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On this page is Pike & Cooper's introduction to this period from their definitive book, followed by a list of films made during this period.
Pike & Cooper:
Most of the important feature films in the twenty years after the war were made by British and American companies. For the Americans, Australia was little more than an exotic background for dramas that reflected their own preoccupations and that could mostly have been made in America itself—for example, Kangaroo (1952), Long John Silver (1954) or On the Beach (1959). Many of the American ventures were motivated simply by the need to use capital frozen in Australia by wartime restrictions on dollar exports, and the films reflected no basic commitment to Australia nor any interest in exploring its national character. Most of the film-makers (Lewis Milestone, Stanley Kramer and others) arrived immediately before production began and left immediately afterwards. The British, on the other hand, came with the intention of setting up a permanent unit; although their plans failed, their films reflected curiosity about Australia and a desire to crystallize Australian experiences on the screen for British audiences. In so doing, films like The Overlanders (1946) went much further in defining some Australian characteristics and attitudes than Australian film-makers themselves had done. Directors like Harry Watt and Ralph Smart had the advantage of being sympathetic outsiders who could see Australia with a degree of objectivity and place it in the broad perspective of the British Commonwealth.
Among the local producers, Chauvel completed his most ambitious feature, Sons of Matthew (1949), an epic tale of man pitted against the elements, imbued with a folksy family life on the frontier that was redolent of John Ford. His final feature, Jedda (1955), was a landmark in the portrayal of Aborigines on the screen, with two full-blooded Aborigines in the leading roles and a story that presented Aborigines as people with individual personalities and emotions with which white audiences could identify. In both films, Australian landscapes—the dense forests of south-east Queensland, the central Australian desert—provided spectacular settings for Chauvel’s human dramas, and were integral to the attraction his films had for urban and overseas audiences.
Exotic settings—Thursday Island, Tahiti, New Guinea, and central Australia again— were exploited during the 1950s by a more prolific director, Lee Robinson. In collaboration with Chips Rafferty in the company, Southern International, Robinson made a series of films that placed formula comic-strip action in remote locations, but he did not share Chauvel’s epic vision of heroic deeds in settings of grandeur. Robinson’s work was methodical and unromantic, and he failed to win the same following that Chauvel’s films had attracted.
Cecil Holmes was intellectually a more adventurous director, with an overt left-wing political commitment. In his first feature, Captain Thunderbolt (1953), he depicted the bushranger as both a folk hero and a victim of class struggle; in his second feature, Three in One (1957), he explored Australian attitudes to mateship, presenting two short stories about workers’ solidarity and a third that told a consciously ‘neo-realist’ story of a working-class romance. The Australian marketplace had no room either for Holmes’s films or for his politics. He found most of his support in the growing film society movement, among intellectuals, and overseas socialist countries, none of whom could provide an adequate financial basis for his work.
Despite the efforts of a handful of filmmakers like Chauvel, Robinson and Holmes, Australian feature films virtually disappeared by the end of the 1950s. The major producer of the 1930s, Cinesound, had never really resumed production after the war; Smithy (1946), which they made under contract to an American company, was to have been the precursor of a new international outlook for the studio, but in 1947 Cinesound’s parent company (Greater Union) abandoned plans to expand their facilities and to co-produce features with England, and the studio quickly shrank into a small newsreel and documentary operation. New initiatives for feature production were scarce, and even those companies such as Southern International that attempted to come to terms with the newly emerging television market did not endure for long.
The failure of the indigenous feature industry coincided with recession in the Australian economy in the 1950s, and in the film trade in particular with the impact of television in the mid-1950s. Market conditions were much more forbidding for local producers after the war: in the 1930s Greater Union Theatres had been one of the main routes for Australian films to the screen, but in 1947 the chain became almost completely inaccessible to the local product when a controlling interest in the company was sold to the Rank Organisation of England. With Rank concerned primarily to promote its own product on favoured terms, Australian films were simply redundant, and attempts to involve Greater Union in local production ventures won little sympathy.
