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On this page is Pike & Cooper's introduction to the period from their definitive book, followed by a list of films made during this period.
Pike & Cooper:
Australian feature films between 1914 and 1918 reflected sharp changes in popular attitudes to the war in Europe. Enthusiasm to participate in Australia’s first major conflict as an independent nation was shown in The Hero of the Dardanelles (1915), in which the hero eagerly departed for active service, farewelled by proud parents and friends. Eagerness to prove Australia’s loyalty to the British was shown in The Martyrdom of Nurse Cavell (1916), in which much was made of the fact that Australians were the first in the world to express outrage against the treatment of the British nurse by the Germans. A spate of films about Gallipoli and the destruction of the German raider Emden celebrated the first tangible proof of Australian fighting capability. But eventually the horrible realities of war struck home. By May 1916 a war-weary critic attacked The Joan of Arc of Loos for its childish enthusiasm for war as though it were a game, and soon war subjects virtually disappeared as a source of entertainment. In 1917 John Gavin tried to repeat the commercial success of his Nurse Cavell film with The Murder of Captain Fryatt, another outcry against the savagery of the Germans, but the film found no audience. The war was too real for romanticizing, and the domestic conscription issue too heated. In 1918 Snowy Baker was obliged to advertise The Enemy Within as ‘Not a war film’.
With the waning of war stories, a wave of comedies reached the screen, finding a huge public appetite for escapist farce. The upsurge in comedy began with four films by Beaumont Smith about a backblocks family, the Hayseeds, and these were followed by other bucolic comedies about similar rustic types.
The Hayseeds series represented the first major attempt at screen comedy in Australia; previously comedy had only occasionally spilled over from the stage to the screen, with minor shorts such as Charlie at the Sydney Show (1916), starring Ern Vockler, one of many Chaplin imitators on the local stage. But the usual reliance of comedy on words seemed to have discouraged Australian film-makers from entering this field, until Beaumont Smith ventured forth in 1917 with verbal humour embodied in frequent and lengthy intertitles.
Other subjects explored in Australian films during the war tended to be tried and tested stage successes, such as The Rebel (1915), The Monk and the Woman (1917) and a series of filmed plays by the J. C. Williamson theatrical company. Raymond Longford and W. J. Lincoln made forays into a romanticized past—Mutiny of the Bounty (1916) and The Life’s Romance of Adam Lindsay Gordon (1916)—but neither these nor the war films displayed any sign of a serious or deeply felt self-image. On the contrary, the heroes of many war films, including The Hero of the Dardanelles, were in spirit members of the British upper classes. It seemed that with the suppression by censorship of the bushranger hero in 1912, no distinctive Australian hero had yet emerged to replace him on the screen.
Throughout the war the production industry continued to adjust to the new power of Australasian Films and Union Theatres over distribution and exhibition. Events surrounding the production of The Shepherd of the Southern Cross and The Silence of Dean Maitland in 1914 confirmed the ability of the combine to limit the production goals of film-makers. Cozens Spencer tried hard to lead Australasian into world-class production with The Shepherd of the Southern Cross, but found himself out-voted in the combine’s boardroom. Although he soon withdrew completely from film activity, he believed that there was no doubt that Australasian would one day come to heed his advice. When even modestly conceived local films could attract larger audiences than some imported ‘specials’, Spencer could not understand why Australasian refused to profit from the clear audience preference. He wrote: ‘If pictures were made here all our showmen would have to include them in their programmes. People would not patronise their shows unless they did.’ (Theatre, 1 January 1915).
Australasian’s main distribution rival, the Fraser Film Release and Photographic Company, relied heavily on films from Europe, but the war quickly disrupted world-wide production patterns and the Frasers never recovered from their loss of European supplies. In 1914 they embarked on the production of ‘specials’ to boost their trade, employing Raymond Longford as their director. He was at the top of his form, and the company’s first major film, The Silence of Dean Maitland, was a powerful drama to which audiences responded enthusiastically. But Longford’s relationship with the Fraser brothers ended in a bitter legal wrangle, in which Longford alleged that Australasian Films had forced the Frasers to cancel their production programme by threatening a general trade embargo. According to Longford, Australasian had the power to manipulate almost the entire exhibition market and sought to stop production by rivals for no other reason than the blind pursuit of power. Longford’s charges were never proved, but they were widely believed among film-makers, who regarded Australasian Films and Union Theatres as crucial factors in the success or failure of any production. After 1914, directors like Longford and Franklyn Barrett devoted much of their energy to a search for ways around the combine, or even of working with it if it could be persuaded to release their films on acceptable terms.
Despite these adverse circumstances, feature production continued at a consistent though reduced rate, fragmented among small-scale operations. The more enduring of the wartime production companies included J. C. Williamson Ltd, the powerful theatrical firm, which in 1915-16 made film versions of the most popular plays in its repertoire (for example, Within the Law, 1916 and Officer 666, 1916) in a bid to ward off the threat of American films of the same plays. Another major producer emerged in 1917—Beaumont Smith, a showman who for many years had displayed a keen awareness of exploitable gimmicks in the theatre, and who turned to cinema to make a series of commercially successful low-budget ‘quickies’ over the next decade.
Australasian Films ventured into feature production when it suited the company’s commercial purposes, but they were quick to withdraw from the financial uncertainties of production as soon as those purposes were realized; their role in film-making was essentially passive. A specific incentive arose in 1915, with a request from the Australian government to make recruiting films, including the narrative feature, The Hero of the Dardanelles (1915). Perhaps partly to ingratiate itself with a government that was considering a heavy import duty on film, Australasian made a public display of offering its full cooperation. But although the film was profitable, the combine did not continue long with feature production. Throughout the war it limited its output to newsreels, ‘scenics’ and novelty items, and leased to other film-makers the large production resources it had inherited from Spencer.
During the war years, Hollywood gained ascendancy in world production, and the growing status of American cinema was reflected in the sharp upsurge of traffic to and from the U.S.A. of film industry people seeking broader experience or new careers. Australian actors had traditionally sought overseas experience within the Empire, especially in South Africa and England, but now the shift to Hollywood was unmistakable. Large numbers of talented or ambitious Australians left the local industry for varying degrees of fame and fortune in the U.S.A., among them Louise Carbasse (later Louise Lovely), Annette Kellerman (a swimmer, who did not make a feature film in Australia but became an important Hollywood star), John Gavin, Sylvia Breamer, Snub Pollard, Enid Bennett, Billy Bevan, Arthur Shirley, Clyde Cook and many more who left gaps in the Australian industry that were hard to fill.
At this time, too, film began to be accepted more widely in the community and to outgrow its status as a predominantly working-class entertainment. During the war, the government recognized the value of film in promoting recruitment and morale, and it became a valued medium for news. In June 1917 the Australian government sent an official cinematographer, Frank Hurley, to the war zone specifically to record the Australian war effort (previously Australia had depended for news film on the services of British war correspondents). In December 1911 the Commonwealth government had appointed its first staff cinematographer, A. J. Campbell, to make films to promote Australian goods and resources and to record state occasions, but he was dismissed in May 1913 for alleged inefficiency and for striving for ‘artistic’ effects. The government tried again and its new appointee, Bert Ive, remained as the chief Commonwealth cinematographer for twenty-three years. The government’s awareness of the power of film to form opinion was also displayed in the work of the newspaper cartoonist Harry Julius, whom the government hired to make a series of brief animated propaganda films—one of the earliest examples of animation in Australia. These ‘war cartoons’ were crudely executed—Julius was filmed drawing with chalk on a dark background—but they became popular novelty items in commercial programmes.
Film was also becoming more accessible in a technical sense: there were many competent technicians (over sixty cameramen had applied for the job of government cinematographer in 1913) and the medium was open for use by organizations and individuals who could afford it. In 1918 wealthier sections of Sydney and Melbourne society began to display some interest; various charity organizations, led by upper-class society figures, organized the making of films to assist them with fund-raising, and semi-amateurs like A. C. Tinsdale, who relied on the wealthy for patronage, began to move into production.
The period was characterized by diversification in the uses to which film was put, and in the people making use of it, largely under the stimulus of the war. The number of feature films produced locally was greatly reduced, but the leading film-makers gained in sophistication of style and content and were sufficiently promising to create a public demand for more, a demand that grew in strength through the next decade, the creative peak of Australian silent film.
