Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Hawaii" Only Fair, Much Too Long

Cleveland Press February 15, 1967

Hawaii has survived earthquakes, hurricanes and pestilence. It will survive this movie.

But weary theater chair travelers who sit through its three-hour length may wish for a refreshing ocean breeze before it is over.

It is not a bad movie, it is simply a matter of having given a small-scale story an epic mounting. For what little it offers the job could have been done in half the time.

This film version of James Michener's best-selling "Hawaii" offers only a portion of the book and it comes across like a soap opera with an island setting.

A sort of "Julie Andrews Faces Life" script finds the singing star of "Mary Poppins" and "Sound of Music" having very little to sing about. She is married to a hell-fire-and-brimstone missionary minister (Max Von Sydow) who is determined to give salvation to the islanders even if it kills them and it almost does.

The producers, having paid $600,000 for the screen rights to Michener's sprawling novel, have not stinted in bringing it to the screen. Several years and $14,000,000 later they have brought forth some beautiful travel footage handsomely splashed in color and a first-rate cast acting in picture-postcard settings.

But photographically the movie is good, not monumental. Any cameraman worth his union card can photograph rolling surf, waving palm trees and island maidens in topless sarongs and produce scenes that ad writers can call breathtaking.

Scriptwriters Dalton Trumbo and Daniel Taradash, faced with the impossible task of turning a thousand page novel into a movie, chose to pick one episode -- the arrival of white missionaries in an island paradise.

Staying too close to a handful of characters the movie only suggests the impact of one civilization on another.

Because the impact was so harsh, however, it manages to come through.

Fleetingly we discover that the white man's contribution to Hawaii was servitude, intoxicating liquor, venereal disease and the exploitation of his land.

It is more successful in following the ruin that one missionary brought to a part of the islands. Von Sydow is a sell-righteous, overbearing man wallowing in his own piety and unable to recognize that the simple life the islanders lived was closer to Christianity than was the wrathful sermon of bigotry and hate which he preached.

Determined to wipe out ignorance, incest and sloth, he wipes out most of the population instead.

Von Sydow is stern and hateful and if his intentions were to have audiences dislike him his is a successful portrayal.

Julie Andrews has a rather passive role as the woman who left her comfortable New England life to live on a primitive island. In the beginning she is sweet and sensitive and later she is tired and sensitive. She has a chance to emote wildly in a frighteningly real child-birth scene.

Richard Harris, as a whaling captain Miss Andrews might have married, is properly virile in the part.

The acting honors are stolen by a non-professional, Jocelyn Lagarde, a 300-pound Tahitian who portrays Queen Malama.

She emerges as a South Seas Molly Goldberg. Miss Lagarde is the biggest thing about "Hawaii," a motion picture which could have been a good small movie instead of a fair big one.