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The Kid Stakes (Tal Ordell, 1927) prod. Tal Ordell, Virgil Coyle, Ordell-Coyle Productions, wr. Tal Ordell; Robin 'Pop' Ordell, Charles Roberts, Ray Salmon, Frank Boyd; based on the character of Fatty Finn, as created by cartoonist, Syd Nicholls (1896-1977), first film to be based on a comic strip; Fatty Finn is the only comic character in Australia to have inspired two films
Pop Ordell watching Syd Nicholls drawing - frame from the film
Young 'Fatty' Finn and his friends enter their pet goat in a race, but his rival 'Bruiser' Murphy lets the goat loose, right before the race.
Back in 1927 they knew how to make happy, amusing, uplifting films – at least Tal Ordell did. Wonderful to see the actual streets of Woolloomooloo as they were then. But a great shame that the hero of The Kid Stakes, Tal's son Robin ('Pop') died aged 24 in the War in 1945. Tal made one last film (Harvest Gold), in 1945, and died in 1948.
Although it was scarcely recognised as such at the time, The Kid Stakes stands clearly today as one of the major films of Australia's silent period. ... The freshness of the film also owes much to its outdoor locations in the Woolloomooloo streets and in the palatial Potts Point home of the theatrical entrepreneur Hugh Ward. Goat races were prohibited in New South Wales, but a race sequence was staged in January 1927 in Rockhampton, Queensland, with the enthusiastic support of the local citizens. Pike & Cooper: 137.
I am informed by David Donaldson that Tal Ordell was working (on stage) in Rockhampton a year before making the film, and that goat racing was common there - which led to him inventing a story about goat racing in Sydney. So the race was always going to be filmed in Rockhampton, and not because such racing was banned in Sydney. The financier producer, says DD, was George Birch, who from 1923 had been in partnership with Virgil Coyle of Townsville.
Despite Film Weekly's enthusiasm for The Kid Stakes it rarely played as the main feature. Its world premiere at the Wintergarden in Brisbane, with the banner across the display ad MADE IN QUEENSLAND, it was the main feature - but only for three days. When it reached Sydney, it played only as a support at the Haymarket and once again only for three days, which was the normal run in those days. Critics dismissed it as a film for children. How wrong were they?
However when it reached the 3000 seater Union de Luxe (ex Coliseum) in North Sydney, July1927, it got top billing for the first three days of the week as A HIGH CLASS AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTION. It was supported by "Will Finlay and his Concert Orchestra of 10 Artists".(Interesting to note from the Picture Show's weekly "What's On" flyers that the orchestras of the day had to havea complete change of repertoire every three days!) Anthony Buckley, personal communication.
'Old film comedy is Sydney satire', The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 September 1954: 2 (below).
Cryle, Denis, 'Regional cinema', Queensland Historical Atlas.
Donaldson, David 2015, 'How they rescued The Kid Stakes - the story of an Australian silent saved by students in the 1950s, 4:3, 4 August. And personal communication regarding the Rockhampton data.
Nowra, Louis 2016, 'Kid Stakes: a clear view of the kids from Sydney’s Woolloomooloo', in The Australian newspaper, 28 January.
NFSA online store, from which The Kid Stakes may be bought on Blu-ray.
Australian Screen page for the film.
Garry Gillard | New: 22 October, 2012 | Now: 29 November, 2019