue Hawaii (1961)
Following his discharge from the U.S. Army, Chad Gates (Elvis Presley) happily returns to his Oahu home on a mission to hang loose with his surf buddies and girlfriend. While his parents pressure him to work for the family’s Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company, Chad has other thoughts. Much to the disappointment of his mother (Angela Lansbury), he scores a job as a tour guide at the same agency where his girlfriend, Maile (Joan Blackman), also works.
Most memorable clip: In the
picnic scene, the view from the top of Tantalus Drive reveals a sweeping
panorama of Waikiki and Honolulu with nary a skyscraper in site.
Fun Fact: No doubt that one of “The King’s” most popular love songs is “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Yet in this classic scene, Maile wasn’t the one who had Chad crooning. Upon giving his grandmother a music box on her birthday, Chad sings along with the tune after she opens it.
The wedding of Maile and Chad at Kauai’s Coco Palms Resort oozes romance, especially with the singing of the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” Sadly, the legendary resort was devastated in September 1992 by Hurricane Iniki.
5) Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
With Gidget Lawrence (Debora Walley) freshly pinned to longtime boyfriend “Moondoggie” Jeff (James Darren), her father Russ (Carl Reiner) surprises the family with tickets for a Hawaiian vacation, meaning the lovebirds will be separated for the rest of Jeff’s college break.
Refusing to go, a heartbroken Gidget later changes her mind after a fight with Jeff. During her flight to paradise, the bubbly teen befriends Abby (Vicki Trickett) and cocky dancer Eddie Horner (Michael Callan). The romantic confusion among the kids and their befuddled parents intensifies with Jeff’s surprise arrival at Russ’ request. After the air is ultimately cleared, a horrified Abby is dragged into the ocean and clings on for dear life as Gidget and Jeff ride waves like pros toward their happily ever after.
Trivia: Hesitant to accept the role of Gidget, the naturally athletic Walley eventually embraced the gig by arriving two weeks early to practice surfing. She was the only member of the cast to do most of her own surfing stunts. In fact, Darren didn’t even know how to swim!
The film was shot at Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel. When Gidget and her parents check-in, the sign behind the desk clerk reads “Sheraton Hotel.” Later, when Russ receives a telegram reply from Jeff, it's addressed to "Russell Lawrence, Royal Hawaiian Hotel." Today, these next door neighbors are both part of Marriott International’s portfolio.
Favorite Scenes: Anything in the water off Waikiki Beach! Notice how barren the skyline is behind The Royal Hawaiian and along the beach where Diamond Head stands as a backdrop.
6) Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
When charter boat pilot Ross Carpenter (Elvis Presley) learns that his boss is retiring to Arizona, this sea lover is determined to find a way to purchase Westwind, a boat that he built with his father. Naturally, the handsome, carefree bachelor also moonlights as a nightclub singer caught between two women, the insensitive Robin (Stella Stevens) and the super sweet Laurel (Laurel Goodwin), who secretly buys Westwind for Ross.
Trivia: In a scene featuring Ross and Laurel outside of the Pirates Den, two Blue Hawaii movie posters are part of the set garnish.
7) Donovan's Reef (1963)
World War II Navy veterans Donovan (John Wayne), Doc Dedham (Jack Warden) and Gilhooley (Lee Marvin) meet up on the French Polynesian island of Haleakaloha to make good on a scheme. The trio teams up to deceive Dedham's prim daughter Ameilia (Elizabeth Allen), who only recently learned of her father's existence and the stock he was to inherit from the company she helms. Dedham's marriage to an island woman adds to the dilemma as his offspring seeks just cause to reclaim his shares.
Trivia: Allen received a second place Golden Laurel Award as Top New Female Personality for her role.
8) Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)
Elvis wraps up his Hawaii trilogy in this musical comedy where he plays
Rick Richards, a recently fired airline pilot who returns to his home in Hawaii. After they go into a charter helicopter venture, disaster looms as Danny is overdue on a flight after Rick’s grounding by government officials. Rick’s big decision is whether he should risk losing his license forever by taking off to find his friend.
Trivia: Filming took place at the Hanalei Plantation Resort on Kauai’s north shore, Maui Sheraton Hotel on Kaanapali Beach, and on Hawaii Island’s Kona Coast. A number of Oahu scenes were shot at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the island’s north shore.
While shooting in Hawaii, Elvis, his father Vernon, and manager Colonel Tom Parker visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial where they laid a bell-shaped wreath of 1,177 carnations - one for each serviceman who lost their life in that fateful Dec. 7, 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor. Elvis performed a benefit concert in 1961 to help fund the building of the memorial.
Most Memorable Scene: Plantation workers hit the ground as Rick pilots a low-flying helicopter with hungry dogs scrambling for treats. The scene
is shot near what is today’s Dole Plantation on the island’s central
plateau. You can spot a cane fire in the distance near Oahu’s Waianae
9) Hawaii (1966)
Based on the James A. Michener novel sharing its moniker, this epic drama details the lives of rigid New England missionary Abner Hale (Max von Sydal) and his beautiful bride Jerusha Bromley (Julie Andrews) who relocate to the Hawaiian Islands. Intent on converting the natives, the Calvinist is thrown into a culture clash that ends in tragedy.
After Jerusha's death, Abner becomes more loving towards the Hawaiians as he tries to prevent white settlers and plantation owners from taking their land. At odds with other ministers, he is reassigned to New England as his Lahaina church is given to another minister. Yet, he refuses to leave and vows to continue preaching without church support or pay.
This movie helped launch Bette Midler’s career! Spot her as an extra as a
seasick passenger aboard a ship listening to Abner as he preaches. Also
tapped for a small speaking role, Midler traveled to Los Angeles to
film the studio scenes that were ultimately cut in the film’s final
edits. The graduate of Oahu’s Radford High School used the money she
earned to move to New York City. And the rest is history.
10) Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
This is considered one of the most historically accurate WWII films ever made. The summer of 1941 finds the United States and Japan on brink of war after constant embargos and diplomacy failures. Named for the code words used by the lead Japanese pilot to indicate they had surprised the Americans in the Dec. 7 attack, Tora! Tora! Tora! details the days leading to the infamous attack that plunged the U.S. into WWII.
Trivia & Most Memorable Scene: Attack on Pearl Harbor takes top honor, with some of the best footage shot by accident. History Buffs has a great review of the movie. About the 9:00 minute mark they discuss an attack on an airfield. In an incredibly realistic set of scenes, a plane smashes into other planes, causing a chain reaction of explosions. This was actually a stunt gone wrong, forcing stuntmen to actually run for their lives. It was so dramatic they actually used it three times as they were lucky enough to film the accident from several different angles.
Fortunately no one was hurt and they ended up using it in the film.
We hope you enjoyed our little taste of Aloha! If you ever have any questions or story ideas, please e-mail us at [email protected]!
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