Tiki Movie Night: Kona Coast

A year or two ago, sleepless 3AMs were a near-constant in my life (cause: baby). One night, my Wikipedia wanderings dropped me onto a page with a list of movies, and one title piqued my interest: Kona Coast. An obscure movie from 1968, I’d never heard of it before. Intrigued by the movie’s slim Wikipedia entry, I searched for a movie poster… check out this beauty:

kona-coast-movie-poster-small

It’s a tragically small image, but here’s the text:

Her name was Woman. Her other name was Excitement. She belonged to Hawaii’s Kona Coast, like the surf riders and the beach bums.

Sign me up. Turns out this oddball thing was actually released on DVD by Warner Bros. (It’s the most bare-bones DVD I’ve seen: the menu is just a still photo of the WB water tower.) Of my many 3AM baby-insomnia purchases, it may be my favorite. It is a terrible movie, and I love every god-damned inch of it.

If you like to go into movies unspoiled, go order it, watch it, and we can reconvene later. Know this: the poster, the blurb on the back of the DVD box, all were written by people who hadn’t seen the movie. It’s so careless, it’s kind of beautiful.

Spoilers ahead:

It really was filmed on the Kona Coast of the Big Island, and also in Waikiki, in 1967. Several scenes are filmed at a bar right on the main drag of Kailua-Kona. In the movie the bar is called Akamai Barnes, owned by a character with that name. I don’t know if they took over a real bar, or if they set-decorated a vacant storefront, or some combination of the two, but it definitely was filmed on site (see below for more detail). [UPDATE 2/8/16: Akamai Barnes was a real bar! I have the story in a Critiki News article, and here’s the listing for Akamai Barnes in Critiki.] There’s also a weird luau with a pretty good Marquesan tiki at the end. The whole movie is a fashion parade of outlandish late-’60s aloha wear.

The movie stars Richard Boone, of Have Gun, Will Travel, as Sam Moran—a grizzled man with a mission, who fancies himself a bit of a vigilante. He wears a yellow windbreaker, gray shorts, white socks, and doesn’t change them for the entire movie. He’s gotta be pretty ripe by the end. Vera Miles is the misty, troubled love interest, Joan Blondell is the brassy broad in a caftan, Kent Smith is the tiki bar-owning man of awkward exposition. The Woman with a capital W—a.k.a. Excitement—from the movie poster? She’s barely a MacGuffin, you won’t be getting to know her. She got more character development from the guy who wrote the movie poster than from the guy who wrote the script.

I gather it was a pilot for a CBS television series that didn’t get picked up; Warner Bros decided to try to squeeze something out of it anyway and it had an unsuccessful theatrical release in 1968. I would love to know how on earth it got selected for a DVD release all these years later.

Speaking from happy experience: Kona Coast is fantastic for a tiki bar movie night. Round up your buddies, make a big volcano bowl, bust out the long straws, and hit play.

And now, a grand tour of the best scenes of Kona Coast:

