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His Royal Highness* (F. W. Thring, 1932) aka His Loyal Highness; Efftee Film Productions, wr. George Wallace, adaptation C.J. Dennis, dp Arthur Higgins; 84 mins; George Wallace, Byrl Walkley, Frank Tarrant, Donalda Warne, Lou Vernon, Marshall Crosby, John Fernside, Nell Taylor, John Dobbie, Clem Milton, Edwin Brett, Mona Barlee, Cecil Scott, Billy Maloney, Dan Thomas, William Ralston, Charles O'Mara, Norman Shepherd, Nellie Mortyne, Darcy Kelway, Field Fisher, Bill Innes
George Wallace in the centre of the group
A stagehand, Tommy Dodds, dreams that he has been made king of the land of Betonia. Royalty does not alter Tommy's Australian character, and he scandalises the court by gambling with the footmen and insisting that his courtiers wear roller skates. Eventually the rightful heir to the throne is discovered and Tommy is forcibly removed from the palace, whereupon he wakes up.
This 'burlesque operetta' impressed critics and audiences alike with its music and sets. The Argus, 31 October 1932, found that 'Tommy's vision of Royal splendour provides an elaborate and lavish spectacular display'. The budget of £19,000 included £7000 alone for the basic set of the Betonian palace, for which an extension was made to the studio floor at His Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne. The camerawork and acting, however, bore the hallmarks of Efftee's other productions, and the introductory scenes with Tommy talking and singing to his friends outside the theatre were especially heavy-handed.
Production began in February 1932, and Universal released the film on 1 October at the Regent Theatre, Brisbane. Thring also succeeded in selling the film to Universal in England, where it was widely screened under the title of His Loyal Highness.
The film marked George Wallace's debut in feature films. He had been an outstanding vaudeville entertainer since 1919 when he appeared as Onkus in the comedy team of 'Dinks and Onkus'. His half-mast trousers, checked shirt and battered hat became his irreplaceable costume both on stage and film, and he became renowned for his acrobatic comic dances and slapstick routines, including a remarkable trick of falling onto his left ear.
His Royal Highness had been the title of one of his stage revues during the 1920s, and Frank Thring did little to modify his stage routines for the camera: even Wallace's make-up remained heavily theatrical. Not until he came under the tighter control of Ken G Hall at Cinesound in Let George Do It (1938) did Wallace adapt his style for the screen. Although his films were always popular, Wallace remained primarily a stage performer throughout his career; he died in 1960 at the age of 66.
His usual screen partner, John Dobbie, was born in Sydney and worked in American vaudeville for several years before returning to Australia in the mid-1920s, when he took a small part in Jewelled Nights (1925). With his giant physique and deep booming voice, he became a familiar figure in comedy on the local stage and screen, and for some time he appeared with J C Williamson's Comic Opera Company. He later worked in commercial radio in Brisbane, where he died in 1952. Pike & Cooper: 159.
Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, revised edition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
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