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Mystery Island* (J. A. Lipman, 1937) Commonwealth Film Laboratories, exec. prod. Jack Bruce, prod. dp George Malcolm, wr. Harry Lauder 2nd, story Captain T.D. Bairnsfather; 56 mins; Brian Abbot, Jean Laidley, W. Lane Bayliff, William Carroll, George Doran, Desmond Hay, Mollie Kerwin, Moncrieff Macallum, Douglas MacKinnon, Edward Druitt
Two women and eight men are shipwrecked on a South Pacific island. Among them is a murderer, but his identity is known only to the ship's captain, who has lost his memory.
The story was filmed almost entirely on one of the Admiralty Islets, close to Lord Howe Island. A production unit of twenty sailed from Sydney in September 1936 for a month's work on the islet, taking several tons of equipment and props. Shooting involved many hardships and accidents, including the loss in rough seas of 2000 feet of exposed film, which had to be reshot. Tragedy struck early in October when two members of the cast, Brian Abbot and Leslie Hay-Simpson (who acted under the name of Desmond Hay), attempted to return to Sydney in a sixteen-foot open boat and were never seen again.
After the return from Lord Howe Island, the film was completed in the studio of Commonwealth Film Laboratories, Sydney, where the shipwreck was staged with models. Distributed by Paramount, it opened on 6 March 1937 at the Prince Edward Theatre, Sydney, as a supporting feature. Critics found the unusual location to be the film's primary asset, although some attention was drawn to the pleasant theme song, sung in the film by Brian Abbot and Jean Laidley (known in Sydney's theatre circles as Jean Mort).
The film's principal backer was Jack Bruce, then managing director of Commonwealth Film Laboratories and an important figure in the development of laboratory services in Australia. He had worked extensively as a newsreel and feature photographer in Sydney after the First World War, and in the 1920s had spent several years in Hollywood as a camera technician. He returned to Australia to join Commonwealth Film Laboratories at its formation in 1927, and in 1935 was a key figure with Raymond Longford and others in an unsuccessful attempt to open a new Sydney studio, the Mastercraft Film Corporation. Pike & Cooper: 177.
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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