Bitter Springs

Bitter Springs (Ralph Smart, 1950) wr. Monja Danischewsky, W. P. Lipscomb from story by Ralph Smart, prod. Michael Balcon, dp George Heath, music Ralph Vaughan Williams; Chips Rafferty, Tommy Trinder, Gordon Jackson, Jean Blue, Michael Pater, Charles Tingwell; colonial land rights clash tale from UK's Ealing Studios, with an Aboriginal as a major character: Black Jack (Henry Murdoch) is not a tracker as such, but he is a guide, in physical, social and moral senses

Many critics tended to overlook the film's serious intentions and looked upon it as an adventure yarn: for C A Lejeune in the London Observer, 9 July 1950, it was 'utterly simple and unaffected... [the film-makers] have clearly enjoyed themselves and managed to convey to the audience every scintilla of that enjoyment'. Others were less drawn by the film's good nature; in an unusually biting review on 26 October 1950 Film Weekly commented on the indecisiveness of the script in trying to be fair to both settlers and Aborigines, depicting one side as unpleasantly ruthless and the other as unbelievably naive and ineffectual. Pike & Cooper: 210.

Bitter Springs marks the first attempt at serious treatment of Aboriginal land rights in an Australian feature. Bruce Molloy, Oxford Companion to Australian Film: 36.

Thoughtful and well-handled, turn-of-the-century drama, with fitting performances from all the cast. Harrison: 13.

A good-natured pioneering drama centred on the conflict between white settlers and Aborigines over rights of access to water. For its time it was notably liberal in balancing the point-of-view of encroaching European settlers with Aboriginal claims for the land rights, coincidentally contemporaneous with the emergence of the liberal, pro-Indian western in Hollywood with Broken Arrow (1950). Verhoeven (ed. 1999): 233.

Further reading

Gaunson, Stephen 2012, 'A bitter ending in Bitter Springs', Senses of Cinema. This article fails to refer to Verhoeven's earlier article on the film in the same journal , tho it covers some of the same ground.

Verhoeven, Deb 2006, Sheep and the Australian Cinema, MUP.

Verhoeven, Deb 2007, 'Bitter Springs', Senses of Cinema.


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