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Rich Hawaiian pineapple grower and US Senatorial candidate Richard Howland tries to control everything and everyone around him, including his headstrong sister, Slone. Howland learns the hard way that money and power cannot buy love and happiness. Written by
Marinelle K. Szenasy
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Not many movies have been made that show Hawaii outside of the Honolulu environs. So, "Diamond Head" is a good film just for its panoramas and depiction of ranching and farming on the outer islands. As others have noted, the movie doesn't have anything to do with Diamond Head itself. But the title is a colorful beacon for the film, much as the crater promontory is a striking backdrop to Waikiki Beach.
As others have noted, much of the plot is about the racism that existed at the time. The main character, King Howland, played by Charlton Heston, is conflicted over racial differences. He doesn't appear to look down on native Hawaiians or Asians, and he comments that the whites-only club keeps out the people who make the best company. He has a relationship with a Chinese woman, Mai Chen, played by France Nuyen, who seems to be the love of his life, and he says so. But, he draws the line against interracial marriage in his family. So, he won't marry Mai Chen and he can't accept her having a baby. King's deceased wife's sister, on the other hand, is a hard-nosed racist. King raised his much younger sister, Sloane, played by Yvette Mimieux. She is the catalyst who would bring change into the Howland family by her plans to marry a native Hawaiian whom she has known since childhood. She notes that other mixed marriages take place in Hawaii.
Some other factors enter into the plot. King is tabbed to run for one of the first U.S. Senate seats in Hawaii. His mistress, Mai Chen, becomes pregnant with his baby. How all of this plays out is the substance of the movie. The setting is 1959, and Hawaii has just become the 50th state in the United States. The Howlands own their own island in the Hawaiian chain, Lanoalani. They have their own plane to fly to and from their fictitious home. The island is home to a ranch of 250,000 acres that appears to produce pineapples, sugar cane and cattle.
The movie is based on a novel by a Honolulu newspaperman, Peter Gilman. But it departs from the book considerably. The screenplay eliminates some major characters who are important in the novel, "Such Sweet Thunder." So, we movie viewers are left without any clear picture of Howland's father, wife and half-brother. We do know that after his parents died, King raised his baby sister. He also married and had a son, and his wife and son were killed in a tsunami some years before. Since then, his sister-in-law came to live with him to help raise Sloane.
With that background, I'll leave off comments on how the movie plays out. But I thought movie lovers might be interested in some trivia about Hawaii that relates to the movie plot.
The Howland island and ranch are fictitious, but Hawaii did have some large ranches in the past. The largest of those, the Parker Ranch, was established in 1847 on the big island, Hawaii. It has 250,000 acres and is one of the largest and oldest ranches in the entire U.S. The last of the blood and marriage line of Parker owners died in 1992, and the ranch today is operated by a charitable trust. The Parker ranch mostly produces livestock.
While the movie was made and released in 1963, its setting is in 1959. In 1960, the world's largest recorded earthquake struck Chile. The 8.8 or 9.5 temblor created a major tsunami. A 35-foot wave struck Hilo Bay on the big island with deadly force. It killed 61 people and destroyed more than 500 homes and businesses in downtown Hilo. The population of Hawaii Island's largest city then was about 25,000, and today it's about 45,000. Other areas of the islands had much less damage. But Hawaii has a history of many tsunamis. The U.S. Geological Survey lists 50 tsunamis in Hawaii since the early 1800s. Seven of those have caused major damage.
The tsunami that took the lives of King's wife and son may have been fictitious. Or, the book author may have intended it to be the 1946 tsunami that struck Hawaii. That would have been 13 years before the opening of the movie, and seems to fit with King's loss of his family. The 1946 tsunami was the worst of modern history in the islands. An earthquake in the Aleutian Islands triggered it. But unlike the 1960 event, for which there was considerable warning, the 1946 tsunami struck without warning. It killed 170 people mostly around Hilo. The bay wave was 30-feet high and the maximum wave reached 55 feet at the northern tip of the island.
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