The First Australian Talkies

It's not a simple matter to identify the 'first talkie' made in Australia.

The first to begin production, in March 1930, was Out of the Shadows (A. R. Harwood). This was completed, but, sadly, never released.

Early in 1931 Harwood attempted to beat Efftee to the screen with Australia's first talkie. A five-reel 'society' romance, Out of the Shadows was shot in Melbourne using a makeshift sound-on-disc recording system. The only set of wax discs, however, buckled in a heat wave before the film could be shown, and the whole enterprise foundered. Pike & Cooper: 154.

The second talkie to go into production, in May 1930, was Showgirl's Luck (Norman Dawn, 1931) a comedy musical which opened at the Lawson Theatre Redfern, Sydney November 1931 (Shirley & Adams 1989: 111) running for 55 min. This film still exists complete and has been restored by the NFSA. The sound quality comes and goes, and is sometimes a bit out of sync. There are intertitles! And the characters sometimes break into song and dance, even when they’re not on stage. Norman Dawn began shooting the film in May 1930, but didn't complete principal photography until December 1930. Problems with sound editing meant that the film was not released until late 1931.

Norman Dawn had at least made the first Australian full talkie to enter production and achieve a release. Shirley & Adams 1989: 111.

Meanwhile two 1930 silent features had had sound-on-disc inserts added and been shown with them: The Cheaters (Paulette McDonagh, 1930, screened May) and Fellers (Arthur Higgins, Austin Fay, 1930, screened August). They were therefore the first Australian films to be shown which had any kind of sound as part of the film, but it was additional in each case, and not received as successful.

For Graham Shirley, however, there is no doubt that Fellers takes precedence.

Fellers (1930), the first Australian talkie feature, used the Vocalion equipment to musically accompany most of the film and add dialogue to the final reel. The silent version of The Cheaters (1930) was initially modified with three disc scenes shot at Vocalion, then re-worked as a full talkie using Standardtone equipment to re-shoot the closeups and dub the wide shots. Graham Shirley, Oxford Companion to Australian Film: 460. [bold added]

The next two talkies, Isle of Intrigue and Spur of the Moment (both A. R. Harwood) were made in July-August 1931 and shown in September, before Showgirl's Luck. They were 'featurettes' about fifty minutes in duration (Pike & Cooper: 155) and shown on the same program. They were therefore the first talkies to be shown, tho not the first to commence production.

A few weeks after the Harwood films were screened, Efftee Productions showed its first picture with sound: A Co-respondent's Course (E. A. Dietrich-Derrick, 1931, prod. Frank W. Thring). Pike & Cooper: 155. So pace Tony Harrison (1994: 22) this was far from the 'first full-length talkie made in Australia'

In its initial Melbourne release, Diggers [Frank W. Thring, Pat Hanna, 1931] was supported by Efftee shorts including A Co-respondent's Course, a short romantic drama directed by E A Dietrich-Derrick, and starring Donalda Warne and John D'Arcy. In later seasons, this featurette was replaced by The Haunted Barn, another short story jointly directed for Efftee by Dietrich-Derrick (camera) and Gregan McMahon (dialogue), which aroused some notoriety when it was temporarily banned by the censors for its alleged horror content. Pike & Cooper: 155.

Harwood was the first to present a programme of Australian talkies, beating F. W. Thring to the screen by two weeks. Shirley & Adams 1989: 112. [They would be referring to Isle of Intrigue and Spur of the Moment on the one hand and A Co-respondent's Course (E. A. Dietrich-Derrick, prod. Frank W. Thring) on the other].


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