BLUE HAWAII (1961) and the Rock-A-Hula Social

“The happiest blogathon of the year!” says Fritzi of Movies Silently who came up with another terrific incentive for sharing movie memories.  The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social asks that we share our favorite happy movies to spread joy across the blogosphere.  I’m here to comply with a look at Norman Taurog‘s Blue Hawaii (1961), one of Elvis Presley‘s best movie outings, which also happens to make me happy.  Although in truth anything Elvis makes me happy.


As Blue Hawaii starts we see Chad Gates (Elvis) return to Hawaii after being discharged from the Army.  Chad has lived in Hawaii for 15 years, or ever since his father was transferred there to manage the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company.  His parents Fred and Sarah Lee Gates (Roland Winters and Angela Lansbury) expect Chad to go into the family business upon his return, but Chad wants to resume his life as he knew it, which means sand, surf and music with his buddies and girlfriend, Maile Duval (Joan Blackman).  Pressure from his family leads to a fallout and Chad decides to go into the tourism business in hopes of making a name for himself.  A few misunderstandings and some drama ensue before all ends well and the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness (Hawaii state motto).

Don’t let that simple plot turn you off to Blue Hawaii.  This is a fun ride with lots going for it.  Like…

  • The story is heads above most of the Elvis movies that followed, which in essence tried to rehash the elements in this one.  Screenwriter Hal Kanter was honored with a “Best Written American Musical” nomination from the Writers Guild of America for Blue Hawaii and the honor is merited.
  • Elvis is in tip-top shape both physically and vocally.  It seems to me he had a wonderful time making Blue Hawaii, when the beach and surf material was still fresh.  It’s no wonder he’d be less than enthusiastic about some of his later movies with their recycled stories and tiresome blue screen shots.
  • The movie’s Grammy-nominated soundtrack is terrific. “Blue Hawaii” was not only Elvis’ most successful chart album, but also the #1 best-selling album of 1961 spending 20 consecutive weeks at the top spot on Billboard‘s LPs chart and 79 weeks on the charts overall.  Included on the LP are such favorites as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and the “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” which I don’t mind admitting he sang to me many times during the daydreams of my youth.  The movie’s title song, “Blue Hawaii,” which Elvis popularized in the 1960s is also great.  “Blue Hawaii” had was originally featured in Frank Tuttle’s Waikiki Wedding (1937) and sung by the movie’s star, Bing Crosby.
  • Then you have Angela Lansbury.  You might be surprised to learn she was in an Elvis movie, but she was and is a hoot in it.  If you’re used to the palpable Lansbury gravitas the legend brings to every single role put that aside before you watch Blue Hawaii.  But man is she still great as Sarah Lee, a Southern Belle from Charleston who’s more than a bit of an airhead.  According to IMDB Lansbury has said that her turn in Blue Hawaii was the worst of her career and given the scope of that career I suppose that’s correct, but during an interview Ms. Lansbury did with Robert Osborne she said she was in awe being in the presence of Elvis Presley (can you imagine?) who “was a very nice young man.”  She also says that it was a wonderful time in a wonderful location and that her character was “very funny.”  So that’s my defense of Blue Hawaii in case any movie snobs happen on by.
Lansbury and Presley
Angela Lansbury, Elvis Presley and Roland Winters

An interesting tidbit – Similar to the casting situation in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, in Blue Hawaii Angela Lansbury plays the mother of a man who’s only a few years her junior.  In this case Presley was 26 at the time this film was released and Lansbury was not yet 36.  Another Manchurian Candidate / Elvis connection is that James Gregory who plays Lansbury’s husband in Frankenheimer’s thriller takes a turn several years later as Elvis’ father in the ultra-cheesy Clambake (1967).

Also worth a mention in Blue Hawaii are Joan Blackman who has great chemistry with Elvis in both of the movies they made together and Howard McNear who plays Mr. Chapman, the owner of the tourist agency.  McNear is an extra special treat.  You may know him best for playing Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show.  Take a look at the entire Blue Hawaii cast and crew list here.  By the way, the costumes in Blue Hawaii were designed by none other than Edith Head and it shows.

  • Finally, despite the fact that Blue Hawaii is several cuts above other Elvis outings, if you’re a fan of those cheesy beach party movies there’s plenty here to satisfy that craving.  For one thing there’s no lack of dancing on sand and despite the memorable soundtrack Elvis also sings such lyrics as “I’m a kissin’ cousin to a ripe pineapple” in the still enjoyable “Beach Boy Blues.”  Also present is the band and chorus that comes out of nowhere whenever Elvis merely looks at a guitar and numerous elements found in subsequent Elvis movies.  Sadly, there are no helmet-hair styles that survive tsunamis in this.

