Saturday, 11 October 2014

Ealing's Australian Adventure:
Peter Finch in The Shiralee
Sydney Harbour Bridge: A wonderful piece of engineering and probably the most interesting thing in The Siege of Pinchgut
The Shiralee (1957) & The Siege of Pinchgut (1959)
It's difficult to know what to say about these two films. By the late 1950s there was something seriously wrong at Ealing. Despite the great promise shown in the wonderful Nowhere to Go (1956) and the solid wartime fare of Dunkirk (1958), the company was clearly reaching a point of no return - as anyone who has endured Davy (1958) will tell you.
Whilst The Shiralee does have a measure of charm, The Siege of Pinchgut is almost entirely without merit. In these days in which Britons thinking about Australia mainly have sporting rivalry as a reference point (or for my age group, they might refer back to less than positive experiences with London's Australian bar staff in the late 1980s and early 1990s "Excuse me, I asked for a pint. Not half a pint and four inches of froth" ... "Look mate, that's how we serve it here ....") it's interesting to look back to the days when Australia and the UK shared more than just a language. Even the thought that Ealing would tie itself so closely to Australia in the 1950s seems unusual to the modern viewer, yet seeing the portrayal of the country at that time there appears to be something natural about slipping British actors into an Australian story. These films reveal a closeness between the two countries, both in people and in urban landscape.
That said, they really aren't overly entertaining.
The Shiralee was apparently Peter Finch's favourite film role. He stars as Jim Macauley, a 'Swagman', an itinerant labourer who spends his days wandering the country looking for work - never settling down, but always building a network of contacts who he can relay on for a bed and a few days work.
The trouble is that this wanderer has a wife and daughter at home in Sydney ...
Elizabeth Sellars

Dana Wilson
... and, bored by life alone, his wife has taken a lover:
George Rose
With his marriage doomed, Macauley reluctantly sets out on the search for work with his daughter in tow ...

... and we follow their adventures as he attempts to find work in an environment - both physically and socially - that is hostile to the idea of a child tagging along after her father.
On the way he encounters violence and sickness but also learns to love his child and witnesses the warmth of those who are eager to help him build a new life for himself as a father.
Here's who else appears:
Tessie O'Shea & Sid James

Rosemary Harris

Niall MacGinnis

Charles Tingwell

Barbara Archer
Whilst The Shiralee at least has the touching father-daughter relationship to commend it, The Siege of Pinchgut is dull and, dare I say it, almost completely without merit. I don't like to be negative, but this is one film that just inspires negativity. It's the story of a man on the run from prison whose attempt to escape the country finds him and his accomplices hiding on a small fortified island in Sydney harbour.
The opening sequence of the escaping prisoner covered in bandages and hiding in an ambulance ...
Aldo Ray
... had a genuine sense of tension and mystery. But the film soon loses its ways as the tension turns to boredom.
I wanted to watch the film since one of the film's writers was the British novelist Alexander Baron:
 Baron is something of a cult figure, whose first novel 'From the City From the Plough' was an enormous hit and later went on to write the seminal slice of London fiction 'The Lowlife'. This was his second attempt at writing for the screen and he later became well known within the industry for his successful TV adaptations of classic novels (something that still sends aspirant television writers in search of his son in the hope of learning more about Baron's writing methods). 
However, there is little to say: the gang are soon surrounded on the island ...
... but there is precious little tension as they attempt to find a way to escape. The gang are:
Victor Maddern (left) & Aldo Ray (right)

Carlo Justini

Victor Maddern & Neil McCallum
 One of the few positive things I can say about this film is that it does offer lots of interesting views of 1950s Sydney ... if that's something that might interest you!
Also worth noting that this appears to be a young Barry Foster (right) with Donald Houston:
 He isn't credited with having appeared in the film, but he was appearing in small roles during this period.
Both films are currently available:

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