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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

DIAMOND HEAD (1963)

Piffle, but popular Hawaiian soaper, one of the year’s top grossers, with Charlton Heston, in one of his better contemporary roles lording it over his pineapple plantation paradise (as well as the rest of the cast). Tipped for a U.S. senate run, he’s tripped up by his sister’s engagement to a native Hawaiian son (Yvette Mimieux; James Darren). Chuck’s not having it, even though his mistress, a Hawaiian of Japanese extract (France Nuyen), is having his own unwanted child! Hmm, where, oh, where could this be going? Complicating factors for the widower Heston include Elizabeth Allen’s romantically attached sister-in-law and local boy Darren’s older half-brother George Chakiris, also with eyes for Yvette. Soggy stuff, helped a bit by local color & spectacular scenery, and not so much by Guy Green’s routine megging. But what to make of Aline MacMahon (mom to Darren & Chakiris) in swarthy make-up and James Darren barely boasting a tan as the film’s two ‘pure-blood’ Hawaiians. It’s not so much that it’s late-in-the-day for this sort of Caucasian-only casting, but that race issues are the only thing moving the plot. Lose that and you’ve got nothing to play against.* So, when Mimieux & Darren work up a sweat at their engagement party doing a traditional frenzied sexual native dance, the only taboo being broken is the one about stiff white guys doing the native twerk shuffle.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Even back in 1937, THE HURRICANE found a leading man in Jon Hall, son of an actual Tahitian princess. On the other hand, just last year, ALOHA got into trouble using Emma Stone as a mixed-race Hawaiian.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Chakiris soon slipped from features to tv, succumbing to the infamous Supporting Actor Oscar® curse just five years after WEST SIDE STORY/’61. Somehow, he lost dramatic ballast when he wasn’t dancing.

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