Producers like Southern International were faced with another problem, inevitable in a failing industry—the shortage of local ‘stars’ to feature in their work. Not unexpectedly, the industry was unable to offer much to people seeking a career in film, and the post-war years saw a continuing drain of talent. Among the actors to leave were Peter Finch, John McCallum, Ron Randell, Rod Taylor, Michael Pate, Guy Doleman, Charles Tingwell, Grant Taylor and Jeanette Elphick (later Victoria Shaw), who proceeded to establish careers overseas in the British or American industries.
While feature production foundered, documentary production turned in new directions. The dominance of the romantic Hurley school weakened during the war, although Frank Hurley himself continued to make his own idiosyncratic films. His approach was displaced by the influence of John Grierson on both the content and style of documentaries, a decade or more after Grierson had transformed documentary production in England and North America.
Harry Watt, who had made some of the best Grierson films in the 1930s, provided a strong stimulus to local documentary film-makers and to the intellectuals in the film community. A further stimulus to the spread of Grierson's ideas came with the appointment of a former Grierson man, Stanley Hawes, to direct the Australian government’s film unit in Sydney. In the early 1930s in England, Grierson had actively promoted the removal of the Hollywood veneer of mysticism and glamour from the cinema and had sought to make films accessible to the man in the street. He organized the making of films about the experiences of the common man (albeit with an occasional paternalistic tone), and films were made available to all areas of society by the development of 16mm film societies, film libraries and film services in schools. In Australia the aspect of Grierson’s work that received most attention from the Commonwealth government was the less political second area, the development of non-commercial distribution. Much energy and money were devoted to establishing 16mm lending libraries, at the National Library in Canberra, and in the various state film centres. The use of film as a training tool in education and industry, and as a vehicle for official statements, grew rapidly. But the creative stimulus that Grierson had given the British and Canadian cinemas did not find full expression in Australia. The Australian government maintained a narrow view of the power and function of film, allowing the official film unit little scope for thoughts or emotions that might disturb or provoke any audience. One of the exceptions was Mike and Stefani (1952), made by Maslyn Williams under extraordinary circumstances, which remained a rare venture by the government unit into enacted drama and feature-length film.
A number of substantial documentaries were made outside of the government unit and away from the Grierson influence. John Kingsford Smith, who had trained as a self-reliant, all-round technician in Australian studios, made The Inlanders (1949). It was a stark and forceful film on the work of the Australian Inland Mission and covered the same territory as The Back of Beyond (1954), a more widely shown romantic ‘Grierson’ film. Elsewhere, the Waterside Workers’ Federation in Sydney sponsored a series of rough-hewn films by a small group of dedicated people that expressed far more passion than was possible in government productions. An initial impetus was given by Joris Ivens, who made a clandestine documentary, Indonesia Calling (1946), for the Federation to express its solidarity with the Indonesian independence movement. Later, the Federation’s film unit, led by Jock Levy, Keith Gow and Norma Disher, spoke out against the Menzies government and explored social problems that the government would rather have forgotten; but their films, such as The Hungry Miles (1954) and Pensions for Veterans, were not widely shown, for the most effective outlets for 16mm film were controlled by the government and were cautious of left-wing content.
With the loss of the impetus and resources provided by Cinesound for feature film production in the 1930s, the industry lacked a focus in the post-war years. In the Menzies era, public and governmental preoccupation with material well-being and political security made the absence of an Australian film culture a matter of little general concern; the past achievements of the industry were forgotten. For three decades after the start of the war, the public grew accustomed to thinking about film only in terms of the American or British product. Australian distributors and exhibitors lost whatever interest they had once had in Australian production, and most fell into deep pessimism as they confronted competition from television. In this generally negative context, local directors who dared to rock the boat with films of political or moral force were destined to be frustrated, as both Cecil Holmes and Maslyn Williams found. Self-censorship became ingrained in the government film bureaucracy, and conservatism in the commercial trade. The film industry had reached an all-time low, from which it began to recover only in the late 1960s with the decision of the Gorton government to invest money in the arts, including film, and the great increase in public support for the arts provided by the Whitlam government.
