Ken G. Hall’s It Isn’t Done (1937) was one of the most successful Australian films of the 1930s. It was based on a story by Cecil Kellaway and written by Frank Harvey and Carl Dudley. Cecil Kellaway was a South African born actor who lived and worked in Australia during the 1920s and 1930s. He would eventually move to the USA where he would establish himself as a major character actor, featuring in such films as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Luck of the Irish (1948), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). This was also Shirley Ann Richard’s first feature film.
The story involves an Australian farmer called Hubert Blaydon (Cecil Kellaway) who suddenly inherits a baronet in the UK. He and his family travel to England to take up the inheritance but run up against British snobbery. Eventually, Hubert arranges to get rid of the inheritance, giving it to a young writer, Peter Ashton (John Longden), who has fallen in love with Hubert’s daughter, Patricia (Shirley Ann Richards). Hubert and his wife return to Australia leaving Patricia who marries Peter.
Whilst mostly set in the UK, the film was entirely shot in Australia, in the Cinesound Bondi studios. This is a truly delightful ‘comedy of manners’ contrasting contemporary Australian social ways and ethics with British ones. It was a big success in Australia as well as the UK and USA and is still as funny and engaging as it ever was.
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.
Tony’ Top Australian Films: #6. THE SILENCE OF DEAN MAITLAND (1934)
Ken G. Hall’s The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934) is not a great film, but it has something rather intriguing about it that makes compulsive viewing. Furthermore, it throws a particular mirror up to its contemporary society with certain issues still relevant today.
The film is based on the romantic melodramatic novel of the same name by Maxwell Grey (a pseudonym for Mary Gleed Tuttiett) that was first published in 1886. It was a best-seller, adapted into a play, and later two silent films in 1914 and 1915. It involves a minister, Dean Maitland who is seduced by the local sex-pot, Alma Lee who becomes pregnant. Ben Lee, Alma’s father, when he finds out physically attacks Dean Maitland, who then accidentally kills Alma’s father. Rather than confess, Dean Maitland allows his best friend, Dr. Henery Everard to take the blame. Everard goes to jail for twenty years, whilst Dean Maitland enjoys a successful life. Eventually, however, all is revealed.
There is a story that Ken G. Hall and his friend Stuart F. Doyle went to see a production of the play by The Rockdale Amateur Society in Sydney, and ended up in fits of giggles due to its overt melodramatic sentimentality. Nonetheless, Hall sensed there was something about this story that would appeal to contemporary audiences – and he was right. Despite reserved contemporary critical assessments, the respective film versions were popular successes, particularly Ken G. Hall’s 1934 film.
Today it is very awkward at times to watch, nonetheless, there is something about this story. Furthermore, despite all the melodramatic sentimentality The Silence of Dean Maitland had, and I think still has, the power and capacity to upset numerous people in religious communities and government institutions. Raymond Longford wrote and directed the 1914 film version, and ended up in court over distribution problems. It is perhaps the issue of decadence, hypocrisy, corruption, and betrayal by a supposed respected religious leader that is why The Silence of Dean Maitland has its appeal and fascination, and would, if re-made, probably be as successful and popular with Australian audiences as it has always been. A curiosity, perhaps, but there is something there….?
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’ TOP AUSTRALIAN FILMS
#4 ON OUR SELECTION (1932)
Steele Rudd’s On Our Selection (1899) was one of the most popular works in Australian fiction for nearly fifty years. It was a series of satiric ‘sketches’ involving a rural Australian family, the Rudds, battling the elements, neighbours, politicians, and themselves. It marks the beginning of a number books by Steele Rudd about this lovable family of ‘country bumpkins’. The original group of ‘sketches’, On Our Selection, in 1912 became a highly successful play, written by Edmond Duggan and the then popular Australian actor Bert Bailey who also played the central character of Dad Rudd.
The play became the basis for the 1920 silent film version as well as Charles Chauvel’s 1932 ‘talkie’ On Our Selection. This was the film that really launched Charles Chauvel’s career. He was initially reluctant to do it, considering it as ‘old-fashioned’, however, based on the success of the play and the 1920 film he was persuaded that it would be a big hit with the Australian public – and it was.
Bert Bailey co-wrote the screenplay as well as reprise the role he created, Dad Rudd. Bailey, and Fred MacDonald as Dave Rudd, as well as the film, were such an enormous hit that it subsequently triggered off a series of films – Grandad Rudd (1935), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Dad Rudd MP (1940). Whilst ‘film series’ are not unknown in the Australian film canon, nonetheless, the ‘Dad and Dave’ films are the most successful.
It is perhaps lamentable that the world and humour of On Our Selection and the ‘Dad and Dave’ films, in general, are relegated to the ‘old-fashioned’ dismissed bucket. However, Yes – they could be regarded as ‘old-fashioned’, but there is also an engaging whimsical charm, and they have moments that are genuinely funny. Furthermore, they do not shy away from social and political comment, and have more in common with the contemporary US films of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges than is generally credited – but with a uniquely ‘Australian’ voice.
