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Mr Chedworth Steps Out* (Ken G. Hall, 1939) Cinesound Productions, prod. Ken G Hall, wr. Frank Harvey, based on a novel by Francis Morton Howard, dp George Heath; 92 mins; Cecil Kellaway, James Raglan, Joan Deering, Rita Pauncefort
This family entertainment takes place 'behind the front door of Mr and Mrs Average Man'. Chedworth, a mild-mannered clerk, is underpaid and abused by everyone: his wife nags at him for lacking enterprise, and his son takes advantage of his gentle nature by borrowing money to pay for gambling debts. When his employers are forced to reduce staff, Chedworth is demoted and becomes caretaker of an old warehouse. He despairs of his financial situation but one day finds a bag of money which, unknown to him, is counterfeit. He starts to take a new interest in life and soon wins a fortune from an accidental racing bet and from some apparently worthless goldmining shares sold to him by crooks. Quietly he starts to change his ways and moves his family to a larger house, where his wife revels in their new material wealth. The counterfeiters kidnap him but he is saved by a Treasury official who has been investigating the source of his money; the gang leaders are arrested and Chedworth surrenders the counterfeit hoard but retains his legitimate fortune and his new self-confidence.
Through its comedy the film presents a bleak portrait of suburban conditions and aspirations in the 1930s. The opening scenes establish Chedworth as a victim of both economic and social exploitation, and he is by far the most convincing of all the 'little men' and underdogs in Hall's films. Although the depiction of his private rebellion is blunted occasionally by the intrusion of melodramatic plot devices, the part of Chedworth is played by Cecil Kellaway with a pathos and a genial sense of humour that give the film a strong and endearing centre. The film's satire of snobbery and social pretension is also taken further than elsewhere in Hall's work, with an incisive and sometimes bitter parody of the nouveaux riches.
The role of Chedworth was written specifically for Kellaway, who interrupted his Hollywood contract with RKO to return briefly to Australia at Cinesound's expense. The film also began a brief screen career for Jean Hatton, a teenage soprano whom Cinesound billed as 'Australia's Deanna Durbin'. Produced in October and November 1938 for about £21,000, the film was released in April 1938 and made a comfortable profit. It was released in England late in 1939. Pike & Cooper: 184-5.
Hall, Ken G. 1980, Australian Film: The Inside Story, Summit, Sydney; second edition: the first edition was entitled Directed by Ken G. Hall, 1977.
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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