Overlanders, The (Harry Watt, 1946) Ealing Studios; Chips Rafferty, Daphne Campbell, Clyde Combo (Jacky); has an Aboriginal person as a major character; 91 min.
Smithy (Ken G. Hall, 1946) aka Pacific Adventure (in USA) The Southern Cross (UK); Columbia Pictures (US), although made by the Cinesound team; Ron Randell, Muriel Steinbeck, Charles Tingwell has one line in the opening scene, Billy Hughes appears as himself; Hall's last film; Charles Kingsford Smith docu-drama
Son is Born, A (Eric Porter, 1946) prod. Eric Porter, wr. Gloria Bourner, dp Arthur Higgins; Kitty Bluett, Peter Dunstan, Peter Finch, Jane Holland, John McCallum, Ron Randell, Muriel Steinbeck, b/w, 85 min.; family melodrama
Always Another Dawn (T. O. McCreadie, 1947) Charles Tingwell, Guy Doleman, Queenie Ashton; 108 min.
Bush Christmas (Ralph Smart, 1947) wr. Ralph Smart from novel by Mary Cathcart Borer, prod. Ralph Smart, dp George Heath; Children's Entertainment Films ([British] Children's Film Foundation); Chips Rafferty, John Fernside, Stan Tolhurst, Pat Penny, John McCallum, Clyde Combo (uncredited, as Old Jack)
Eureka Stockade (Harry Watt, 1949) Ealing Studios, prod. Michael Balcon, assoc. prod. Leslie Norman, wr. Harry Watt, Greenwood & Ralph Smart, dp George Heath; Chips Rafferty (Peter Lalor), Jane Barrett, Jack Lambert, Peter Illing, Gordon Jackson, Peter Finch, Reg Lye; events of 1854; 102 min.
Into the Straight (T. O. McCreadie, 1949) 82 min.; Charles Tingwell, Muriel Steinbeck; horse-trainer drama
Sons of Matthew (Charles Chauvel, 1949) Greater Union Theatres/Universal Pictures; shot in Qld; Michael Pate, Ken Wayne, Tommy Burns, John Unicomb, John Ewart, Wendy Gibb; 107 min.; aka The Rugged O'Riordans (overseas version) family melodrama
Strong is the Seed (Arthur Greville Collins, 1949) story of William Farrer
Under Capricorn (Alfred Hitchcock, 1949) set in nineteenth-century Sydney but may not have been shot in Australia; Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten
Bitter Springs (Ralph Smart, 1950) wr. Monja Danischewsky, W. P. Lipscomb from story by Ralph Smart, prod. Michael Balcon, dp George Heath, music Ralph Vaughan Williams; Chips Rafferty, Tommy Trinder, Gordon Jackson, Jean Blue, Michael Pate, Charles Tingwell; colonial land rights clash tale from UK's Ealing Studios, with an Aboriginal as a major character: Black Jack (Henry Murdoch) is not a tracker as such, but he is a guide, in physical, social and moral senses
Kangaroo Kid, The (Lesley Selander, 1950) Allied Australian films (the McCreadie brothers); Jock O'Mahoney (Tex Kinnane), Veda Ann Borg, Guy Doleman, Alec Kellaway; "oats opera", B-western
Glenrowan, Affair, The (Rupert Kathner, 1951) aka A Message to Kelly; Aust Action Pictures; Bob Chitty (Ned Kelly); 70 min. Chitty was 1940s Carlton captain
Wherever She Goes (Michael S. Gordon, 1951) dp George Heath, music Clive Douglas; Eileen Joyce, Suzanne Parrett, Muriel Steinbeck, Nigel Lovell, John Wiltshire, George Wallace, Tim Drysdale, Syd Chambers, Rex Dawe, Sefton Daly, Jacqueline Cat; biopic of Eileen Joyce; 81 min.
