Caddie (1976) review by Raoul Willison, 2003
Cinematic Process : Panavision
Distributed by : Roadshow Distributors
Helen Morse - Caddie
Takis Emmanuel - Peter
Jack Thompson - Ted
Jacki Weaver - Josie
Melissa Jaffer - Leslie
Ron Blanchard - Bill
Drew Forsythe - Sonny
Kirrily Nolan - Esther
Philip Hinton - John Marsh
Mary MacKay - Mater
Lucky Grills - Pawnbroker
Robyn Nevin - Black Eye
Pat Evison - Mrs. Norris
June Salter - Mrs. Marks
Joy Hruby - Mrs. Sweeney
Jan Adele - Daisy
Donald Crombie - Director
Anthony Buckley - Producer
Joan Long - Screenwriter
Peter James - Cinematographer
Peter Flynn - Composer (Music Score)
Tim Wellburn - Editor
Owen Williams - Art Director
Judith Dorsman - Costume Designer
Steve Knapman - First Assistant Director
Hal McElroy - First Assistant Director
Mark Turnbull - First Assistant Director
John Seale - Camera Operator
Peter Fenton - Sound/Sound Designer
Ross Matthews - Production Manager
Caddie was released in 1976 in Australia and is estimated to be the 54th highest grossing Australian produced or co-produced feature with an estimated box office taking of $2 847 000 which has not been adjusted for inflation. It was produced by Anthony Buckley Productions©.
The film opens with shots of a tennis match and sounds of people laughing and having fun which is immediately juxtaposed with a solitary lady (who is Caddie) looking out the window. The viewer is made aware of the wealth of the household through the rich mise en scene. Caddie and her children then pack their bags and leave in a taxi. The film then flashbacks to a scene in which Caddie's husband tells her to leave and Caddie vocalises her strong will to keep her children. The film then cuts to Caddie in a poverty stricken area where she pawns her wedding ring for 18 pounds. Again the film flashes back to Caddie and her (now ex) husband telling of his infidelity with her friend Esther and abusing her. Caddie then uses the money to move into a poverty stricken block characterised by prostitution, women with black eyes, itchy children and loud coughing. Caddies ability to push forward in life and her determination are clearly evident by this point in the film. The film then follows Caddies search for employment which ends in her only option being to become a barmaid due to her lack of experience. Being a barmaid presents Caddie with many aspects of life she is not accustomed to, essentially the working class culture of Australia and the roughness of the culture is repeatedly contrasted with Caddie's refinement. The film goes on to show Caddie strong will to cope with her new life and employment, she finds friendship with her fellow barmaid Josie(Jackie Weaver) and is courted by SP bookie Ted (Jack Thompson) who gives her the nickname Caddie, likening her beauty and class to that of his new Cadillac. As things are becoming bearable for Caddie she finds out her baby sitting arrangements are a disaster and her children are being left alone while the matrons drink. Subsequently one of her children falls ill and is diagnosed with diphtheria and is operated on successfully. Ted then declares his love for Caddie but this relationship soon ends when Caddie is made awar e of Ted's prior relationship by Ted's bitter lover. During this time Caddie's barmaid friend Josie gets an illegal abortion and shortly after while the two are relating to each other about life Josie suggests to Caddie that to put her children in a boarding house would be better than them roaming the streets while Caddie works. This leads Caddie to put her children in paid care at a church boarding house. She also begins a new job due to awkwardness between her and Ted. She again makes friends with her workmates and begins another relationship with a man, Peter whom Caddie meets while waiting for her friend in a textile shop. Peter is a man of Greek descent and has Caddie and her children accompany him to one of his families traditional dinner parties where all is well and Caddie and Peter get to know each other and enjoy each others company. Peter is very impressed with Caddie's efforts to support herself and her children and is kind and respectable towards Caddie. Their relationship continues and Caddie and Peter enjoy spending time together and with Caddie's children until Peter receives a letter from his family in Greece stating that his father is very ill and he must return to look after the family business. The news of this is hard for Caddie and she asks him not to