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The Flying Doctor


Flying Doctor, The* (Miles Mander, 1936) National Productions/Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, wr. J.O.C. Orton, Miles Mander from the novel by Robert Waldron, dp Derick Williams, camera operator Errol Hinds, Mel Nichols, John Howes, camera assistant Damien Parer; Charles Farrell (Sandy Nelson), Mary Maguire, James Raglan, Joe Valli, Margaret Vyner, Eric Colman, Tom Lurich, Maudie Edwards, Katie Towers, Phillip Lytton, Andrew Beresford, Jack Clarke, Phil Smith, Donald Bradman (himself), Frank Coughlan and the Trocadero Orchestra; 92 mins

This episodic melodrama focuses less on the flying doctor of the title than on Sandy, a cocky adventurer in the outback. On his wedding night Sandy is smitten by wanderlust and deserts his young bride, Jenny. He finds work in Sydney as a painter on the new Harbour Bridge and eventually befriends a doctor, John Vaughan, who is unhappily in love with a married woman. Vaughan later decides to leave the turmoil of his life in Sydney, and accepts a post as flying doctor in the outback. After serving a prison sentence for his part in a brawl at a cricket match, Sandy also heads for the outback and manages to strike a rich gold vein. He enjoys a new life of wealth but one day is shot in a bar-room fight and loses his sight. His life is further disrupted when he learns that Vaughan has married and that his bride is none other than Jenny. Sandy realises that she is truly in love with the doctor and decides to take his own life rather than cause her any further unhappiness. He leaves his fortune to the Aerial Medical Service.
The Flying Doctor was an ambitious and well-publicised international production with an American star, and technical and financial support from the Gaumont-British company. It marked the first venture of a local company, National Productions, under the general management of Frederick Daniell, a promoter closely involved with radio and newspaper companies in Sydney. The directors of the company formed an impressive group of business and society leaders and included Sir Hugh Denison, Sir Samuel Walder and Sir James Murdoch. The company was tied closely (through an interlocking directorate) with National Studios, which had built and opened the large studio complex at Pagewood in Sydney, first used for feature production by Chauvel for Uncivilised (released later in 1936).
Under its agreement with Gaumont-British, National Productions was provided with a British director (the veteran character actor and comedy director, Miles Mander), a writer (J.O.C. Orton), photographer (Derick Williams), unit manager (T.D. Connochie) and sound recordist (Leslie Fry). Another British photographer who worked on the film, Errol Hinds, came to Sydney under two years' contract to National Studios as head of the camera department. The English crew arrived in November 1935 but shooting did not commence until late in January. Several weeks were lost because of bad weather, and work was still in progress at the end of March when Mander left for Hollywood, leaving Orton to supervise the completion of the film. The final cost was officially announced to be £35,000, but trade gossip suggested figures of around £45,000, more than twice the budget of a Cinesound feature at that time.
With distribution through Twentieth Century-Fox, the film was premiered with much ballyhoo in Brisbane on 21 August 1936 but earnings were only moderate. To the Sydney Morning Herald, 23 September 1936, the film's main failing was its story: 'Instead of selecting and developing some definite dramatic subject, it sprawls and rambles all over the place; and the real conflict does not develop until five minutes before the end. Even then, it is over-sentimental and unconvincing.' Overseas release, too, presented many disappointments; despite the opposition of their Australian partners, Gaumont-British cut the film by some 25 minutes and planned to release it as only a supporting feature. However, Gaumont-British soon withdrew from distribution and complex negotiations were undertaken to transfer the film to a new agency. Finally in September 1937 General Film Distributors released the film but it fared poorly.
It was never released in the USA, despite the presence of the American star. National Productions ceased operations, but some of its principals retained interest in occasional later ventures. Pike & Cooper: 172-3.

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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