Broken Barrier (John O'Shea, Roger Mirams, 1952) wr. John O'Shea, prod. John O'Shea, Roger Mirams, dp Roger Mirams; Kay Ngarimu, Terence Byler, Myra Hapi; NZ
Kangaroo (Lewis Milestone, 1952) aka The Australian Story; Twentieth Century-Fox, prod. Robert Bassler, wr. Harry Kleiner, dp Charles G. Clarke; Maureen O'Hara, Peter Lawford, Finlay Currie, Richard Boone, Chips Rafferty, Letty Craydon, Charles Tingwell, Ronald Whelan, John Fegan, Guy Doleman, Reginald Collins, Frank Ransome, Clyde Combo (Aboriginal stockman), Henry Murdoch (blacktracker), John Clark; western, set in the Australian outback at the turn of the century; 85 min.
Nightclub (A. R. Harwood, 1952) Cambridge Films, prod. David Bilcock, wr. A. R. Harwood, dp Len Heitman; Joey Porter, Joff Ellen, Joan Bilceaux, the Clarence Sisters, the Leonard Boys, the Spencer Trio, the Geoff Kitchen Quintette; golddigger and playboy; Bill Winters goes to a country town to work quietly on the script for a musical show; 55 min.
Captain Thunderbolt (Cecil Holmes, 1953) Grant Taylor, Charles Tingwell; bush western
Contratto, Il (Giorgio Mangiamele, 1953) b/w; incomplete at the time of the film-maker's death, without soundtrack; has been restored by NFSA; first film about the Italian migration experience, 92 min.
Phantom Stockman, The (Lee Robinson, 1953) Chips Rafferty, Charles Tingwell, Rod Taylor; produced by Southern International (Lee Robinson, Chips Rafferty)
King of the Coral Sea (Lee Robinson, 1954) produced by Southern International (Lee Robinson & Chips Rafferty); Chips Rafferty, Charles Tingwell, Ilma Adey, Rod Taylor, Reg Lye
Long John Silver (Byron Haskin, 1954) Treasure Island Pictures; Robert Newton (in Pike & Cooper: 218-9); first Australian film in Cinemascope
Seekers, The (Ken Annakin, 1954) aka Land of Fury, Group Film Productions, Fanfare Films, prod. George H. Brown, wr. William Fairchild, dp Geoffrey Unsworth; Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns, Noel Purcell, Inia Te Wiata, Kenneth Williams, Laya Raki; NZ; 8100ft, 89 min.
Jedda (Charles Chauvel, 1955) wr. Charles Chauvel, Elsa Chauvel; Ngarla Kunoth (Rosalie Kunoth-Monks), Robert Tudawali, Betty Suttor, Paul Reynall, Murray Dowsett; young Aboriginal woman raised by white family and torn between two cultures; 101 min., colour
Smiley (Anthony Kimmins, 1956) London Films, an Alexander Korda Production; Colin Petersen (Smiley), Bruce Archer, Ralph Richardson, John McCallum, Chips Rafferty, Reg Lye; sequel: Smiley Gets a Gun
Town Like Alice, A (Jack Lee, 1956) Peter Finch; only final sequences shot in Australia; 112 min.
Walk into Paradise (Lee Robinson & Giorgio Pagliero, 1956) aka Walk into Hell; produced by Southern Films International (Lee Robinson & Chips Rafferty); Chips Rafferty, Françoise Christophe, Reg Lye; filmed in both French and English in PNG; action adventure, exploring for oil in PNG; 93 min.
Robbery under Arms (Jack Lee, 1957) Peter Finch, Ronald Lewis, David McCallum, Maureen Swanson, Jill Ireland; from the novel by Rolf Boldrewood; Capt. Starlight has a black offsider; 96 min.