Our hero, Sam Moran.
Love the lettering on the opening credits.
Love the lettering on the opening credits.
Dig the shirt on the right! The guy on the left has a monkey on his back.
Dig the shirt on the right! The guy on the left has a monkey on his back.
Love the print of this shirt.
I have this same shirt in green.
That hair!
That hair! A friend of mine suggested this may have been shot at the Top of Waikiki, a revolving restaurant.
A seedy sidewalk in Honolulu. Love the signs, especially the one for Tahiti Bar.
A seedy sidewalk in Honolulu. Love the signs, especially the one for Tahiti Bar.
Vintage pinball machines.
Vintage pinball machines.
The front of the tiki bar, Akamai Barnes. Reminds me a bit of the sign for Aloha Jhoe's in Palm Springs (which was created by acclaimed Hollywood set designer Lyle Wheeler, who I'm sure had nothing at all to do with this movie).
The front of the tiki bar, Akamai Barnes. Reminds me a bit of the sign for Aloha Jhoe’s in Palm Springs (which was created by acclaimed Hollywood set designer Lyle Wheeler, who I’m sure had nothing at all to do with this movie).
Akamai Barnes tiki bar. Stage at the left, bar at the right.
Akamai Barnes tiki bar. Stage at the left, bar at the right.
The band & dancer.
The band & dancer.
Akamai Barnes' office at the back of the bar.
Akamai Barnes’ office at the back of the bar. That wheel o’ hats is Akamai Barnes’ credit system. You put your hat on the wheel, and Akamai gives you a cash loan with 10% interest. I’m sure it works out really well for everybody.
Dig the Papua New Guinea-style drum behind him.
Dig the Papua New Guinea-style drum behind him.
The view toward the front of the bar.
The view toward the front of the bar.
The mural behind the bar.
The mural behind the bar.
Closer look at the mural.
Closer look at the mural.
Above the bar it says
Above the bar it says “Ho’o mau mau a ho’o ma’u.” Some cursory poking into the possible translation of the words give meanings of “repeat”, “steady,” “moisture”… sounds like it could be some sort of drinking sentiment/toast thing (if it’s not just totally made up).
Love the shirt on the guy at the bar.
Love the shirt on the guy at the bar.
Another shot looking toward the bar, from the office.
Another shot looking toward the bar, from the office.
It's Duane Eddy, in a really great jacket!
Hey, it’s Duane Eddy, in a really great jacket!
Rattan chair, mod divider windows, and a hip, modern red phone with the dial in the base. He's burning incense, so you know he's a no-good-nik!
Rattan chair, mod divider windows, and a hip, modern red Ericofon with the dial in the base. He’s burning incense, so you know he’s a no-good-nik!
Flowers n' canoes.
Flowers n’ canoes.
Canoes n' flowers.
Canoes n’ flowers.
Party scene in the tiki bar!
Party scene in the tiki bar!
More of the tiki bar party scene.
More of the tiki bar party scene.
This woman is approaching the tiki bar...
This woman is approaching the tiki bar…
Getting closer...
Getting closer…
And there it is, on the right, with the red letters above.
And there it is, on the right, with the red letters above. Here’s the same spot on Google Street View today. (Hat tip to Mike Doughney for that link.) It’s hard to say exactly how this tiki bar maps to the modern landscape, it may be the vacant lot, it could be the seemingly-too-narrow storefront next to it.
These are people outside the bar looking in. Sure looks like they just filmed a bunch of actual tourists.
These are people outside the bar looking in. Sure looks like they just filmed a bunch of actual tourists.
This guy's hat!
This guy’s hat!
This sign is almost charming, but takes a turn for the unamusing and horrifying. Ah well.
This sign is almost charming, but takes a turn for the unamusing and horrifying. Ah well.
She's entered the tiki bar, and she's into it.
She’s entered the tiki bar, and she’s into it.
This guy is bringing someone a Mai Tai. Clear shot of the end of the saying above the mural.
This guy is bringing someone a Mai Tai. Clear shot of the end of the saying above the mural.
Sam Moran, let a girl enjoy her Mai Tai in peace! Sheesh.
Sam Moran, let a girl enjoy her Mai Tai in peace! Sheesh.
Floats and nets on the ceiling.
Floats and nets on the ceiling.
Love the dress and hair on that redhead!
Love the dress and hair on that redhead!
Lush greenery.
Lush greenery.
Torches! Tropical plants!
Torches! Tropical plants!
Night view from the street into the bar.
Night view from the street into the bar.
Another shot of the ceiling in the bar.
Another shot of the ceiling in the bar.
Crappy luau! With a good tiki.
Crappy luau! With a good tiki.
Kittibelle, with a tiki visible over her right shoulder. No, her right. Your left.
Kittibelle, with a tiki visible over her right shoulder. No, her right. Your left.
Getting closer to that tiki now. Yes, that hula dancer has a bag on her head. No, it doesn't make any more sense when you're watching the movie.
Getting closer to that tiki now. Yes, that hula dancer has a bag on her head. No, it doesn’t make any more sense when you’re watching the movie.
Marquesan tiki, with torches!
Marquesan tiki, with torches!
Hello, tiki.
Hello, tiki.
Goodbye, tiki. Hello again, hula bag lady.
Goodbye, tiki. Hello again, hula bag lady.
Please do not punch the tiki, Sam Moran! Sheesh.
Dramatic conclusion! Please do not punch the tiki, Sam Moran. Sheesh.

7 thoughts on “Tiki Movie Night: Kona Coast

  1. Hi,

    Long time Kona resident here, loved your review and picture commentary. There actually was a real bar named Akamai Barnes. If you google AB you can read about a funny story when Lee Marvin and Richard Boone bought a lot of drinks for a group of sailors off a visiting US Navy ship. I’ve actually run across some black and white paintings of the bar, with someone in a cowboy hat looking suspiciously like Paladin at the bar.

    The bar is gone now, sadly, and few even know it exists, and fewer here in Kona have ever heard of this film. The reviews at IMDB are hilarious btw.

    What is really trippy for us long time residents is to look at the undeveloped landscape when they show the island as viewed from a boat. Needless to say the view is quite different now. Sometimes when we have house guests I’ll put this on the DVD and we’ll have to figure out a new drinking game each time. “My name is Sam Moran, and who the hell are you?”

    Thanks for posting this review. Mahalo!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the research, all the still photos and the write-up. Kona Coast is a bit of a cult classic for a very small number of us out there. For what it’s worth, I’ve appended my 2011 IMDB review. Enjoy!

