Australasian Cinema > directors > Alfred Rolfe

Alfred Rolfe

Alfred Rolfe, real name Alfred Roker (1862– 9 September 1943), was an Australian film director and actor, best known for being the son-in-law of the celebrated actor-manager Alfred Dampier, with whom he appeared frequently on stage, and for his prolific output as a director during Australia's silent era, including Captain Midnight, the Bush King (1911), Captain Starlight, or Gentleman of the Road (1911) and The Hero of the Dardanelles (1915). Only one of his films as director survives today. Wikipedia.

After his initial trio of filmed plays for Spencer, Rolfe turned from his career as an actor to specialise in film direction, and quickly became one of Australia's most prolific craftsmen. In mid-1911 he joined the Australian Photo-Play Company as their principal director, and in quick succession over the next year made a total of twenty-five features (not all of which have been identified). His next major engagement as director was with Australasian Films in 1915 and 1916, where he directed 'industrials', short program fillers (including a series of 'picture songs' which offered visual settings of popular melodies) and narrative films, including The Hero Of The Dardanelles and The Loyal Rebel (both 1915). He eventually abandoned show business and became associated with amateur athletic organisations in Sydney. He died on 9 September 1943, aged 81. Pike & Cooper: 14.

Alfred Rolfe was to be the most prolific of the Australian silent era directors, making no less than twenty-nine narrative fiction films between 1911 and 1918. Today only The Hero of the Dardanelles (1915) survives, but it indicates a director skilled in the type of visual and naturalistic sophistication later attributed to Raymond Longford. The conventions of spectacle melodrama so favoured in late nineteenth century Australian theatre, with their realistic settings and real chases on horseback and train wrecks, played a large role in the films he made for Australian Photo-Play in 1911-12. They were conventions at which his late father-in-law, Alfred Dampier, had excelled in his stage productions of Captain Midnight, the Bush King, Captain Starlight and His Natural Life, and which Rolfe appears to have carried intact into his adaptations of these (with the latter re-titled The Life of Rufus Dawes) for Spencer’s Pictures. If The Hero of the Dardanelles and reviews of other films are an indication, Rolfe’s work for Spencer and Australian Photo-Play had helped refine the achievement of naturalistic performances for the screen, not to say the basis of a screen grammar that vividly captured setting and spectacle. Shirley & Adams: 40.

I speculate on how significant might have been the contribution made by Rolfe's wife, Lily Dampier, to his film-making. Because so many of his films have been lost, and cast lists are incomplete, I believe she may have been in more than the three for which she is credited (the two Captains, and the Rufus Dawe film). She was the daughter of Alfred Dampier who managed an acting troupe and who wrote the play on which Captain Starlight is based. Lily Dampier died, aged only 47, in 1915, but by then her husband had made a score of films, many of which may have had parts for her. And who knows what else someone with her background might have contributed? On the other hand, she may simply have retired after the first three films, and there is an Ethel Phillips who appears in Australian Photo-Play Company credits, so the latter may have been the leading lady in their films.


Captain Midnight, The Bush King (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) aka The Bushranger's Bride ,Spencer's Pictures, dp Ernest Higgins; Alfred Rolfe [Alfred Roker] (Edgar Dalmore/Captain Midnight), Lily Dampier [Rolfe's wife] (Elsa), Raymond Longford

Captain Starlight, or Gentleman Of The Road (Alfred Rolfe, 1911 )Spencer's Pictures, from the play by Alfred Dampier, based on the novel Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood, dp Ernest Higgins; Alfred Rolfe, Lily Dampier [Rolfe's wife], Raymond Longford, Stanley Walpole, Augustus Neville; opened Spencer's Lyceum Sydney 16 March 1911 and ran for a profitable extended season; over 3000 ft

Life Of Rufus Dawes, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) aka The Convict Hero, Spencer's Pictures, wr. Alfred Rolfe from the novel For The Term Of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke, dp Ernest Higgins; Alfred Rolfe, Lily Dampier [Rolfe's wife], Raymond Longford; 4000 ft

Moora Neya (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) aka The Message of the Spear; Australian Photo-Play Company; Ethel Phillips, Stanley Walpole, Charles Villiers

The Australian Photo-Play Company was established in June 1911 under the management of Stanley Crick. The company had arisen out of the Crick and Finlay partnership, which had produced four films by John Gavin earlier in the year. Crick's new company was an ambitious undertaking, with capital of £20,000, offices in Sydney and Melbourne, and two studios planned for construction in Sydney. By November 1911 Crick claimed to be employing about forty staff, with a camera department in the charge of Herbert Finlay, a laboratory managed by A. O. Segerberg, and an acting troupe under the direction of Alfred Rolfe. The staff was young (only one of the principal members was over 30 and their work often displayed an ingenuity that set them far ahead of their local contemporaries, many of whom still regarded film as an adjunct to stage productions.Pike & Cooper: 21.

Lady Outlaw, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company; Charles Villiers

In the Nick Of Time (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company

Mates Of The Murrumbidgee (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company; 28 min.

Way Outback (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company; Charles Villiers

What Women Suffer (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company; Alfred Rolfe, Ethel Phillips, Stanley Walpole, Charles Villiers

Cup Winner, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company; Charles Villiers

Caloola (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) aka The Adventures Of A Jackeroo,Australian Photo-Play Company; Charles Villiers; settler daughter captured by Aboriginals

Miner's Curse, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1911) Australian Photo-Play Company

King Of The Coiners (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company

Do Men Love Women? (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company

Sin Of A Woman, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company

Crime And The Criminal, The(Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company

Coo-ee And The Echo(Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company, dp A. O. Segerberg; happy ending is only reached when a 'faithful' Aboriginal boy (played by Charles Woods in blackface) arrives in time to rescue the hero

Love Tyrant, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) aka Love, The Tyrant,Australian Photo-Play Company; Charles Villiers

Cheat, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company; Ethel Phillips, Stanley Walpole, Charles Villiers

Won On The Post (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company

Whose Was The Hand (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) Australian Photo-Play Company, dp A. O. Segerberg; Charles Villiers, Stanley Walpole

Moira (Alfred Rolfe, 1912) aka The Mystery Of The Bush,Australian Photo-Play Company

Day, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1914) Fraser Film Release and Photographic Company, wr. Johnson Weir from poem by Henry Chappell; war

Sunny South, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) aka The Whirlwind Of Fate, Fraser Film Release and Photographic Company, from play by George Darrell; Charles Villiers

Will They Never Come? (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) Australasian Films, propaganda film which was the basis for The Hero Of The Dardanelles, 2000 ft

Hero Of The Dardanelles, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) Australasian Films, wr. Phllip Gell, Loris Brown, 4000 ft; Guy Hastings, Loma Rossmore, C. Throoby, Ruth Wainwright, Fred Francis; war; two brothers at Gallipoli

Loyal Rebel, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) aka Eureka Stockade, Australasian Films, wr. Arthur Wright; Reynolds Denniston, Maisie Carte, Charles Villiers, Percy Walshe, Leslie Victor, Jena Williams, Wynn Davies

How We Beat The Emden (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) aka Fate of the Emden, Australasian Films

Cupid Camouflaged (Alfred Rolfe, 1918), Australasian Films, dp Lacey Percival

References and Links

Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998,Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, OUP, Melbourne: 53-54.

Reade, Eric 1975, The Australian Screen: A Pictorial History of Australian Film-making, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne: 70, 71, 72.

Shirley, Graham & Brian Adams 1989,Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, revised edition, Currency, Melbourne: 36, 40, 46.


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