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Romance Of Runnibede, The* (Scott R. Dunlap, 1928) prod. Frederick Phillips, Phillips Film Productions, interitles, Gayne Dexter, from the novel by Steele Rudd, dp Len Roos, Cliff Thomas, 6000 ft; Eva Novak, Gordon Collingridge, Claude Saunders, Roland Conway, Dunstan Webb, Marion Marcus Clarke, Virginia Ainsworth
Claude Saunders, right, as Dale, probably with Dunstan Webb as the witch-doctor
The story was based on only one of the incidents in Steele Rudd's novel, which was published to coincide with the film's release and contained stills from it.
Dorothy Winchester returns from school in Sydney to her family's cattle station, Runnibede, in northern Queensland. She finds two equally likeable men eager for her hand in marriage - Tom Linton, the gauche station manager, and the more sophisticated Sub-Inspector Dale of the Queensland mounted police. Some local Aborigines believe that Dorothy is their 'Great White Queen', returned from the dead, and aroused by an evil witch-doctor, they kidnap her. In the ensuing fight, the rivalry of the men for Dorothy's love is resolved when one of her suitors gives his life to save her.
Frederick Phillips, an American businessman, formed the production company in Sydney in November 1926, when euphoria over For The Term Of His Natural Life was at its height, and the time ripe to attract investors. Filming commenced in May, and after some interior scenes in Sydney, the unit moved to the main location, a cattle station near the town of Murgon in south-east Queensland. An American director, Scott R Dunlap, with an extensive background in B-film production, was hired for the film, but his arrival in Australia was delayed and the initial work was directed by William Reed, the husband of Eva Novak and a major shareholder in the production company. Wallace Worsley, a Hollywood director famous for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), was visiting Australia at the time and was hired to serve 'in an advisory capacity'. The enterprise was dogged from the start by ill fortune and entrepreneurial inefficiency. Location shooting was dominated by heated arguments and procrastination, and Dunlap reshot much of the footage already taken by Reed.
It emerged as a Hollywood formula movie, designed for overseas audiences, with maps and explanatory titles about Australian geography that were scarcely necessary for the home market. Some of the action (most notably Dorothy's kidnap by the Aborigines) was well photographed, and Eva Novak's performance was pleasantly restrained, but the film was undermined by the two male leads: Dale is especially colourless and Linton is naive to the point of absurdity. The Aboriginal 'headhunters' are stock figures from Hollywood African adventures, with a corroboree resembling both a conga and an Indian war dance, with a fiendishly daubed Dunstan Webb appearing as an unintentionally hilarious witch-doctor.
Distributed by Australasian Films, the film opened in Brisbane at the Wintergarden Theatre on 9 January 1928. Despite much expensive publicity, the film failed commercially, and by May a receiver had been appointed for the production company. The film had cost about £12,000 and Everyones, 13 May 1928, estimated that only £2000 had been returned to the company. Steele Rudd, who had invested heavily in the film, lost most of his money, and Eva Novak left Australia with over £3000 due to her in salary, although she reportedly received American distribution rights for the film as compensation. It was sold in 1928 as a quota production in England, and although trade reviews were positive, it made little impact. Pike & Cooper: 141-2.
Pike & Cooper: 141-2
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