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Typhoon Treasure* (Noel Monkman, 1938) aka The Perils Of Pakema Reef; Commonwealth Film Laboratories, wr. John P McLeod, dp George Malcolm, Harry Malcolm, continuity Kitty Gelhor; 89 mins; Campbell Copelin, Gwen Munro, Joe Valli, Douglas Herald, Kenneth Brampton, Norman French, Utan, Marshall Crosby, Moncrieff Macallum, Ossie Wenban, Douglas Channell, Benjamin Brown
Dedicated to 'the Spirit of Adventure', Noel Monkman's first feature was a lively yarn told with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of action and scenic novelty. The story follows the adventures of Alan Richards, the sole survivor of a pearling lugger wrecked on Pakema Reef during a typhoon. Richards sets out to retrieve the pearls lost in the wreck, taking a treacherous route through dense jungle inhabited by savage headhunters.
Apart from the opening shipwreck in which a very obvious model is tossed about in a tank, most of the film was staged on location, with the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland coast standing in for the New Guinea islands where the story is nominally set. Underwater and island scenes were filmed on Green Island off the coast from Cairns. Location shooting began in June 1937, and by December the few studio scenes were completed in the Commonwealth Film Laboratories' studio at the Sydney Showground. Musical accompaniment was collated from popular classics including Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
The film was released by United Artists in September 1938 with a premiere season at the St James Theatre, Brisbane. Despite good press notices it was given only a meagre run of one week as a supporting feature in Sydney in October. A slightly abridged version was released in England in 1943. In the early 1950s, rights were bought by the film's photographer, George Malcolm, who reduced it to about 40 minutes and retitled it The Perils of Pakema Reef, primarily for screening in newsreel theatrettes.
By 1937 Noel Monkman had established a firm reputation for his educational 'nature study' films. Two series, the Monkman Marvelogues and one on the Barrier Reef, had been produced by Australian Educational Films, a company that Monkman had founded with F.W. Thring in Melbourne. The script of Typhoon Treasure had once been the property of Efftee Film Productions and credit was taken by the Efftee writer, John P. McLeod. As in all of his work, Monkman was assisted by his wife, credited under her maiden name of Kitty Gelhor. Pike & Cooper: 182-3
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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