TONY’S TOP AUSTRALIAN FILMS
#5. The Squatter’s Daughter (1932)
One of the most popular Australian ‘melodramas’ in the first decades of the 20th Century was The Squatter’s Daughter (1907) by Bert Baily and Edward Duggan. The story essentially involves a dramatic love-triangle between two male rivals and the feisty heroine – Violet, the ‘Squatter’s Daughter’. Partly why this film is in my ‘Top Australian films’ is because it exemplifies the creation of a particular type of Australian female persona – the Aussie ‘shelia’.
These days, to call a woman a ‘shelia’ would be taken as a relatively derogatory label. That was not it’s original intention; rather the contrary, as it was a term that was essentially affectionate and complementary. The ‘shelia’ roles, such as Violet in The Squatter’s Daughter, were primarily masculine creations, nonetheless, the character was firmly embraced – feisty, independent, smart, beautiful, sometimes rich and sometimes not – she was seen as the ideal companion to the idealized romantic persona of the contemporary Australian male. These characteristics are also found in Sybylla Mervyn in Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career (1901), who to a certain extent prefigures Violet in The Squatter’s Daughter (1907), and many others to follow – such as Barbara in Lawson Harris’ A Daughter of Australia (1922).
The success of the play led to Bert Bailey directing a silent-screen adaption in 1910. Unfortunately, there are no surviving copies and is now regarded as a ‘lost film’.
It is, however, Ken G. Hall’s 1932 film version that perhaps gives the best glimpse of how thrilling contemporary Australain audiences found The Squatter’s Daughter. Hall’s film, however, although based on the original play, is considerably different. The characters have been renamed – Violet is now Joan – and certain characters and situations completely removed. For example, the sub-plot in the original play involving the bushranger Ben Hall has gone; its place is a sub-plot involving racism.
Another reason why this film is in my ‘Top Australian films’ is the spectacular and frightening bush-fire that is the climax of the film. Very impressive – and dangerous – film-making.
TONY’S TOP AUSTRALIAN FILMS:
#2 – THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE (1919).
Raymond Longford’s film version of C. J. Dennis’ SONGS OF THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE (1915) is truly an Australian ‘classic’ film, and deserves to be always in any list of ‘Top Australian films of all time’.
There are a number of things about this film that makes it special. Firstly, there is Raymond Longford (1878-1959) who produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay. Longford is possibly the greatest of the Australian silent filmmakers. His career and life is a roller-coaster of ‘boom to bust’. His early film career is linked to his partner Lottie Lyell who co-wrote THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE with him, as well as many others, and appears as Doreen in THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE. Longford was already married when began his relationship with Lottie Lyell, but his wife refused to grant a divorce. Lottie Lyell died on T.B in 1925. From then on Longford’s career and life was gradual and humiliating decline. He ended up being a night-watchman on the Sydney wharves, dying, virtually in poverty, in 1959 at the age of 80 and largely forgotten. However, Raymond Longford was true ‘pioneer’ of Australian film, in directing, producing, writing, and fighting for an authentic Australian voice in film. He was highly critical of the influence and dominance of films and film-makers from the UK and the USA. He eventually softened his criticism of the Americans, preferring them due to their technical skill and artistry, as well as their sensitivity and encouragement of establishing an Australian film industry. Whereas the English were less technically skilled and regarded Australians as mere ‘colonials’ and ‘convicts’.
THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE is Raymond Longford’s masterpiece. However, there are many others that are noteworthy, and perhaps more indicative of Longford’s aesthetics and style. THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE, and its sequel, GINGER MICK, were highly successful, but they are not necessarily atypical Longford films. Longford was a bit of a maverick and a rebel, as befitting someone who is basically inventing feature films making in this early period of silent films. A more typical Longford-Lyell film is THE SILENCE OF DEAN MAITLAND (1914), which was highly controversial for its time, and involved a number of legal battles.
Another reason why THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE is special is the naturalistic acting that is unique to ‘world cinema’ of the time. This is most evident in the performances of Arthur Tauchert as ‘The Bloke’ and Lottie Lyell as Doreen. The naturalistic nature of this romantic comedy is enhanced by the given circumstances, which are essentially out-door locations in post-WW1 Darlinghurst, Sydney. Furthermore, perhaps due to the influence and presence of Lottie Lyell, but as he later admitted he was developing a particular aesthetic that was directed towards women as he regarded Australian women as more empathetic than Australian men to human drama.
THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE also has a special place in my affections as it was my father who introduced the poem to me, especially the ‘The Play’. In this poem, ‘The Bloke’ takes Doreen to see a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It is one of the funniest versions of Shakespeare’s famous play, and it is wonderfully realized in the film. THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE has an Adelaide and South Australian connection. C. J. Dennis was born in Auburn, about 100kms from Adelaide, and the first screening of THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE took place in the Adelaide Wondergraph on 26 November 1918.
For many years it was thought that this film had been lost. However, in 1952 a complete copy was found, restored and screened at the 1955 Sydney Film Festival. Raymond Longford was not invited because the organizers thought he was dead. An original negative print was discovered by accident in the USA in 1973. This American version was a better print than the one found in 1952. It was this version that was the basis for the 2000 restoration of the entire film by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive. This restoration is available as a two-set DVD, with an accompanying booklet about the film and its recovery and restoration. THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE needs to be reclaimed and rescreened so that it once again can take its place as on the ‘Top Australian Films of All Time’.