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:
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.
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: