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The Burgomeister

Burgomeister, The** (Harry Southwell, 1935) aka Hypnotised, Flames of Conscience, [previously made as The Bells]; Film Players Corporation, prod. Harry Southwell, wr. Denzil Batchelor from the adaptation by Leopold Lewis of the play Le Juif Polonais by Erckmann-Chatrian, dp George Heath, ed. William Shepherd, art director James Coleman, Rupert Kathner, sound Clive Cross; 56 mins (?); Harry Southwell, Muriel Meredith, Janet Johnson, Ross Vernon, Stan Tolhurst, Gabriel Toyne, Harold Meade, Bertie Wright, Leslie Victor, Lily Molloy, Judy Eccles, Paul Furness, James Toohey, June Munro, Alf Scarlett, Reginald Riddell

The old stage melodrama The Bells was first filmed in Australia in 1911 by W J Lincoln. In 1925, while in Belgium, Harry Southwell filmed another version under the title of the original Erckmann-Chatrian play, Le Juif Polonais, and back in Australia in 1935 he again turned to the play for a new film venture.
In April 1935 Southwell formed a production company, Film Players Corporation, with a distinguished list of directors including Sir John Butters, a director of Associated Newspapers Ltd, W J Bradley, K C, and George H Rayner, who was described as being 'prominent in society circles', and who worked on the production as assistant director. With a budget of £10,000, shooting began at Cinesound's Bondi studio early in June 1935.
The basic set was described by Everyones, 12 June 1935, as 'the largest set the plant has housed since it has been a sound studio. With a depth of more than 100 feet, the entire ground-floor of an old Continental inn has been designed by Jim Coleman, so that action can commence in the courtyard outside, proceed through the huge public room, into the living-room at the back, and then to the old-fashioned kitchen at the side.' Mountains of snow for these scenes were made from a mixture of salt and cornflakes, but other winter scenes were shot on location at Mount Kosciusko.
An advertisement in Everyones, 25 September 1935, carried the name of RKO-Radio as distributor for the film and billed it as 'The First Australian Quota Picture!' However, under the quality clause of the new New South Wales quota act it was refused registration, and following a private preview on 29 September it was withdrawn from distribution.
Later, a re-edited version with the title Hypnotised was distributed by Scott Films, and it may have been screened in some country centres. In 1937 the film appeared in England under yet another title, Flames of Conscience.
In his somewhat bitter survey of the Australian film industry, Let's Make a Movie (Sydney 1945), Rupert Kathner told the sad tale of The Burgomeister's preview: after the screening 'there was an unearthly silence. Lady So and So turned to Sir Whatsisname, who nudged the eminent KC, who, after swallowing hard, silently thanked his lucky stars that he only had a few hundreds invested in it and not thousands like a lot of others who were seated about him'. Pike & Cooper: 170-171.

References and Links

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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