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Phantom Gold

Phantom Gold* (Rupert Kathner, 1937) Kathner-Tolhurst Australian Productions, prod. wr. dp Rupert Kathner; 64 mins; Stan Tolhurst (Harry Lasseter), Bryce Russell, Captain W.L. Pittendrigh (himself), Bob Buck (himself), Old Warts (himself), Reg King, narrator Captain A.C. Stevens

In May 1936 an expedition led by a Sydney businessman, H.V. Foy, set out to investigate the lost gold reef discovered by Harry Lasseter in central Australia. Foy took with him two young film-makers, Rupert Kathner and Stan Tolhurst, to record the trip. On the way the party met several people who had known Lasseter, among them the bushman Bob Buck, who had found and buried his body in 1930, and Old Warts, an Aboriginal who had befriended him. Kathner and Tolhurst formed the idea of reconstructing scenes of Lasseter's last attempt to rediscover the reef in 1930, and Tolhurst himself acted the part of the lone prospector. After three months in central Australia, the party returned to Sydney, where additional scenes were shot. These included a re-enactment by Captain W.L. Pittendrigh of the incident in which he and his co-pilot S.J. Hamre had flown in search of Lasseter and had been forced by fuel shortage to land in the desert, where they suffered severe hardship for three weeks before being rescued.
Apart from an opening interview with Foy, none of the film had synchronised dialogue; it was accompanied throughout by a commentary by a Sydney radio personality, Captain A.C. Stevens. The film was rejected under the quality clause of the New South Wales quota act and failed to attract a major distributor. Kathner himself arranged a few screenings in country towns such as Woy Woy and Gosford, NSW, in mid-1937, and on 24 September it opened at the Cameo Theatre, Sydney, as a supporting feature. After four days, however, it was withdrawn following legal action by the publishing firm, Angus and Robertson, who alleged that the film was an infringement of the copyright on Lasseter's Last Ride, a book by Ion Idriess, which they had published in 1931. The case was never contested in court, but Foy complied by barring any further screenings of the film.
Kathner was a sketch artist who began working in set design in local film studios in the early 1930s. Before Phantom Gold, he tried in vain to find backing for a feature based on a story by Stan Tolhurst, Falling for Fame, 'depicting the phonies who came from overseas and wasted the [film] industry's money'. A similar jaundiced view of the industry was expressed in his book, Let's Make a Movie, published in Sydney in 1945. Altogether he completed five features and several shorts, none of which recovered its cost. He died in Cairns on 31 March 1954, aged 50. Pike & Cooper: 177-8

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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