Hawaii (1966 film)

Hawaii is a 1966 American epic drama film directed by George Roy Hill and based on the novel of the same name by James A. Michener. It tells the story of an 1820s Yale University divinity student (Max von Sydow) who, accompanied by his new bride (Julie Andrews), becomes a Calvinist missionary in the Hawaiian Islands. It was filmed at Old Sturbridge Village, in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and on the islands of Kauai and Oahu in Hawaii.

original 1966 Spanish language film poster
Directed byGeorge Roy Hill
Produced byWalter Mirisch
Screenplay byDaniel Taradash
Dalton Trumbo
Based onHawaii
by James A. Michener
StarringJulie Andrews
Max von Sydow
Richard Harris
Gene Hackman
Jocelyne LaGarde
Carroll O'Connor
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyRussell Harlan
Edited byStuart Gilmore
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 10, 1966 (1966-10-10)
Running time
189 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[1]
Box office$34.5 million[2]


In 1819, young Prince Keoki Kanakoa from the Islands of Hawaii makes an appeal at the Yale Divinity School for newly graduated ministers to return with him to Hawaii and convert the natives to Christianity. Reverend Abner Hale is among those who volunteer for the mission. Before being sent to Hawaii, the young ministers must marry — a problem for Abner as he has zealously devoted himself to his studies and does not know any marriageable young women, partly because he has been raised in a strict, cold Calvinist household where romance or pleasure, even between a married couple, is considered sinful. The head of the school, Reverend Dr. Thorn, introduces Abner to his niece, Jerusha Bromley, a beautiful and pious New England girl who has been pining for Captain Rafer Hoxworth, a whaler who has been at sea for two years and has not written to her. Although Jerusha's parents are not enthused about her marrying the awkward Abner, her uncle persuades them to give him a chance, and also hides the package of letters from Hoxworth that appear at the Bromley home just as Abner arrives.

Abner is stunned by Jerusha's beauty, and attracted to her despite his attempts to avoid what he considers sinful thoughts, but he completely lacks social graces and makes one embarrassing gaffe after another. Despite this, Jerusha encourages him, and he finally proposes and she accepts, with the understanding that they will both be going on mission to Hawaii. The Hales depart for Hawaii with the other missionaries and Keoki, and after a harrowing sea voyage during which all but Abner are very seasick and the ship almost wrecks going around Cape Horn in southern Chile, they arrive in Keoki's hometown of Lahaina, Maui, where they stop before most of the missionaries continue on to the main church at Honolulu. The missionaries are horrified to see what they consider the islanders' sinful ways. Naked young girls swim out to meet the ships and have sexual relations with the sailors; monuments are dedicated to the traditional gods; and Keoki's father Kelolo is both the husband and the biological brother of Keoki's mother Malama Kanakoa, the Aliʻi Nui (ruler) whom the natives consider a "sacred person". The Ali'i Nui must marry her brother to avoid polluting the bloodline of the ruling family, and Keoki is expected to also marry his sister Noelani when she succeeds Malama as Ali'i Nui. However, Keoki is willing to forgo this in order to become what he truly wants to be, an ordained Christian minister.

Malama takes a liking to Jerusha and demands that Jerusha teach her to write English, so she can communicate with the outside world. Malama agrees to learn about the Christian God, but only after she learns to write. When the other missionaries continue on to Honolulu, the Hales stay behind, living in an uncomfortable hut and building a church. Jerusha tries to change the villagers' tradition of killing unwanted or deformed babies, personally rescuing one baby who has a birthmark. Jerusha goes through a difficult labor to give birth to her own healthy son, tended only by the inexperienced Abner (who excludes the native midwives, knowing that if they become aware that it is a breech birth, the baby will be killed by them) and afterwards Abner confesses to her his great love for her, a love he normally feels is sinful and tries to suppress. Abner baptizes his first convert, a young Hawaiian girl named Iliki who works as a servant for the Hales. However, he makes excuses to defer ordaining Keoki as a minister; in reality, he and his superiors have no intentions of ordaining any natives. Keoki eventually realizes that he will never be permitted to become a minister, despite having studied for years, including at Yale. He becomes disillusioned with Christianity as a result.

