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Red Sky At Morning* (Arthur Hartney, 1944) aka Escape At Dawn in 1951 re-release; play by Dymphna Cusack; dp Rupert Kathner; historical romance set 1812; 55 min; Austral-American Productions, wr. Hartney Arthur, from the play Red Sky at Morning by Dymphna Cusack, dp Rupert Kathner, Bob Gould, ed. Alex Ezard, Ross Wood, art dir. Gwen Oatley, sound Mervyn Murphy; Peter Finch, Jean McAllister, John Alden, Dorothea Dunstan, Desmond Rolfe, Dorothy Whiteley
Winter, 1812: Alicia Farley flees from her sadistic husband, a captain in the colonial military corps. A storm forces her to take refuge in an inn at Parramatta, where she attracts the attentions of Michael, an Irish rebel working as an ostler at the inn. Soon Captain Farley discovers Alicia's whereabouts and attempts to make her return home, but she escapes with Michael to a ship leaving the colony.
Despite wartime shortages and the commercial failure of their first feature, A Yank In Australia (1942), Austral-American embarked on an adaptation of a play by the Sydney writer Dymphna Cusack, first performed in Sydney in 1935. The film's few exteriors were taken in the Windsor and Mulgoa areas, and the interiors were staged at Rupert Kathner's small studio (Fanfare Films) in North Sydney. Shooting was completed with considerable difficulty in mid-1943. In 1944 the film was rejected for registration under the quality clause of the New South Wales quota act, and it received only a few screenings in country theatres. In mid-1948 a version reduced to 48 minutes was screened in England by a small distributor, Carlyle. Later, Gordon Wharton, the principal backer of Austral-American, asked Ray Rushmer, an Australian film distributor, to view the film. Rushmer proposed several changes and these were implemented by a Sydney film-maker, James Pearson. Several scenes were deleted, a new opening was shot at Berrima, NSW and a new ending photographed at sea. Music and sound effects were also re-recorded. Re-titled Escape at Dawn, and running for about 55 minutes, the film now succeeded in being registered as an Australian quota production and was re-released in England, primarily on the strength of Peter Finch's name. No screening, however, seems to have taken place in Australia.
Reviews of neither version were flattering. The Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1948, wrote of the first version: 'This is a thoroughly boring film which has absolutely nothing to justify its production. The story is weak, the settings are extremely monotonous, being almost entirely restricted to the interior of a house, and all the sound effects come from "off stage".'
Born in Tasmania in 1917, Hartney Arthur acted in a small role in For The Term Of His Natural Life (1927). He later became active on the Sydney stage and in radio as a writer, actor and director, and played one of his customary 'silly ass' roles in A Yank In Australia. After a period as an independent film exhibitor in Sydney, he settled in New York as a theatrical and film agent. Pike & Cooper: 197.
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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