TONY’S TOP AUSTRALIAN FILMS: #7 – THOROUGHBRED (1936)
Ken G. Hall’s Thoroughbred (1936) is a sometimes thrilling Australian film. It is very loosely based on the story of one of Australia’s greatest racehorses, Phar Lap. Unfortunately, it has suffered from comparisons with other similar films, such as Frank Capra’s Broadway Bill (1934). However, it is a delightful film and is part of a small group or genre of Australian films that is about the popular Australian sport of horse racing. Furthermore, like virtually all the Australian horse racing films the climax is the famous Melbourne Cup – the Australian horse race ‘that stops the nation’.
The story centres on a horse called Stormalong who is owned and cared for by Joan, a young Canadian horse trainer living in Australia. She is helped by Tommy Dawson and together they start winning races. Eventually, Stormalong becomes a favourite to win the Melbourne Cup. However, a group of corrupt gambling syndicates plot to destroy Stormalong. First, they arrange for his stable to be burnt down; then they kidnap Tommy; and finally, at the Melbourne Cup whilst the race is on there is a life and death race to try and stop a sniper from shooting Stormalong.
In 1935 order to help finance the film and secure a US distribution Ken G. Hall traveled to the US and signed American actress Helen Twelvetrees to play Joan. Helen Twelvetrees, as well as Frank Leighton who plays Tommy, is terrific in the film. There is also a back-stage drama here as Helen Twelvetrees. She came to Australia with her husband and child but had an affair with Frank Leighton who was playing Tommy. Her husband found out and threatened to kill Frank Leighton. Ken G. Hall had to hire detectives to help gently but firmly get the husband and child out of the country.
I thoroughly recommend this wonderful little gem in the Australian film canon.