The Rock-A-Hula Social

Because “social” is key to The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social Blogathon it’s not enough to simply watch an enjoyable classic movie, but rather add entertaining asides.  Or so I understand this endeavor.  As such our theme as dictated by Blue Hawaii is Hawaiian, which I imagine is not the best ice cream social environment.  By the time you’re done with the sand dancing and hula-ing the ice cream will be melted so I put together some suggestions for you to host a memorable Rock-A-Hula.  If you don’t know what a Rock-A-Hula is…well…it’s a gathering in an island setting that has certain characteristics.  I would say it’s best described by a social that combines Rock and Roll with your run-of-the-mill luau that promises to be loads of fun.  If I’ve piqued your interest I think you’ll be the most popular kid on your block if you follow these suggestions for hosting the best possible Rock-A-Hula:

  1. I’m almost embarrassed to include this because it’s so obvious, but just in case it skips your mind – the King of Rock and Roll has to kick off the evening with “Rock-A-Hula Baby” and do incredibly sexy moves while holding tacky, Hawaiian flower contraptions:

2.  That said King of Rock and Roll has to break out in song in frequent intervals – preferably wearing shorts:


3.  Again, obvious, but important – sand and water:


Joan Blackman and Elvis

Caution: don’t forget the sunscreen if you choose an early start time!  There’s no mention of such a thing in Blue Hawaii, but we’ve learned a lot since 1961.

4.  Be sure to invite guests who can join your King of Rock and Roll in song and dance without warning and who also don’t mind posing for cheesy pictures:


5. If at all possible have your Rock-A-Hula in the proper location, baby.  I suggest Waikiki Beach or any of the other locations used in Blue Hawaii like Ala Moana Park, Lydgate Park or the Coco Palms Resort Hotel.


6.  Now that you have your location set, premiere guest secured and a supporting list of attendees completed start working on some of the other details.  This list should set you on the right path:

Next is the menu.  For those of us used to city dwellings I suggest staying away from clam bakes or catching stuff in nets.  I think that might be too messy for novices.  If you’ve the right mix of people, music and entertainment at the ready then you can set your start time after dinner so everybody’s already eaten and can get away with just cocktails and desserts.  Lots of cocktails. With that in mind I have a few suggestions for enjoyable Rock-A-Hula Cocktails:

and Rock-A-Hula Desserts:

Ice Cream


Your Rock-A-Hula’s sure to be a smash if you follow these recommendations as closely as possible.  Of course you also need to screen Blue Hawaii on the beach during the entire party as an added bonus for anyone wanting a little Elvis on the side.  If you have guests who plan to stay the night here’s a list of 8 recipes to Remember Elvis Presley from Reader’s Digest, which lists mostly breakfast ideas fit for a king.


After you’ve written my Rock-A_Hula invitation – and yes, I want a real, paper invite – be sure to visit Movies Silently and The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social. There’s lots of fun to be had!


10 thoughts

  1. This is great! I just watched Blue Hawaii for the first time (and wrote a blog post) late last week. I nearly spat out my Mai Tai when I saw Edith Head’s name in the credits!

    Love the party suggestions too, I’m a Hawaiian / tiki enthusiast and this movie provided tons of inspiration for my next luau.

    1. Fantastic! I know what you mean about Edith Head. Elvis movies in general get a sideward glance by most so I like mentioning that type of gravitas. This is a lot of fun. Can you share the link to your post? I’d love to read it.

  2. I would have loved to have participated in the Ice Cream Social but I just didn’t have the time to write about a film. Had I found time, however, I would have picked Blue Hawaii! It’s such a great pick-me-up film, especially that beginning with Maile speeding down those palm-tree lined streets in her little red sports car and that spunky Hawaiian music in the background. I grew up with this film, watching it with my dad and my sister ( and enjoying the album on LP, cassette, and CD ), so for years I treasured it as “our movie”….not realizing that so many Blue Hawaii fans exist ( and who share similar fond memories of the film ). Thanks for sharing your love of the movie!

    1. Thank YOU, Constance! Elvis movies were a huge part of my childhood and I adore them all, but this one is special. I too am happy to see others love it as much as I do.

  3. Since it’s an ice cream social, I’ll add that the song “Blue Hawaii” was co-written by former Ed Wood star/girlfriend Dolores Fuller – one of those people who’s always good for a pick-me-up when I’m down!

  4. Sounds like a great movie. Sounds like a great party. I have trouble digesting some of the later Elvis movies. This one should go down as smoothly as spam, eggs and rice.

  5. As I was coming back from the beach this summer, Blue Hawaii was showing on out plane. It was delightful to rewatch it!
    And, well, I know what I’ll be doing next summer: hosting my own Rock-A-Hula social. And I’m a sucker for blue drinks, so the Blue Hawaiian cocktail is just up my alley.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

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