Double bill of famous Australian films at the Roxy

September 26, 2013

This month’s Film Club screening features two great Australian films – produced 30 years apart, but holding similar prominence in Australian cinema history. The first film – “The Overlanders” – was filmed in 1946, while “Storm Boy” premiered in 1976.

The making of “The Overlanders” is a story in itself before the film even commences rolling. During the Second World War the Australian government became concerned that the Australian contribution to the war effort was not being fully recognized – particularly in Britain. They contacted Britain’s Ministry for Information, who contacted Ealing Studios.

Director Harry Watt was sent to Australia, to search for a story, and he heard of an incident in 1942 when 100,000 head of cattle were driven 2000 miles from the Northern Territory to escape the feared Japanese invasion.

Research and filming were spread over 18 months. Ealing sent only four technicians and the rest of the film crew were recruited in Australia. Of the nine lead roles, Watt chose four professional actors, an experienced amateur, and four newcomers. The film was to launch the career of Chips Rafferty. Rafferty, as the star of the film, was paid the princely salary of 25 pounds a month for 5 months!

Five hundred head of cattle were purchased by Ealing, and later sold for a profit.

The Australian government claimed they contributed 4,359 pounds towards production costs. All the post-production work and editing was carried out in England.

Ealing was so impressed with Rafferty’s work that they signed him to a long-term contract even before the movie had been released. Rafferty and Ealing Studios went on, about a year later, to make another Australian classic – “Eureka Stockade”.

Upon release in September 1946, the film was very positively reviewed, and became extremely successful at the box office. Only five months after its release, it had been seen by at least 350,000 Australians – thus becoming the biggest hit up to that time in Australian film history. Proportionately, it may still be. It went on to gross more than 250,000 pounds in Australia and Britain – against a budget of between 40,000 and 80,000 pounds.

I remember watching “The Overlanders” at the Roxy as a small boy, and had forgotten most of it until it popped up as David Stratton’s opening film at a festival a couple of years ago. I was instantly impressed with the authentic feel of the film – particularly the cattle handling scenes. It is impossible not to compare it to Baz Luhrmann’s movie with a similar theme, “Australia” – which comes in a very poor second.

“The Overlanders” runs for 91 minutes, and is rated G for General Exhibition.

Storm Boy
The second feature film, “Storm Boy”, was adapted for the screen from Colin Thiele’s famous book about a boy and his pelican. Filmed from May 1976 at Streaky Bay in the Coorong on South Australia’s coastline, the budget came from The South Australian Film Corporation , the Australian Film Commission and the Seven Television Network.

“Storm Boy” tells the story of a boy (Greg Rowe) who likes to wander alone along the fierce, deserted coastline of South Australia’s Coorong. He and his father live a reclusive life among the dunes that face out into the Southern Ocean. The essence of the story is the special relationship between the boy and a pelican he has raised from a chick, and his friendship with an aborigine – “ Fingerbone Bill” – in one of David Gulpilil’s first film roles.

The film was highly successful – $2,645,000 (against a budget of only $320,000) which, converted to today’s money terms, equates to nearly 15 million dollars. It won the AFI Best Film award in 1977 and, interestingly, the Best Childrens Film at the Moscow Film Festival that year.

And – two interesting postscripts………..Greg Rowe was a totally untrained 11 year old actor when the film was made, while the pelican which played the lead role of Mr. Percival lived until the ripe old age of 33, and died at Royal Adelaide Zoo in 2009.

“Storm Boy” runs for 88 minutes and is also rated G for General Exhibition.

Club News
Club membership is now up to 38. If you have friends that might be interested, spread the word – it is never too late to join. Sunday’s double represents the very best in Australian movies, while “Warhorse” (October) and “The Intouchables” (November), are probably the most popular films for the whole year. If you count the 8th December members-only President’s “surprise freebie”, you can see five films for only $18 – the normal admission price for many cinemas these days.

Taking out membership is easy – just come to the Roxy a bit before screening time at 4pm on Sunday.