    Kona Coast is an all but forgotten relic of the late 1960’s — as are the members of the cast, Richard Boone, Vera Miles, Chips Rafferty, Joan Blondell, and Steve Ihnat. Several other reviewers have dismissed it as abysmal trash: low budget, poorly scripted, edited, and directed. The sound track is a period piece, and might have been lifted from an episode of “Mannix.” Surely, to the naive viewer, the story is moronic and predictable, the music ridiculous (e.g., bongos erupting in every action sequence), the sequencing choppy and disjointed. Until the advent of DVD, it was virtually impossible to find an intact copy of the film, and to date, only 7 people have written reviews of it for IMDb.

    But all of this misses the point. Kona Coast is high art, masquerading as trash.

    In the opening sequence, we are treated to a sweeping panorama of the Pacific ocean as viewed from the boat of Captain Sam Moran (Richard Boone) — the ship’s wheel unattended until his bare foot lolls across it, steering in the most laissez-faire manner, as he reclines with a vintage bottle of Primo beer in his hand, laughing into the wind.

    This scene is genius. So much is conveyed about the man: carefree, a wild and untamed soul, a free thinker and lover of life.

    Each scene unfolds with a brutal frankness, abruptly, without logic or explanation — so much like life itself. The rawness of this unpolished gem may appear to the naive viewer evidence of schlock; to the discerning student of film, this gut-wrenching directness, making the viewer uncomfortable, even disoriented, is the masterful work of a Fellini, or perhaps more accurately, an Ingmar Berman. The intensity of feeling is conveyed on a level too visceral to be transmitted on any rational basis.

    Likewise, the use of minimal orchestration, a “1960’s detective show” sound track punctuated by riveting bongo breaks during action sequences, keeps the viewer’s mind distracted, so the viewer’s raw psychic underbelly is left fully exposed to the powerful psychic impact of this confusing and at times disturbing masterwork.

    Consider the complicated love triangle between Moran, Melissa Hyde (Miles), and the young girl infatuated with Moran, who eventually evolves into a surrogate for his slain daughter, but not until an uncomfortable Electra complex is played out between her and Moran. The tension — sexual energy — is palpable. In the scenes between Miles and Boone, watch closely for hinted-at but never shown sexual intensity.

    The subtext to the film’s surreality is of course Boone’s long descent into alcoholism, which had all but claimed him by the time Kona Coast was made. Boone was a regular fixture in Kona in the 1960’s; his swollen eyes, paunchy, scarred face, and whiskey baritone were for real. This gives the character of Moran a poignant realism. The viewer can not escape his hopeless, boozy ennui.

    Vera Miles’ Melissa also evokes a deep reaction: here at the height of her womanly allure, she is no ingenue, but a worldly woman constantly aware of the inescapable encroachment of old age and loneliness.

    Also worthy of note is actor Steve Ihnat, who portrays the villainous drug lord, Kryder. Ihnat is given little to work with in Kona Coast, but he makes the most of it with an edge of demonic insanity that makes the viewer squirm. Devotees of the 1960’s Star Trek series will find themselves waiting for him to scream, “LORD Garth!”

    The action sequences are jarring, precipitous, irrational — so much like the violence of life itself, absurd and exhilarating.

    Most of all, this is an existential story. Sam Moran is a man confronted with the most terrible of losses: the death of his daughter, soon followed by the death of his best friend. His way of life and everything he believes in are suddenly in question. Every time he proclaims, “I’m Sam Moran. Who the hell are you?” — (I lost count) — he boldly reasserts his identity in the face of nothingness. Moran is the quintessential man of the 1960’s: strong, independent, and absolutely free of doubt. He is a champion in man’s struggle against nihilism.

    Had this film been made in French or Swedish, it would have been heralded and remembered as a masterpiece. It is literally so bad that it is good. One might predict that with the advent of DVD and greater accessibility to the masses, Kona Coast will enjoy a renaissance, perhaps even achieving cult film status. Kona Coast is an unappreciated work of modern art.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Humu! TikiTnT here…. We just ordered the dvd and can’t wait to throw it in the machine! Lets have a tiki movie night somewhere in the bay area soon!

    Like

  4. Thank you for this piece of history, I am 72 years old and was actually there when the Kona Coast was filmed. I remember it like it was yesterday. I actually had dinner twice with Vera Miles and Joan Blondell. Got drunk with Richard Boone and remember very well when we were all past out in Boone’s living room and someone brought in the lawn sprinkler to wake us all up because Boone’s boat the “Good Bye Charlie” was in trouble. Duane Eddys music at nite stopped traffic on both ends of the Kona Sea wall. After the movie AKAMAI BARNES was sold to RED PANTS where a terrible shooting occurred and I was there shooting pool at the time. The property is owned by the Colonel Chun family and they had the building torn down because they felt the spot was cursed. Hope the big Banyan tree is still there. I will be happy to answer any questions if I can.

    Aloha No,

    David Calles

    davidnorthstar704@gmail.com

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s