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Pioneers, The** (Raymond Longford, 1926) prod. Australasian Films: A Master Picture, wr. Lottie Lyell, from the novel by Katharine Susannah Prichard, sp Arthur Higgins; 8000 ft; Virginia Beresford, William Thornton, Augustus Neville, George Chalmers, W. Dummitt, Robert Purdie, 'Big' Bill Wilson
In September 1925 Longford accepted an appointment as director of productions and supervisor of the new Bondi studio by his old enemy, the combine of Australasian Films and Union Theatres. After completing Stuart-Whyte's unfinished Sunrise (released later in 1926), he directed two features, The Pioneers and Hills Of Hate, before his alliance with Australasian broke down in renewed bitterness, with Longford accusing Australasian of attempting to discredit and subvert film production in Australia (see, eg, minutes of evidence of the Royal Commission on the moving picture in Australia, 1927 p149).
The Pioneers was the second screen adaptation of Katharine Susannah Prichard's novel (the first had been in 1916). The story of the hopes and trials of a Scottish settler and his wife (played by William Thornton and Virginia Beresford) in the Gippsland bush was potential material for a powerful epic adventure, but no critic seemed pleased with the film. It developed slowly for most of its two hours, then ended with a spate of rapid melodramatic happenings that seemed only to confuse the audience. The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1926, commented: 'If only "The Pioneers" could be wound up about half-way or two-thirds of the way through, so as to obviate all this trite melodrama, which has been put in obviously as a sop to the populace, it would stand as a landmark in the history of Australian motion pictures'; for, apart from the plot, the film achieved an image of the bush as a place of 'wild yet homely charm [with] open-hearted people instead of conjuring it up as the abode of bad men and "wild western" heroics'.
Longford himself suggested that the film's uneven quality was due to the fact that the cast had been chosen against his will and that Australasian had expected too much for their small financial outlay (minutes of evidence of the Royal Commission on the moving picture in Australia, 1927 p147). Location shooting near Gosford began in January 1926, and interiors were shot at Australasian's Bondi studio. The film was released as a prestigious main feature at the Lyceum and Haymarket Theatres, Sydney, on 5 June, and seems to have been moderately successful with the public. Pike & Cooper: 133.