Malama, who is a kind, loving and intelligent woman underneath her imperious facade, agrees to learn about Christianity, but will not take the final step to convert because she will have to send away Kelolo, her beloved husband of many years who is also her brother. At the Hales' urging, she enacts a curfew for sailors and forbids girls from swimming out to the ships. The sailors in port riot in protest, led by Captain Hoxworth, who has made a stop on his long whaling voyage. In the midst of the melee, Hoxworth discovers that the love of his life, Jerusha, is in Lahaina and is now the wife of Reverend Hale, whom he already despises for inspiring Malama to enact the restrictions. The sailors partially torch the church, but the Hawaiians help the Hales put out the fire and then chase the sailors back to their ships. To console himself over Jerusha, Hoxworth entices Iliki to sail away with him, and knocks Abner overboard when he comes after her.

Malama, on her deathbed, agrees to renounce Kelolo and is baptized a Christian right before she dies while saying a final goodbye to Kelolo. Upon the death of the Ali'i Nui, as predicted by the natives, a strong wind begins to blow, destroying the church building (which Abner refused to build in a way that the villagers suggested to let the wind pass through). Soon after her death, Abner hears drums and discovers Kelolo conducting a marriage ceremony for Keoki and Noelani, the new Ali'i Nui. Keoki, rejected as a minister, has turned back to the traditional gods. Keoki also reveals that while his mother Malama agreed to become a Christian in order to set an example for her people, whom she realized must become Christians for their own good as more and more white settlers arrive, she secretly asked that after she was buried in the Christian graveyard, her family move her bones to an undisclosed location where she can be with the old gods, and that Kelolo take her heart back to Bora Bora, the land of their ancestors. Horrified and enraged, Abner curses the Kanakoa family and the other Hawaiians and tells them God will punish them for their sins.

Noelani, pregnant by Keoki, gives birth to a horribly deformed baby who cannot be accepted as Ali'i Nui. Jerusha begs Abner to intercede to save the baby, whom she fears will be killed, but he refuses, saying it is God's punishment for Keoki's and Noelani's sin. Keoki drowns the baby in the ocean, causing a rift between Abner and Jerusha. Shortly afterwards, a sailor carries measles into the port of Lahaina. While this is a relatively minor childhood illness to the missionaries and sailors, the native Hawaiians have no resistance, develop high fevers and die in droves. Keoki dies in Abner's arms in a feverish delirium, renouncing God. Abner returns home wracked by sadness and guilt, feeling that he failed in his mission to save Keoki and the other natives from hell. Jerusha, who is worn out from overwork in the hot climate, giving birth to three children, and nursing the sick Hawaiians, tells him that she does not believe God would send loving people like the Hawaiians to hell even if they weren't Christians, and furthermore tells Abner he can help the Hawaiians by giving them what he has always had difficulty giving her - his love. Jerusha soon dies, mourned by Abner, her children, and Captain Hoxworth, who never got over losing her to Abner.

After Jerusha's death, Abner becomes more loving towards the Hawaiians and works with them to try to prevent white settlers and plantation owners from taking their land. His position is at odds with the other ministers, who have recently voted that it is time for the churches to own land themselves and try to make money from it, something the ministers had avoided before. Abner is reassigned back to New England and his Lahaina church is given to another minister. But Abner refuses to leave Lahaina and says he will stay and continue to preach, in the street if necessary, and without any support from the church organization. He does agree to send the three Hale children back to New England to live with the Bromleys and receive a proper education. After bidding his children goodbye at the dock, Abner returns to his hut to find that a young Hawaiian man has arrived who wishes to be his assistant and help him, something the aging, frail Abner very much needs. He is overjoyed to see that the young man is the baby with the birthmark, now grown to an adult, whom Jerusha saved from being killed many years ago.


