Australasian Cinema > films > The Devil's Playground, 1928

The Devil's Playground

Devil's Playground, The* (Victor Bindley, 1928) Fineart Films Productions, from the lyrics of 'Hell's Highway' by Ashley Durham, titles, continuity: John Bedouin, dp Jack Bruce, James Grant, Jack Fletcher, 8385 ft; John R. Allen, Elza Stenning, Petrie Potter, Terry Short, John Haddock, Richard Alrich, 'Dick' Fletcher, Cyril Callaghan, Edna Crofts, Stanley Murdoch, Vera Campbell

Somewhere in the South Seas, a beautiful island has become notorious for the 'fetish and cannibal rites' of the natives and the 'wild doings' of the white population. 'Bull' Morgan, the owner of the island's liquor store, lusts after a vivacious young white girl known to the islanders as Naneena. One day Naneena falls in love with a visiting airman, Dick Barrington, and they decide to marry. Dick departs, promising to return with his wealthy parents in their steam yacht. Soon after, Naneena is found unconscious on the beach and suffering from amnesia. At the same time, her brother Bobby disappears and a wild storm hampers the work of a search party. Later, the native chief Trelua leads an insurrection against the whites because of the degradation that his people have suffered since the arrival of the white man. In the confusion, Morgan tries to force Naneena to accept him. The shock brings back her memory and she remembers how she had witnessed Morgan murdering her brother. Dick's yacht arrives at the island and is promptly besieged by native war boats, but a British cruiser hears Dick's distress signal and speeds to the rescue. The native rebellion is quelled, but not before Trelua kills his chief oppressor, Morgan.
Riddled with cliches of the South Sea island genre and suffering from some stilted central performances, the film was nevertheless photographed and edited with finesse. Several scenes include dramatically effective cross-cutting between parallel actions such as the hectic search for Bobby in the raging storm and a wild orgy at Morgan's trading station. The battles and fights of the last reels are also staged with an athletic energy that probably expressed the enthusiasm of the amateur cast, and it is not surprising that these scenes attracted the attention of the censors.
The film was produced by a largely amateur group from the north shore of Sydney who had formed the Fineart film club in mid-1927. Their first production, a Pacific island adventure, Trobriana, was never released; it probably formed the basis of The Devil's Playground. Scenes were shot on beaches near Sydney, and interiors in the Mosman Town Hall. The cast included a teenager, Elza Stenning, who later became well-known in Sydney's 'high society' as Elsa Jacoby. The island rebels were played by Sydney lifeguards in blackface.
In February 1930 the Commonwealth censors objected to a scene in which Naneena was whipped by Morgan, and prevented the export of the film to England, where the producer had arranged a sale to Universal. The censors had no jurisdiction over Australian screenings, and the producers announced their intention to dub the film with sound and enter it in the Commonwealth film competition of 1930. Nothing further, however, seems to have been done, and it disappeared from view. Pike & Cooper: 147-8.


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