Australasian Cinema > films > Trooper O'Brien, 1928

Trooper O'Brien

Trooper O'Brien (John Gavin, 1928) prod. Herbert Finlay, Australian Artists Company, wr. Agnes Gavin, dp Arthur Higgins, c. 5500 ft; Merle Ridgeway, Gordon Collingridge, John Gavin, Charles Stanford, Nellie Ferguson, Ernest Lauri, Sybil Atholwood, Jimmy McMahon, Reg Quartley, Betty Taylor, Cis Peachy, Martin Kelly, Will Harris, Violet Elliot, Walter Vincent, Carlton Stuart, William Thornton

Disowned by his wealthy father for marrying without his approval, John Alston departs for the bush and changes his name to Brown. He and his wife are killed in an accident, but their baby daughter Winnie is found and adopted by a kindly policeman, Sergeant O'Brien. Years pass, and Winnie becomes engaged to O'Brien's son, Glen, who is following in his father's footsteps by becoming a policeman. One day, young O'Brien attends the scene of a burglary in the Alston family home, and the Alstons later visit him to thank him for his help. Mrs Alston recognises a locket found by Winnie at the scene of her parents' death, and joyfully realises that Winnie is her long-lost granddaughter.
The film incorporated two long action sequences 'borrowed' from The Kelly Gang and Robbery Under Arms (both 1920). The excerpts were introduced as a digression from the main plot, to illustrate two stories that Sergeant O'Brien tells his children about their Uncle Jim, a trooper who gave his life attempting to rid the land of bushrangers. In addition, a sub-plot followed a romance between Glen O'Brien's Aboriginal friend, Moori, and a black 'flapper' whom he meets in the city; the Aborigines are grotesquely broad comic caricatures, both played by white actors in blackface.
Early in 1926, John Gavin returned to Australia from Hollywood and renewed his old production partnership with the veteran entrepreneur Herbert Finlay. Gavin and Finlay had not worked together for nearly fifteen years, and the film was Finlay's first feature production since 1912.
Shooting began in July 1926 under the title The Key of Fate, and the film was completed and censor-screened in September. The censors requested the deletion of scenes showing the shooting of Sergeant O'Brien's brother by bushrangers, but permitted the rest of the bushranging interludes to remain, presumably impressed by the film's long foreword in praise of the 'noble yet silent' men of the police force. Further alterations were made after censorship, with the addition of scenes depicting police training (filmed with the assistance of the Commissioner of Police), and the change of the title to Trooper O'Brien. The total cost came to scarcely more than £1000.
Distributed by Finlay, the film opened on 23 May 1928 at the Australian Picture Palace, Sydney, and astounded the trade by drawing 'continuous record business'. Other screenings followed with equally enthusiastic audiences. Its commercial success came from its reputation among uncritical filmgoers as an action movie about bushrangers, for press reviews were not encouraging. The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1928, expressed regret that the producers had struggled against severe physical odds to achieve a fair technical standard and yet had made a film that was 'sadly lacking' in any dramatic insight: 'The story wanders vaguely on; the actors key themselves up to tremendous emotional stress over situations that are not essentially dramatic; and there is no sense of proportion whatever.' Gavin directed no further films, and after acting in The Adorable Outcast (1928) he retired from production. Pike & Cooper: 143.

References and Links

Pike & Cooper: 143.


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