The film was based on the book's third chapter, From the Farm of Bitterness, which covered the settlement of the island kingdom by its first American missionaries.[3] Needing a Polynesian female for the key role of Malama, the Alii Nui, the producers hired a native Tahitian for the role. French-speaking Jocelyne LaGarde had never acted before and could not speak English; however, her screen test showed a powerful presence, and the producers hired a coach to train her phonetically to handle the character's dialogue. Of the all-star cast, LaGarde would be the only one to earn an Academy Award nomination and the only one to win a Golden Globe Award. Making early screen appearances in this film were Bette Midler, John Cullum, and future Oscar winner Gene Hackman. The film was the 2nd highest-grossing film of 1966, and critically praised for its stars and story. Originally, it was to be directed by Fred Zinnemann, but Zinnemann had fought with United Artists a few years before the film was made and left the production to go to England, to work on A Man for All Seasons. Director George Roy Hill was subsequently asked to work on the film, which he agreed to do, and the film became the only epic he directed. The film would also feature appearances from Henrik von Sydow and Claes von Sydow, the real sons of star Max von Sydow, who play Abner's son Micah at different ages.

Availability of different versions

The film as originally released ran 189 minutes (including overture, intermission, entr'acte, and exit music). This roadshow version would be issued on VHS and LaserDisc from the best available elements. For general release, this was then subsequently cut by United Artists to 161 minutes and is the version seen on the 2005 DVD release from MGM Home Video (as the best elements suitable for DVD came from the general release). Both versions have been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies and This TV Network.

On October 9, 2015, Twilight Time Movies announced on the Home Theater Forum that they would release a Blu-ray edition of Hawaii (along with The Hawaiians) on January 19, 2016. The Hawaiians would be released the next month on February 9, 2016. The Hawaii Blu Ray has both the long and short versions, but the long, original version is in standard definition and not widescreen.


The principal characters in the film were portrayed as follows:

Bette Midler also had her first on-screen movie appearance in Hawaii, as a ship passenger with no dialogue.


Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that "one comes out the theater not so much moved as numbed — by the cavalcade of conventional if sometimes eyepopping scenes of storm and seascape, of pomp and pestilence, all laid out in large strokes of brilliant De Luxe color on the huge Panavision screen."[4] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety stated, "Superior production, acting and direction give depth and credibility to a personal tragedy, set against the clash of two civilizations."[5] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that even at three hours in length, the filmmakers "still haven't given themselves enough leeway" to adapt Michener's epic novel, but "'Hawaii' will still be one of the outstanding Hollywood pictures of 1966."[6] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post found the romance between Abner and Jerusha "more trite than credible" and wrote that Max von Sydow "seems to have based his concept of the leading role on a quick course in Roots of Modern America."[7] Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called it "perhaps the biggest empty movie, or the emptiest big movie, ever made. Despite its length and its look of being extremely ambitious, it contains scarcely a single action worth dramatizing."[8] The Monthly Film Bulletin praised the "intelligent and literate" script and "deeply felt performances from the whole cast," but felt "a distinct slackening of interest" after the intermission, as once Malama dies "there is little left except for Jerusha to join her. The real drama is over, and a colorful local wedding hardly compensates for the lack of tension."[9]

The film holds a score of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews.[10]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Award wins

Award nominations

See also


  1. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 181
  2. "Hawaii, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  3. Canby, Vincent (1966-10-11). "Hawaii (1966)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  4. Canby, Vincent (October 11, 1966). "Screen: 'Hawaii,' Big, Long Film, Has Its Premiere". The New York Times. 54.
  5. Murphy, Arthur D. (October 5, 1966). "Film Reviews: Hawaii". Variety. 6.
  6. Scheuer, Philip K. (October 9, 1966). "'Hawaii'---Poi in the Sky". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  7. Coe, Richard L. (February 15, 1967). "How Paradise Got Lost". The Washington Post. D10.
  8. Gill, Brendan (October 29, 1966). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 152.
  9. "Hawaii". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 34 (396): 4. January 1967.
  10. "Hawaii". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  11. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  12. "The 39th Academy Awards (1967) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-24.
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