Hinemoa (George Tarr, 1914) wr. George Tarr, based on Maori legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, based on the George Gray version, dp Charles Newham; Hera Tawhai, Rua Tawhai, Miro Omahau, Taimai Omahau; no footage exists; also claimed to be the first NZ feature, as the production company was antipodean (Tarr lived in NZ, tho had been born in Australia)
Day, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1914) Fraser Film Release and Photographic Company
Long Long Way to Tipperary, A ** (George Dean, 1914) Higgins Brothers, prod. Ernest Higgins; Adele Inman
Shepherd Of The Southern Cross, The (Alexander Butler, 1914) Australasian Pictures, prod. Stanley Twist, wr. Nell Shipman, dp Ernest Higgins; Arthur Shirley, Vera Pearce, Roland Conway, Clare Stephenson, Tien Hogue; Charles Cozen Spencer's last film
Silence of Dean Maitland, The (Raymond Longford, 1914)
Swagman's Story, The (Raymond Longford, 1914)
For Australia (Monte Luke, 1915) dp Maurice Bertel
Hero Of The Dardanelles, The** (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) Australasian Films; wr. Phillip Gell, Loris Brown; Guy Hastings, Loma Rossmore, C. Throoby, Ruth Wainwright, Fred Francis; war; two brothers at Gallipoli; 4000 (?) ft.
How We Beat The Emden (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) aka Fate of the Emden, Australasian Films, dp Charles Cusden
How We Fought The Emden (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) Australasian Films, dp Charles Cusden
Loyal Rebel, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) aka Eureka Stockade Australasian Films, wr. Arthur Wright; Reynolds Denniston, Maisie Carte, Charles Villiers; 5 reels
Ma Hogan's New Boarder (Raymond Longford, 1915) Ern Vockler
My Partner (1915) set on Californian goldfields
Rebel, The (J. E. Mathews, 1915)
Sunny South, The (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) aka The Whirlwind Of Fate, Fraser Film Release and Photographic Company
Will They Never Come? (Alfred Rolfe, 1915) Australasian Films, propaganda film which was the basis for The Hero Of The Dardanelles, 2000 ft
Within Our Gates (Frank Harvey, 1915) aka Deeds That Won Gallipoli, J. C. Williamson, wr. W. J. Lincoln, dp Monte Luke; Cyril Mackay, Leslie Victor, Frank Harvey; 6 (?) reels
Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (Fred Niblo, 1916) wr. W. J. Lincoln from the play by George M. Cohan based on a story by George Randolph Chester, dp Maurice Bertel; Fred Niblo, Henry Carson Clarke, Enid Bennett; 4 reels
If The Huns Came To Melbourne (George Coates, 1916) dp Arthur Higgins
In The Last Stride (Martyn Keith, 1916)
Joan of Arc Of Loos, The (George Willoughby, 1916) dp Franklyn Barrett; Jane King, Jean Robertson, Clive Farnham; shot Tamarama Beach, Sydney; war story
La Revanche (W. J. Lincoln, 1916) based on Nurse Cavell story (made later than the other film by Lincoln on this subject - which was taken to court for infringing copyright)
Life's Romance Of Adam Lindsay Gordon, The (W. J. Lincoln, 1916)
Maori Maid 's Love, A (Raymond Longford, 1915) prod. Raymond Longford, Lottie Lyell, Vita Film Corp, Zealandia Photo Play Producing Co.; Lottie Lyell, Raymond Longford, Kenneth Carlisle, Rawdon Blandford; no footage exists; 5000 ft, five reels; Aust/NZ; first shown NZ Nov 1915; has a claim to being first NZ feature as first film of 4000ft or more to be made and screened there
Martyrdom Of Nurse Cavell, The (John Gavin, C. Post Mason, 1916) Australian Famous Feature Company, wr. Agnes Gavin, dp Lacey Percival; Vera Pearce, Harrington Reynolds, C. Post Mason, Percy Walshe, John Gavin, Charles Villiers, George Portus, Roland Stavely, James Martin, Robert Floyd, George Farrell, Ethel Bashford, Clare Stephenson, Nellie Power
Murphy Of Anzac (J. E. Mathews, 1916) story of Private (John) Simpson (Kirkpatrick) and his donkey
Mutiny of the Bounty, The (Raymond Longford, 1916) Aust/NZ; wr. Raymond Longford, Lottie Lyell [?], dp Franklyn Barrett, A. O. Segerberg, Charles Newham; George Cross (Captain Bligh), John Storm (George III), D. L. Dalziel (Sir Joseph Banks), Wilton Power (Fletcher Christian); no footage exists; 5000ft
Nurse Cavell (W. J. Lincoln, 1916) aka Edith Cavell
Officer 666 (Fred Niblo, 1916) wr. W. J. Lincoln from the play by Augustin McHugh, adapted by George M. Cohan, dp Maurice Bertel; Fred Niblo, Enid Bennett, Mation Marcus Clarke, Sydney Stirling; 4 reels
Pioneers, The (Franklyn Barrett, 1916) novel Katharine Susannah Prichard; Longford also made this story into a film in 1926
Seven Keys To Baldpate (Monte Luke, 1916)
Test, The (Rawdon Blandford, 1916) NZ
Within The Law (Monte Luke, 1916) J. C. Williamson, wr. W. J. Lincoln from the play by Bayard Veiller, dp Maurice Bertel; Muriel Starr; 4 reels
Woman In The Case, The (George Willoughby, 1916)
Australia's Peril (Franklyn Barrett, 1917) war story; 5 reels
Church And The Woman, The (Raymond Longford, 1917) wr. Raymond Longford, prod. Humbert Pugliese, dp Ernest Higgins
Hayseeds Come to Sydney, The (Beaumont Smith, 1917) aka The Hayseeds Come To Town
Hayseeds' Back-Blocks Show, The (Beaumont Smith, 1917)
Monk And The Woman, The (Franklyn Barrett, 1917) 18C France; caused Catholic controversy; 6000ft, 66 min.
