Hawaii

1966, Movie, NR, 186 mins

Review

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Shot in Hawaii, Norway, Tahiti, and New England, this film was nurtured for several years by Fred Zinnemann who then stepped out before the shooting began. Hill came in, was briefly replaced by Arthur Hiller as director, and eventually returned to finish what must be one of the most complex jobs of directing ever attempted. It's 1820 and von Sydow is a recent Yale Divinity School graduate who agrees to take the word of God to the Hawaiian nonbelievers. Von Sydow thinks he would be better off with a wife, so he shyly proposes marriage to Andrews, who is in love with Harris, a raffish sea captain with whom she has been corresponding, although he hasn't answered a letter in more than three years. Lacking a better offer, she decides to marry von Sydow, and they set sail for Hawaii. Once in Hawaii, the queen, La Garde, welcomes them. The Hawaiians are like children to Andrews and von Sydow; they love to make love, enjoy the temperate climate, and resist any alteration to their relaxed life-style. Andrews soon makes friends with them and realizes their customs and mores suit their way of life, but von Sydow is stiff-necked and wants to stamp the Hawaiians with his own beliefs and see them dispose of their paganistic rites and rituals--one of which is the practice of incest between brother and sister. La Garde tells the Hawaiians to listen to von Sydow and tries unsuccessfully to restrain her passion for her brother, Nobriga. Suddenly, Harris arrives at the port, and Andrews must contend with her deep love for him versus the duty she feels as von Sydow's wife. She spurns Harris and decides to stay with von Sydow, who has forbidden any of the native girls to fraternize with the sailors aboard the many ships that now lie in the harbor. The sailors are outraged, so they burn down von Sydow's house of worship. Andrews, von Sydow, and the islanders successfully douse the blaze and drive away the tars. A brief period of tranquility is followed by the visit of more and more "civilized" sailors and businessmen who begin to permeate the life of the Hawaiians and commercialize the area. It's not long before this process wreaks disease and unhappiness on the once-serene islanders. La Garde, who is dying, asks to be converted into a Christian by von Sydow. To do this, she sends Nobriga into the jungle. Once she is dead and buried in consecrated ground, Nobriga returns and takes her body for a traditional Hawaiian burial. The visit of the white men has brought a measles epidemic, and hundreds of the islanders die, including one of von Sydow's closest friends, Tupou, a native Hawaiian with whom he had studied at Yale. Tupou had been married to his sister, Logue, and when von Sydow wants to pray for Tupou's eternal soul, Logue rejects him and says she wants nothing to do with his God--a cruel and angry manifestation who seems to want nothing for his people but shame and guilt, death and destruction. Andrews gives birth to three sons and never stops attempting to cause von Sydow to relent from his rigid position and admit his presence has caused pain to the Hawaiians. Years go by and Harris returns to Hawaii with a prefabricated New England home that he wants to give to the natives so they can see how others live. Upon arriving, Harris discovers Andrews has died. His response is to thrash von Sydow, who keeps turning the other cheek, thus emulating the source of his beliefs. Later, Harris attempts to get help for von Sydow. More time goes by and von Sydow is told by his superiors that he must relinquish his post. He sends his sons off to England for proper schooling and remains in Hawaii where he thinks he can continue to do God's will and bring these poor, misguided people God's word.

Based on James Michener's novel, this film told only part of the story; the rest of it was filmed four years later as THE HAWAIIANS. All the secondary acting is excellent, particularly Hackman as a doctor-missionary and Michael Constantine as a tough sailor who sees the light. However, O'Connor and Cole, playing Andrews' parents, don't have much to do. Jeakins (when she wasn't designing the terrific costumes) plays von Sydow's mother and impresses mightily, letting us understand why von Sydow is the stiff he is. Von Sydow's real-life sons are briefly seen playing two of the four ages of Micah. Terrific technical work by all but, at more than three hours, this didn't hold the interest that some other spectacular movies did. It cost more than $15 million, and every penny is on the screen. Look for Bette Midler as a passenger on the ship bound for Hawaii. Nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actress (La Garde), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Music Score, Best Song ("My Wishing Doll"), Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects. leave a comment

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