Shiralee, The (Leslie Norman, 1957) Ealing Films; from the novel by D'Arcy Niland, 103 min.; Peter Finch (Macauley), Dana Wilson (Buster)
Three in One (Cecil Holmes, 1957) trilogy about mateship; Holmes's last film; Joe Wilson's Mates (Henry Lawson story, 'The Union Buries Its Dead'); The Load of Wood (Frank Hardy story); The City (wr. Ralph Petersen)
Dust in the Sun (Lee Robinson, 1958) Southern International; novel, Justin Bayard, by Jon Cleary; Jill Adams, Ken Wayne (Justin Bayard), Maureen Lanagan, James Forrest, Robert Tudawali (Emu Foot), Jack Hume, Henry Murdoch, Reg Lye, Alan Light; Justin Bayard is a Northern Territory policeman taking an Aboriginal captive, Emu Foot, to Alice Springs to be tried for a tribal killing
Smiley Gets a Gun (Anthony Kimmins, 1958) Sybil Thorndike, Keith Calvert, Bruce Archer, Chips Rafferty
Stowaway (Lee Robinson & Ralph Habib, 1958) aka Le passager clandestin; novel by Georges Simenon; Southern International; dp Desmond Dickinson, assistant editor Anthony Buckley (his first feature); Martine Carol, Karlheinz Böhm, Serge Reggiani, Arletty, Roger Livesey, Reg Lye, Maea Flohr; aventure drama
On the Beach (Stanley Kramer, 1959) novel by Neville Shute; Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins
Restless and the Damned, The (Yves Allégret, 1959) aka L'ambitieuse, The Climbers, The Dispossessed; French/Italian/Aust coprop; last of features (partly) from the Lee Robinson & Chips Rafferty production team; ; filmed partly in Tahiti; Edmond O'Brien, Richard Basehart, Andréa Parisy, Nicole Berger, Nigel Lovell, Reg Lye; drama; commercially unsuccessful
Siege of Pinchgut, The (Harry Watt, 1959) Ealing Films; Aldo Ray; last of the Ealing films made in Australia; Matt Kirk takes over Fort Denison in an attempt to get a re-trial
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, The (Leslie Norman, 1959) Ernest Borgnine, Anne Baxter, John Mills, Angela Lansbury
Shadow of the Boomerang (Dick Ross, 1960) World Wide Pictures (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association); "Christian western"; Jimmy Little's first role
Sundowners, The (Fred Zinnemann, 1960) wr. Isobel Lennart, novel Jon Cleary, dp Jack Hildyard, 133 min., Warner Bros; Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum, Peter Ustinov, Glynis Johns, Dina Merrill, Chips Rafferty, Michael Anderson, Lola Brooks, Wylie Watson, John Meillon, Ronald Fraser, Mervyn Johns, Molly Urquhart, Ewen Solon, Ray Barrett (two-up player), Leonard Teale (shearer), John Fegan; Pike & Cooper: 230-231
Bungala Boys (Jim Jeffrey, 1961) Jimar Productions, [British] Children's Film Foundation; from the novel, The New Surf Club, by Claire Meillon; Peter Couldwell, Alan Dearth, Terry Bentley; children's
In Search of the Castaways (Robert Stevenson, 1962) NZ/USA, Disney, prod. Walt Disney, wr. Lowell S. Hawley, dp Paul Beeson; Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde White, Michael Anderson Jr, Wilfred Brambell; children's; 16mm; 100 min.
They Found a Cave (Andrew Steane, 1962) Visatone Island Pictures; director, most of the cast, and novelist all from Tasmania, where the film was shot; children's; 63 min.
Runaway (John O'Shea, 1964) wr. John Graham, John O'Shea, prod. John O'Shea, dp Tony Williams; Colin Broadley, Nadja Regin, Deidre McCarron, Selwyn Muru, Barry Crump, Gil Corwall, Kiri Te Kanawa; thriller road movie; NZ
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