Murder Of Captain Fryatt, The (John Gavin, 1917) Australian Famous Feature Company, wr. Agnes Gavin, dp Franklyn Barrett; Harrington Reynolds, John Gavin, Olive Proctor; based on 1915 events
Our Friends, The Hayseeds (Beaumont Smith, 1917) aka The Hayseeds, Beaumont Smith's Productions, wr. Beaumont Smith, dp Harry Krischock; Roy Redgrave, Walter Cornock, Pearl Hellmrich, Margaret Gordon; comedy; 5000ft
Remorse, A Story Of The Red Plague (J. E. Mathews, 1917) boy contracts syphilis, kills himself
Algie's Romance (Leonard Doogood, 1918) Doogood was an English vaudeville comedian who impersonated Chaplin
Coo-ee From Home, A (Charles Woods, 1918) wr. Charles Woods, Woods' Australian Films, dp Tasman Higgins
Cupid Camouflaged (Alfred Rolfe, 1918) Australasian Films, dp Lacey Percival
Enemy Within, The (Roland Stavely, 1918) dp Franklyn Barrett; Reg L. 'Snowy' Baker (Jack Airlie), John Faulkner (Henry Brasels), Lily Molloy; spy actioner; at 5500 ft (about an hour) this is the earliest feature film to survive complete (Pike & Cooper: 76)
Five Hundred Pounds Reward (Claude Flemming, 1918) prod. Barry Lupino, Claude Flemming, wr. Claude Flemming, dp Lacey Percival; Claude Flemming, Renee Adoree, John Faulkner, Lorna Ambler, David Edelsten
Hayseeds' Melbourne Cup, The (Beaumont Smith, 1918)
His Convict Bride (John Gavin, 1918) aka For the Term of Her Natural Life (initial working title), Australian Famous Feature Company, wr. Agnes Gavin, dp Lacey Percival, titles Syd Nicholls; Ethel Bashford, John Gavin, Charles Villiers, Frank Hawthorne
His Only Chance (Dick Shortland, 1918) J. C. Williamson Ltd, wr. Captain N. C. P. Conant, dp Amalgamated Pictures
Just Peggy (J. A. Lipman, 1918)
Laugh On Dad, The (A. C. Tinsdale, 1918)
Lure Of The Bush, The (Claude Flemming [Franklyn Barrett?] 1918) Snowy Baker Films; wr. Jack North; dp Franklyn Barrett; Reg L. 'Snowy' Baker, Rita Tress, Claude Flemming; 6 reels
Romance Of The Burke And Wills Expedition Of 1860, A (Charles Byers Coates, 1918) Antipodes Films/Austral Photoplay Company; cinemaphotographers G.L. Gouday, Franklyn Barrett, A. O. Segerberg, Walter Sully; Charles Clarke, George Patterson, Chris Olsen; 6 reels
Satan In Sydney (Beaumont Smith, 1918)
Scars Of Love (Walter S. McColl, 1918) aka Should Children Suffer?
Waybacks, The (Arthur W. Sterry, 1918) Koala Films, prod. Humbert Pugliese, from play by Phillip Lytton based on novels by Henry Fletcher, dp Ernest Higgins, 7000 ft; Vincent White, Gladys Leigh, Lucy Adair; also marketed later as The Waybacks of 1925
What Happened To Jean? (Herbert Walsh, 1918)
Woman Suffers, The (Raymond Longford, 1918) ... While the Man Goes Free; Southern Cross Feature Film Company, wr. Raymond Longford, dp Arthur Higgins; Lottie Lyell, Boyd Irwin, Roland Conway, Connie Martyn
Yachts And Hearts (Charles Byers Coates, 1918) aka The Opium Smugglers
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