"Hawaii," based on about one-third of the Michener novel, is one of those big, old-fashioned epics, full of wistful vistas, compelling performances, and casts of thousands.
Julie Andrews' acting abilities shine as bright as the tropical sun in this story of a New England woman who accompanies her stodgy husband to the islands on a mission to convert the heathens. Andrews' buoyant on-screen persona is held in check here (as it is in the overly criticized "Darling Lili"), making her Jerusha a quiet heroine. Her childbirth scene is effective for the visceral reaction it creates, and she's got one whopping good speech toward the end, where she finally gives her stick-in-the-mud hubby what-for.
Von Sydow, who would work with Andrews again later in "Duet for One," is all bluster and bellowing, condemning just about everyone he comes in contact with. I find the performance rather one-note; however, the opening scenes in which Hale tries to woo the lovely Jerusha are sweetly awkward.
Richard Harris shows up as a long-lost sea captain in one of moviedom's most impossible coincidences. Harris is all fire and passion, exactly the kind of third-party that a juicy love triangle needs.
George Roy Hill's direction keeps things moving at a brisk pace, despite the lengthy running time. He had a gorgeous palette to paint with, and he takes full advantage. The sea trek--complete with storms--suffers from some very obvious blue-screening, but Hill manages to build an appropriate sense of excitement.
I'm also going to carp with costumer Dorothy Jeakins. Andrews costumes are lovely (but consider what Jeakins had to work with), but Von Sydow goes running throughout the movie with his stove-pipe hat cemented onto his head. Works okay for the New England settings, but once the cast hits the beach, he ends up looking like some kind of absurd Dr. Doolittle (Hugh Lofting's, creation, not Eddie Murphy's).
Jeakins also makes a very brief appearance (her role was trimmed mightily) as Hale's mother.
While on the subject of the supporting players, LaGarde had no acting experience whatsoever (and, hence, drove the production schedule and budget way off base), but she's utterly charming. She more than earned her Oscar nomination.
Funny to see a pre-Archie Carroll O'Connor in the New England sequences. Also watch for Heather Menzies as one of Jerusha's younger sisters. Two years earlier, she had played Louisa von Trapp to Andrews' Maria. Gene Hackman's here, too, as a put-upon doctor.
One last note: If you're going to seek out this treasure, please, please, please opt for the widescreen version. The rocking of the boat sickened many of the passengers on their way to paradise, and likewise, the pan-and-scan version will sicken viewers of this terrific epic.