Hawaii (1966 film)

Hawaii is a 1966 American epic drama film directed by George Roy Hill and based on the 1959 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.

Hawaii (film).jpg
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]

The film received generally positive reviews and seven nominations at the 39th Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actress (for LaGarde). It was also a box office success, earning rentals of $15.6 million[3], which made it the highest grossing film of 1966 in the United States.


In 1819, young Prince Keoki Kanakoa appeals to the Yale Divinity School to bring Christianity to the Islands of Hawaii. Newly ordained minister Reverend Abner Hale is among those who volunteer, but all missionaries must be married. Abner, zealously devoted to his religious studies, was raised in a strict, cold Calvinist household, and believes romance or pleasure is sinful. As Abner lacks marriage prospects, Reverend Dr. Thorn introduces him to his young niece, Jerusha Bromley, a beautiful and pious New England girl. Jerusha is in love with Captain Rafer Hoxworth, a whaler away at sea who has apparently forgotten her. When a packet of Hoxworth's delayed letters arrive, Dr. Thorn intercepts and hides them.

Abner is stunned by Jerusha's beauty, but socially awkward, makes numerous gaffes. Despite this, Jerusha encourages and accepts his proposal. Abner and Jerusha marry, and along with the other missionaries and Keoki, depart for Hawaii, enduring a harrowing ocean voyage of seasickness and treacherous conditions sailing around Cape Horn. Abner has difficulty with marriage, believing love and passion are sinful.

The ship arrives in Lahaina, Maui, where Keoki is reunited with his parents and sister. The missionaries are shocked by what is considered the islanders' sinful ways. Half-naked girls freely have sex with sailors and the natives worship Hawaiian idols. Worse, Keoki's father, Kelolo, is both the husband and biological brother of Keoki's mother Malama Kanakoa, the Aliʻi Nui (ruler) whom the natives consider a "sacred person". Incest is believed to maintain a pure royal bloodline, and Keoki is expected to marry his sister, Noelani, who will one day become the Ali'i Nui. However, Keoki, waiting to be ordained a Christian minister, rejects this, creating discord within his family.

Abner and Jerusha remain in Lahaina while the other missionaries continue on to Honolulu. Before learning about Christianity, Malama demands Jerusha teach her to write English to communicate with the outside world. The Hales live in a grass hut and work to build a church. Jerusha works to help the natives and tries to end disfigured or deformed infants being drowned after rescuing an infant with a facial birthmark. After a difficult labor, Jerusha, aided by Abner, gives birth to her first child, a son named Micah. Afterwards, Abner, emotionally moved over the birth, professes his great love to Jerusha. He later recants somewhat, believing it sinful to love anyone as much as God. Abner baptizes his first convert, a young Hawaiian girl named Iliki who was given to the Hales as a servant.

Malama agrees to learn about Christianity, but resists being converted because she would have to send away Kelolo. At the Hales' urging, Malama enacts a curfew for sailors and forbids them fraternizing with island girls. The sailors 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 Jerusha is in Lahaina and married to Reverend Hale, whom he already despises for inspiring Malama to impose the restrictions. The sailors partially torch the church, but the Hawaiians help save it, then chase the sailors back to their ships. As retaliation against Abner for marrying Jerusha, Hoxworth entices Iliki to leave the island with him. He tosses Abner overboard when he tries to retrieve her. Abner is attacked by a shark in the sea, and is lame for the rest of his life.

Malama, on her deathbed, agrees to be baptized a Christian and renounce Kelolo as her husband. As the natives foretold, upon an Ali'i Nui's death a strong gale blows. It destroys the church which Abner refused to build in the way the villagers had dictated would protect it from strong winds. Keoki disavows Christianity and returns to his native religion after Abner reveals that he will never be ordained because he is not white. The church used Keoki to exploit the islands and its people.

Noelani becomes the new Ali'i Nui. Abner discovers Keoki and Noelani have married and that Malama only became a Christian for her peoples' own good as more white settlers arrive. Although she was buried in the Christian graveyard, her family later moved her bones to a secret location to be with the old gods. Kelolo sails to Bora Bora, the land of their ancestors, to take Malama's heart there. An enraged Abner condemns their actions, saying God will punish all natives. Noelani and Keoki's baby is born horribly deformed. Abner refuses Jerusha's plea to save the infant, believing it is God's punishment. Keoki then drowns the child. A measles outbreak decimates the native population who lack resistance to common diseases, killing hundreds, including Keoki, who dies renouncing God.

Years of overworking in the hot climate and childbearing have weakened Jerusha, resulting in her early death. After losing Jerusha, Abner becomes more loving and protective of the Hawaiians. He joins them to curtail white settlers and plantation owners from taking more land. When the other ministers vote to own and profit from the land. When Abner opposes them, he is reassigned to a parish in Connecticut. He refuses to leave Hawaii, threatening to preach in the street without church support. He sends his three children to the Bromley family in New England. Returning to his hut, Abner finds a young Hawaiian man waiting there who wishes to be his assistant. The aging and frail Abner is overjoyed upon realizing the young man is the disfigured baby that Jerusha saved from being drowned many years before.


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.[4] 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 received critical acclaim 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 versionsEdit

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 anamorphic 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."[5] 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."[6] 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."[7] 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."[8] 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."[9] 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."[10]

The film holds a score of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews.[11]


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

Award winsEdit

Award nominationsEdit

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Finler, Joel Waldo (2003). The Hollywood Story. Wallflower Press. pp. 358–359. ISBN 978-1-903364-66-6.
  4. ^ Canby, Vincent (1966-10-11). "Hawaii (1966)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 11, 1966). "Screen: 'Hawaii,' Big, Long Film, Has Its Premiere". The New York Times. 54.
  6. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (October 5, 1966). "Film Reviews: Hawaii". Variety. 6.
  7. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (October 9, 1966). "'Hawaii'---Poi in the Sky". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  8. ^ Coe, Richard L. (February 15, 1967). "How Paradise Got Lost". The Washington Post. D10.
  9. ^ Gill, Brendan (October 29, 1966). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 152.
  10. ^ "Hawaii". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 34 (396): 4. January 1967.
  11. ^ "Hawaii". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  13. ^ "The 39th Academy Awards (1967) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-24.

External linksEdit