go but he tells her that he must and will return to her as soon as he can. The film then cuts forward two years (the viewer is made aware of this directly) to the Great Depression and Caddie is shown standing among a group of weathered folk to read job vacancies on a pin up board. It is evident that she has lost weight and a coffin is symbolically carted past. Caddie also moves due to her inability to pay the rent and is unable to keep her children in paid care so they move back with her. She continues to miss Peter is befriended two men, Bill and Sonny, who sell rabbit meat to the local residents. After falling ill due to malnutrition and nervous exhaustion she is visited by a doctor when Bill and Sonny enter her house to see if she is alrigh t only to see how sick she has become. Bill and Sonny, although a rugged duo are kindhearted and let Caddie stay with them and help to look after her children while she is recovering and Caddie becomes even better friends with both. She regains her health and gets yet another job where she is offered a job as an SP Bookmaker and takes the job. While working at this bar Caddie runs into Esther, the woman who Caddies ex husband John left her for. It turns out John has left Ether also and Ether has incurred TB. Esther states that she envies Caddie for her strength but leaves shortly after while Caddie is serving someone at the bar. By this time Caddie is on her feet again and receives a letter from her self titled "only real husband" Peter who states that he has completed his divorce and wants Caddie to go to Greece. Unfortunately Caddie cannot go due to legal restrictions regarding her being still married and not allowed to take the children out of the country. After finding out this bad news she goes home and collapses on her bed in despair but she is shortly after visited by her children who bring a smile to her face and once again give her the strength to go on as they have done throughout the journey she undertakes through the film. The film ends here with the viewer being informed that Peter did return to Caddie but was unfortunately killed in a motoring accident before they could be married.
Caddie has often been cited as a film belonging to the 'quality' period of Australian filmmaking. The shift in filmmaking ideals which occurred around 1975 with the release of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' marked a change in (perception of) the possibilities for distribution of Australian films. This went hand in hand with the demise of the 'ocker' film for being crass and not suitable for international screening. This can be seen to be a product of the changeover from the Australian Film Development Commission to the Australian Film Commission which was the direct consequence of an inquiry by the Tariff Board who recommended the implementation of a government body to oversee film exhibition, distribution and production in Australia. The consequence of this change in governing bodies was an added emphasis on the cultural content of films and hence the protection of Australia's national identity. Caddie was released in the wake of the success of Picnic at Hanging Rock and due to the swing in dynamics of the Australian film industry at this time in favour of the 'quality' film it's success may have been probable although I believe that it is an interesting and well produced film. Quality films are said to have had to walk the fine line of being suitable for mainstream cinema viewing in Australia while being viewed in arthouse cinemas of foreign countries. While Caddie is a film which the Australian public could relate to and place within their own cultures history the rest of the world could view it as film with characters set against the backdrop of Australia in the 1920's/30's. A factor which was relevant to the dynamics of Australian cinema at the time of Caddies production was that the AFC Women's Film Fund had been set up in order to help female filmmakers through grants and the funding of female oriented film projects. The centrality of issues regarding women in society presented in Caddie's struggle to keep and support her children after she leaves her bourgeois husband because of his infidelity with one of her friends allowed Donald Crombie to successfully receive funding from the AFC Women's Film Fund to produce Caddie. Crombie was born in 1942 in Australia and his most recent screen production has been 'McLeod's Daughters' produced as a TV series.