This is partly exemplified in Dad and Dave Come to Town (which is my personal favourite) by the character of Mr. Ernstwhislte, played by Alec Kellaway. This character is what was called a ‘sissie’ role; in that, he is very effeminate and obviously ‘gay’. What makes this character and Alec Kellaway’s excellent performance important is that it is quite possibly the very first positive presentation of a homosexual man in ‘world cinema’, as opposed to being villainous, decadent, pathetic, psychopathic outcasts. Alec Kellaway’s Mr. Ernstwhistle is none of these, but is ‘good guy’ and helps Dad and Dave in their battle against the real villains in the film. Even more surprising, and a delightful paradox in regards to Australian audiences in comparison with English and US audiences, Mr. Ernstwhistle was so popular with the Australian public that he subsequently came back in later films.
These films may well be just of ‘historical interest’ now, however, I would argue that if viewed they would still garner laughs and be extremely popular.
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’.
Looking through a window, any window, is to gaze on a number of possibilities – some good, some bad. Stepping through that window, by choice or by force, means engagement – some good, some bad. Either way, it is a journey – from the scourging of a past life to a re-birth, a re-awakening, and a re-discovery of self-worth. This was my journey over the past several years, represented and exemplified by the following photographs.
Through a Window: Inneston, Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Everyone faces, at least at one point in their life, an experience that wipes away a past life. This can be quite painful and devastating, combined with feeling like one is going through a ritualistic cleansing – a scourging of fire and water.
Prologue: The Scourging of Flaming Waters – Fountain, Brisbane, Queensland
ACT 1: RE-BIRTH & RE-AWAKENING
After the scourging comes the re-birth and re-awakening. We greet the new day with a smile in the hope of better life.
Re-Awakening: Sunrise – Maslin Beach, South Australia
We look around our immediate environment and notice the ruination. Feelings of being confined and trapped complement a sense of isolation.
Re-Awakening: Isolation – Port Willunga, South Australia
We rise to face the day. Gazing into what seems vast as well as beautiful there is the juxtaposition of various figures and positions that reflect our current sense of self.
Re-Awakening: Moon, Sky, Sea, Sand, Rock – Maslin Beach, South Australia
ACT 2: SOLACE
We need to accept what was and move forward to what may be. In order to do that we must seek solace; to calm, to nurture and re-nourish, to be inspired and to re-invent. This place of solace can be nature, a place of religious worship, and in art galleries. In all cases, it is a source of spiritual solace as well as slowly but steadily re-connecting with a living world.
Solace: Nature – Dancing Trees – Murdoch Walk, Botanic Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia
Solace: Spiritual – St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Adelaide, South Australia
Solace: Art – National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
ACT 3: INSPIRATION
In these places of solace, there is always the possibility of being inspired by something – such as a work of art. Emerging from these places, hopefully re-nourished, you are more open to the wonders and beauty that surrounds you on the street.
In Adelaide, there is wonderful ‘Street Art’, which is often breathtaking in beauty as well as scale. This includes the first work of ‘Public (Street) Art’ in Adelaide, which is a statue, a copy of Canova’s ‘Venus’. It was first unveiled in 1892, and caused a minor scandal due to its nudity and conservative tastes and morals of the time. It shows the goddess Venus stepping from a bath and being surprised; by what or by whom is up to the imagination of the gazer.
In the contemporary ‘Street Art’ of Adelaide there are numerous other re-imagings of a modern ‘Venus’, which can be found down laneways, and even in car parks, such as this one by Adelaide Street Artist Jimmy.C.
Inspiration: Canova’s ‘Venus’ – North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia; Jimmy.C’s ‘Venus’ – Rundle Street, Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia
ACT 4: RE-INVENTING
From the nurturing honeyed waters of solace and inspiration, the re-invention of self begins.
Re-Inventing: Honeyed Waters – Fountain, Martin Place, Sydney, New South Wales
Re-invention means re-engaging, and the realization that there really is, as Shakespeare’s says, ‘a world elsewhere’. There are multiple worlds, none of them perfect, in which one can find inspiration, hope, and adventure. Looking out, not in, moving forward by accepting the past and the present for what it is…and the next journey begins.
Re-Inventing: Adventure – Temples, Indien, Lake Inle, Myanmar
Re-Inventing: Adventure – Cow & Temples, Bagan, Myanmar
Re-Inventing: Adventure – Fisherman, Lake Inle, Myanmar
Re-Inventing: Adventure – Temple Entrance, Bagan, Myanmar
EPILOGUE: The New Self
Photography was a major source of re-invention for me. After the devastation and sense of isolation and abandonment, I discovered a means to release a dormant creativity. I thank the various people involved in helping me to re-invent my fractured self in a way that I never knew could be possible.
The New Self: Portrait – Sie and I
‘Never Stop Believing’ and continue ‘Making the Ordinary “Extraordinary”