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The Broken Melody

Broken Melody, The* (Ken G. Hall, 1938) prod. Ken G. Hall, Cinesound Features; wr. Frank Harvey from the novel by F J Thwaites; dp George Heath, ed. William Shepherd, 89 mins; Lloyd Hughes, Diana Du Cane, Frank Harvey, Rosalind Kennerdale, Alec Kellaway, Harry Abdy, Rita Pauncefort, Harold Meade, June Munro, Ronald Whelan, Lionello Cecil, Letty Craydon, Marshall Crosby, Gough Whitlam; 89 mins


After a nightclub brawl, John Ainsworth is sent down from university and rejected by his father. Unemployed and penniless in the depths of the Depression, he drifts about Sydney, and one night saves an impoverished girl, Ann, from suicide. She comes to share a cave-dwelling with him on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. Inspired by her, John begins to play his violin again and eventually progresses from the street corner to a cabaret. There he comes under the patronage of a French entrepreneur who sends him to England, where he soon finds fame as a composer and conductor. Some time later, John returns to Australia as the conductor of a touring company performing his own opera. When the fiery soprano refuses to sing, her local understudy is rushed on stage and John recognises her as Ann. The opera is a huge success and John is happily reunited with Ann and forgiven by his father.
The story was so freely adapted from F J Thwaites' novel that it can be considered an original work. In sharp contrast to Hall's routine of action and farce, the film was a prestige production with both 'high drama' in the tale of two lovers caught in the grip of the Depression, and 'high culture' in the lengthy climactic performance of the operetta. At the same time, Hall played safe by peppering the film with his customary touches of light comic relief and moments of deliberate sentimentality (including a death-bed reunion between John and his dying father).
Although the story failed to impress the critics, the music did, and the long operetta sequence, especially composed for the film by Alfred Hill, was applauded: the British trade paper, Today's Cinema, 29 March 1938, found it 'really commendably staged [and] one of the most promising things that [has] come out of Australia in the film line so far'.
Shot in October and November 1937, the film was released by BEF at the Embassy Theatre, Sydney, on 17 June 1938. Carefully promoted, it made an easy profit and late in 1938 was released in England by RKO under the title The Vagabond Violinist (to avoid confusion with a 1934 British crime melodrama also called The Broken Melody). Pike & Cooper: 180-181.

References and Links

Hall, Ken G. 1980, Australian Film: The Inside Story, Summit, Sydney; second edition: the first edition was entitled Directed by Ken G. Hall, 1977.

Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, revised edition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

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