The films is set in Sydney during the 1920's and 30's and this period (which includes The Great Depression) is convincingly portrayed through the many scenes of 'Caddie'. The focus on situating Australian films within the context of Australian history that was privileged in this era of Australian filmmaking is evident in 'Caddie'. The film is set in a time in which was unaccommodating and consistently maintains a balance between despair and hope. The film also portrays the effect of the Great Depression on the working class and true to the times we see many characters of the film depicting Aussie diggers who band together to help each other survive the rough times. The mise en scene used to depict the 20's and 30's is very convincing and the attention to detail has been praised in numerous reviews I have read. It is understandable as the film portrays a world which is consistent through characters, costumes, setting and dialogue. The Aussie digger is personified by many of the male characters most notably Bill and Sonny (played by Ron Blanchard and Drew Forsyth, respectively)whose friendliness and willingness to help others despite their own bleak situation is the essence of the Aussie digger or Aussie battler. The main character Caddie is the strongest character of the film and through her willingness to battle against the odds presents the most striking example of the Aussie Battler while perhaps also redefining the term to include women. The issues that the film depicts concerning marginalised women of the 1920's and 30's still carries much meaning in the present with issues such as abortion, unequal employment opportunities and sexism being explored through the eyes of a woman. The strength that the character Caddie possesses is made very evident while watching the film and women are generally portrayed very positively with perhaps the exception of the alcoholic women at the bars Caddie works.
I found the cinematography to be composed and deliberate and of a high standard. The shots range from the elegant and deliberate shots depicting the bourgeois surroundings of Caddies past to the more hurried shots depicting the stressful nature of barwork but maintain a very high quality (representative of the 'quality' period in Australian filmmaking history) throughout. Many complex camera movements unfold the scenes throughout 'Caddie' somewhat seamlessly. Although cinematographer Peter James did not win the 1976 AFI award for best achievement in cinematography (Ian Baker received this award for his work on 'The Devils Playground' )he was awarded the 1976 Australian Cinematographers Society's Milli Award for his work on 'Caddie'.
I found the performances given by the cast to be very convincing. Period films have been noted for their use of actors who could portray 'normal' people and this can be seen in the convincingly real performance of the cast. Helen Morse has been widely acclaimed as one of Australia's leading female actors and received an AFI award for 'Best Actress in a lead Role' in 1976 for 'Caddie' as well as being awarded the best actress award at the San Sebastian Film Festival for the same performance. It is interesting to note the success Helen Morse achieved with Caddie followed her 1975 AFI award for 'Best Actress in a lead role' for her role in 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. Jackie Weaver and Mellisa Jaffer also won acclaim for their performances as Caddies barmaid friend Josie and boss Leslie respectively and jointly received the 1976 AFI award for 'Best actress in a supporting role'.
The story of Caddie was originally written by Dymphna Cusack (born 1902) under the title Caddie, The Story of a Barmaid. [Editor's note. Cusack did not write the book: she encouraged, coached, and edited the autobiographer's work.] It was published in 1953 and was her only non fiction novel to be published although her fiction literature was published throughout the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. Her interest in Caddie's story was sparked by Caddie herself who happened to be working as a maid for Cusack. Cusack was awarded the Australia medal for her contribution to Australian literature in 1981 and died later that year. The novel was transcribed by Joan Long as her first feature film script and after the success of Caddie went on to co-produce Puberty Blues with Margaret Kelly.
Caddie was the first feature film Anthony Buckley produced and with success accompanying him went on to produce many other screen productions, notably being awarded the order of Australia for his contribution to the Australian film industry.
To find the information I needed regarding the film I basically did a comprehensive search of the Internet using keywords such as Caddie, the actors names as well as Anthony Buckley, Donald Crombie etc. The searches I did (which were mostly through www.altavista.com.au) never returned copious amounts of information but by sifting through it I was able to recover some relevant material. I also used the relevant readings from the unit reader as well as conducting some non film related research on the Great Depression.
Experience of a Nationhood(Modern Australia since 1901), fourth edition, K.J. Mason, published by McGraw Hill and reprinted 2002.
The entry in Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper 1980, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production (Oxford University Press, Melbourne) for Caddie is found in pp. 297-299. It contains the information, inter alia, that the budget for the film was less than $400000.