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She got everything she wanted out of love - except marriage!

Tagline for     Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959)
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April Issue

Classic Film

Identity

In April we are exploring ideas of Australian Identity. This April does mark the centenary of the the fateful landing at Anzac cove, an event on which we have built much of our identity as a nation, which makes it a good time to think and talk about who we are, or perhaps more accurately who we think we are as a people.

In this edition of the magazine, we're going to take a look at Classic Character actor S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall,  talk about the Chauvel's - the husband and wife team that almost single handedly kept filmmaking alive in Australia in the 40's and 50's, and reflect on the importance of Ray Lawler's play (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll) in helping outgrow our cultural cringe and actually want to hear and see Australian stories... whether it be on the stage or screen.

And a note of thanks to those who participated in our recent survey. Based on the responses we have chosen to move the screenings to a 7pm start time and to tighten up the presentation so we don't keep you from the film too long. For those who voted to keep the 6.30pm start, just come along at the same time and enjoy a drink before the show
Classic Character Actors
Cuddles playing around on the set of Casablanca
Born Jacob Gero to Jewish parents, during his schooldays, he wrote sketches for Budapest vaudeville shows under the pen-name Szőke Szakáll meaning "blond beard" in reference to his own beard.
He became a star of the Hungarian stage and screen in the 1910s and 1920s. At the beginning of the 1920s. It ehe late 20’s and early 30’s, he continued to work in Vienna and Berlin.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, he was forced to return to Hungary where he was involved in over 40 movies. When Hungary joined the Axis in 1940, he headed for Hollywood with his wife. Many of Sakall's close relatives later died in Nazi concentration camps, including all three of his sisters and his niece, as well as his wife's brother and sister.
Sakall began a career that included "an endless succession of excitable theatrical impresarios, lovable European uncles and befuddled shopkeepers."
He is perhaps best remembered for playing Carl the head waiter in Casablanca (1942). When he was first offered the part, Sakall hated it and turned it down but finally agreed to take the role when he was offered three weeks of work. A testament to his on-screen power is that he ended up with more screen time than either Peter Lorre or Sydney Greenstreet.
It was Jack Warner who gave Sakall the nickname "Cuddles". Warner asked that he be billed as S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall in his later films, though he was never happy with the name.
Chances are you've seen Cuddles in more than one film, he was a real audience favourite although never getting top billing.
For more about Cuddles, check him out on IMDB. If you're in California and interested in visiting his grave, you'll find him in Glendale Cemetary but if you'd rather see or relive what he got up to in Hollywood, check out this great little video tribute.
The Chauvels
Charles and Elsa Chauvel were a phenomenon. They were a true husband and wife team who managed to create a large body of work at a time when it was never harder to make a film in Australia. It is a testament to the influence of the Chauvel's that following Charles' death in 1959, Australian filmmaking seemed to fall into a hole, as it was a decade before we saw any serious level of film production return.

There are so many interesting stories that surround the work of the Chauvel's. From the story that when Charles came across Errol Flynn in a Sydney bar and asked him he had ever acted... and Errol's response... Nah, but I'll try anything once (which is true, he would). Or the accounts of recreating the Middle East on the beaches of Cronulla for the film 40,000 Horsemen. Or even the creation of a cyclone on the set of Sons of Matthew using two old aircraft motors and lots of water... Michael Pate certainly thought he'd been stuck in a cyclone... take after take.

At Classic films we've already shown the very influential Jedda, and will soon be showing the equally influential 40,000 Horsemen.

If you want more information on the Chauvels...You'll find a great little biography of Charles Chauvel here. And a very interesting biography of Elsa Chauvel here.
For a fantastic insight into the work of the Chauvels, take a look at the detailed biography of Charles and the detailed time line of his career in film on the Australian Screen website.

And finally, there was a great little segment on ABC radio in 2014 about the Chauvels, check it out here.
'The Doll'
In the 1950s Australia was in the midst of an economic boom. Robert Menzies was Prime Minister and the post war immigration programme was slowly challenging the idea of Australia as a solely Anglo country. Questions were being raised about the nature of Australian identity. Artists such as Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd were emerging and Australian literature was flourishing. Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll arrived and provided Australian character and presented Australian life in a realistic manner, which was a revelation for theatregoers at the time.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll opened on 28th November 1955 to a stellar audience attended at the Union Theatre in Melbourne. Despite the good public and critical reaction in Melbourne, there were still doubts regarding the play’s national appeal. The true test of the play’s worth would be in Sydney. The Elizabethan Theatre Trust took an option on the play and made plans to present it in the harbour city.
On January 10th 1956 the play opened in Sydney and it was an experience unique in the annals of Australian theatre.

Before the end of 1956, the play had been offered a production in London, by Laurence Olivier and The Doll opened in London in March 1957. It was greeted with cheers, stomping and several curtain calls. Finally The Doll had received the imprimatur of overseas success. The critics in Australia were silenced as English approval guaranteed that the play was acceptable.

The Doll continues to be produced in Australia, and although some of its language seems dated, its essential themes remain relevant today. The Doll gave Australians their first opportunity to see themselves reflected on stage in a realistic manner. It will continue to be considered a turning point in Australian theatre history and a classic of Australian literature.
 
When it came to making the film, sadly our cultural cringe was not yet behind us. The film was retitled Season of Passion for the American market and the script was "Americanized". This included casting of Ernest Borgnine, who played Roo with an American accent and the female leads of Anne Baxter and Angela Lansbury, with the many Australian actors who featured being given minor parts.

The location was moved to Sydney (rather than Melbourne) with an eye to international audiences who would find Bondi Beach and Luna Park (in Sydney) more recognisable.

There were also drastic changes to key plot points, most notably the "happy" ending which was considered  to be a dire misunderstanding of the play and its message, and an attempt to make the film an international success at the box office.

It is not a film which gets much (if any) play on television, so our screening may be the only opportunity you have to make up your own mind about it all.

Screening

Saturday, 11th of April

7pm start

40,000 Horsemen (1940)

Three young Australians join the army at the beginning of World War I and are assigned to the Australian Light Horse cavalry, which is serving in Palestine. The three eventually take part in the attack during the Battle of Beersheba, which was the last cavalry charge in modern warfare.
 
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Screening

Sunday, 12th of April

7pm start

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959)

Two Australian sugarcane cutters spend their annual five-month vacations in Sydney with their mistresses. Based on the internationally acclaimed play by Ray Lawler


 
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