Australasian Cinema > films > Seven Keys To Baldpate

Seven Keys To Baldpate

Seven Keys To Baldpate** (Monte Luke, 1916) J.C. Williamson. wr. Alex C Butler, from the play by George M Cohan, based on the novel by Earl Derr Biggers, dp Maurice Bertel; Dorothy Brunton, J. Plumpton Wilson, Agnes Keogh, Alex C. Butler, Gerald Harcourt, Charles Villiers, James Hughes; 4 reels

The last of J C Williamson's filmed plays was based on an American stage success that Williamson had brought to Australia in 1914 with Fred Niblo as star and producer. The play was a 'mystery farce' about a practical joke played on a novelist, William Hallowell Magee, who has bet that he can complete a novel in twenty-four hours. To work on the novel, Magee retires for the night to a lonely mountain resort, taking what he believes is the only key. Throughout the night, however, he is disturbed by a succession of visitors, all with their own key and all apparently involved in a sinister case of political graft and murder. The police finally arrive, and Magee learns that the mysterious visitors are in fact actors hired by his friend to keep him from his work.
Dorothy Brunton was a popular star of Australian musical comedy who later won a following on the British stage as well. Her film debut was scarcely distinguished, in the mainly decorative role as the coquettish girlfriend of the novelist. Judging by the three reels of the film preserved today in the National Film and Sound Archive, the production was static and graceless, with flimsy canvas sets and lengthy mute dialogues that relied heavily on the audience's familiarity with the play. Monte Luke's evident discomfort in handling film production was confirmed later in the year: after the completion of Seven Keys To Baldpate, Williamson sent Luke to Hollywood to study production; after witnessing work on D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, he returned, overwhelmed, to recommend that Williamson should abandon production and leave it to the Hollywood experts. 'The Firm' followed his advice and did nothing to revive their film production program.
Treated with a little imagination by Hollywood directors, the story of Seven Keys To Baldpate found ready audience acceptance and was filmed no less than five times by American companies, in 1917, 1925, 1930, 1935 and 1947. The Williamson production, however, created little attention when it was given a suburban release in Sydney at the Hub Theatre, Newtown, on 24 May 1916. Pike & Cooper: 63-64.

References and links

Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, OUP, Melbourne: 63-64.


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