Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of "The Hawaiians", which was released in England under the title Master of the Islands. The 1970 big budget movie was a critical and commercial failure in its day, but evaluating it after all these years leads the viewer to accentuate its many positive elements. The story is actually an official continuation of James Michener's Hawaii, which was made into a major film in 1966 that curiously also underwhelmed critics and public. This sequel doesn't have the epic proportions of its predecessor, but it does boast some impressively lush production values and a typically enticing score by Henry Mancini. For this film, Heston reunited with director Tom Gries, with whom he made the vastly under-appreciated 1968 Western "Will Penny"which Heston regarded as one of his most satisfying artistic accomplishments. He is cast against type here in a somewhat unsympathetic role during a period of his career in which he was typically cast as a stalwart heroic figure. Heston plays Whip Hoxworth, a hard-nosed sea captain who transports luckless Chinese immigrants to Hawaii where they become cheated, abused and enter into what amounts to indentured servitude. The opening sequence finds the Chinese crammed into the sweltering hold of the ship and falling victim to illness and malnutrition. Hoxworth only adds to their misery by applying beatings and coldly calculating his human cargo in terms of acceptable deaths, 'lest his ultimate profits fall short of expectations. Hoxworth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. He is cut out of his father's will and has a contentious relationship with his siblings, who have little use for him. Barred from further sea duties, he is relegated to a failing plantation which he is determined to turn into a success, if only to spite his relatives. Geraldine Chaplin is his half-Hawaiian wife, whom he adores but who, for reasons never satisfactorily explained in the script, turns frigid after their son is born.
The film tells a parallel story about the plight of two immigrants who work on his plantation: Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen) and Mun Ki (Mako), two people who, through necessity, live as man and wife even though Mun Ki tells Nyuk Tsin that the children she has borne him will not be considered hers. Instead, Chinese tradition dictates that they will ultimately return to China where his wife will assume the mantle of mother and Nyuk Tsin will be relegated to the status of an aunt. The couple's hard work appeals to Hoxworth's generally dormant sympathies and he allows them to prosper financially, especially when they successfully grow the first pineapples on Hawaii - a development that makes Hoxworth rich. However, the film piles crisis upon crisis on each of the major characters, including political intrigue, armed revolution and, in particulalry affecting sequences, outbreaks of leprosy and plague. John Phillip Law appears late in the 134-minute film as Heston's grown son, whose humanitarianism brings him into direct conflict with his father's Machevellian ways.
The Hawiians is big-budget soap opera at every level, but it's a consistently engrossing one. Heston excels playing part that takes him into new territory as an actor. The supporting cast is equally good, with both Mako and Tina Chen giving outstanding performances. It can't be said that the film is an unqualified success, but it's never boring and it probably seems more impressive today than it did at the time of its initial release. It should be mentioned that the movie has a fine score by Henry Mancini. There are worse fates than spending a couple of hours with Heston under any circumstance.
The Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 units) is right up to the company's high standards. It includes a trailer and the usual informative liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.