Eventually, most people would have discovered the wonders of Hawaii as a vacation destination, but the film industry certainly expedited the process. When filmmakers come here, they find tropical locations that they can use in a secure and professional production environment. Hawaii houses 11 climatic zones where skilled directors can magically transform and create cinematic simulations of Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the South Pacific.
The First Film Made in Hawaii
In 1933, Lois Weber, one of Hollywood’s few female film directors, sailed to the island of Kauai with Cecil B. DeMille to film White Heat. The controversial filmed dealt with miscegenation and racism on a sugar plantation. James Bodrero, the writer, had spent his childhood summers on his grandfather’s sugar plantation, which was one of the plantations used in the film.
White Heat Synopsis
William Hawks is the foreman for the Cheney sugar plantation in Hawaii. His attraction to Leilani, a local woman, inspires him to take her into his home as his housekeeper and native “wife.” When his boss calls him back to San Francisco, Hawks meets and falls in love with Cheney’s daughter, Lucille. They marry and return to the plantation, but Lucille soon grows weary of her crude surroundings and persistent tropical rainstorms.
The arrival of her former fiancé, Chandler Morris, puts a smile back on her face. Hawks notices this attraction and picks a fight with Morris. To rescue Morris from Hawk’s brutal beating, Lucille starts a fire in the plantation. While battling the flames, Hawks falls from his horse and rolls into the inferno. Fortunately, the still-devoted Leilani is there to rescue him.
Sadly, during the 1930s, US citizens were not yet ready to hear the messages expressed in White Heat. The film was a box office failure. The New York Times panned the film, but praised the beauty of the Hawaiian setting. This put Hawaii on the map as a major film location.
Bali Hai Will Call You
History has a way of repeating itself and 25 years later, when Joshua Logan brought his cast and crew to Kaui to film Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, it did, on a grand scale. The theme of miscegenation was back – this time with a vengeance. The story was based on a musical from James Michener’s collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Hawaii. The Kauai setting, however, was easily believable as Polynesia.
A blond-haired blue-eyed sweetheart awaits Lieutenant Joe Cable back home, but under the enchantment of Bali Hai, he has fallen in love with a Tonkinese girl. While she makes “joy invade his arms and fill his heart,” he refuses marry her, because he knows that his family will never accept her.
Nellie Forbush, of Arkansas, is as corny as Kansas in August and in love with a wonderful guy, who she will not marry, because he has two mixed-race children with a Polynesian woman who has died. The song, Carefully Taught, describes how these prejudices develop. It latter became a theme song of the civil rights movement.
A Controversial Success
The splendid score combined with the enchanted scenery of Kauai seduced audiences, but just like White Heat, South Pacific stirred controversy in certain parts of the country.
Four years prior to the making of South Pacific, the United States Supreme Court had declared school segregation unconstitutional. For the next four years, racial tensions ran high – so high, that some government officials tried to convince Josh Logan to remove the song Carefully Taught, claiming that it advocated a communist philosophy. The director and producers refused to give in. In fact, Internet Movie Data Base points out an interesting blooper. Two of the sailors in South Pacific were black. The United States Armed Forces were not desegregated until 1948, three years after the end of World War II. Whether this was a legitimate mistake, or whether Logan was trying to make a subtle statement, we will never know.
The Technicolor Beauty of Kauai
When Logan and his crew arrived in Kauai, they found a colorful, lush, tropical setting that was almost surreal. Surrealism, however, was not what the director was after. Concerned that the bright colors of Kauai would appear unnatural in Technicolor, he tried to soften the effect by filming several scenes through the newly available colored filters. Logan would latter consider this as his biggest mistake. While he wanted a subtler effect, the film-processing lab apparently created too much subtlety for Logan´s liking.
Exploring South Pacific Filming Locations
Most of South Pacific’s outdoor scenes were filmed on Kauai’s north shore. Many of the places remain unchanged to this day, and fans take delight in visiting the landmark film locations. These include:
Lumahai Beach, where Nellie Forbush went and washed that man right out of her hair. This beach is also famous for its native hala trees, which line the water’s edge.
The green twin peaks of Mount Makanaís in Ha’ena, inspired the mystical island called Bali Hai.
The garden where Emille de Bercue romanced Nellie Forbush while singing Some Enchanted Evening is now home to the Princeville at Hanalei resort.
On Hanalei Bay, the sailors bemoaned the fact that there is nothing like a dame.
Body Mary sat near the Kilauea River and talked some happy talk.
If you are curious about filmmaking in Hawaii, take our Ali’i Movie Excursion and Scenic Hanalei Tour to learn more.