Bush Christmas (1947)
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The film is set in the Mara-Mara region of Australia--a desolate place which is being use for ranch land by locals. It seems that there is a problem there with rustlers and the problem is dealt with by the local kids instead of their parents! It seems they've seen the rustlers and the parents don't believe them. So, they set out to stop the crooks themselves--and use their brains to defeat the thieves again and again.
There are some things to like about the film--such as its very sympathetic treatment of aboriginals. One of the kids in the film is an aboriginal and he's treated by the others like an equal--and he is VERY helpful during their tracking of the thieves. But the film suffers a bit from some unnecessary narration as well as a cliché I hate--you know, that kids are somehow smarter than their parents. In 1947 it must have been pretty novel--in the 1980s it was a stupid epidemic in films and on TV. All in all, a passable film but one I certainly did not love. Not bad--just not all that good either.
Five children riding their horses from school take a forbidden path and meet two strangers, who give them money and make them promise not to tell anyone about them. The two men learn about Lucy. She's a mare belonging to Mr. Thompson, a sheep farmer and the father of three of the children: Helen (the oldest), John, and six-year-old Snow (so named for the color of his hair). The other two are Michael, an English boy staying with the Thompsons, and Neza, an Australian black who is the son of one of Mr. Thompson's stock men. The two men prove to be horse thieves, and when Lucy and her foal turn up missing the next morning, the children know it must have been them.
They're mortified. Mr. Thompson had saved up three years for that horse, and it's their fault she's gone. The police have no luck finding the thieves, but John is certain he knows where they've gone. The children tell Mrs. Thompson they're going camping. But their real plan is to find the thieves and get Lucy and the foal back.
The strong performances of the children, and the intelligence and resourcefulness of their characters, are the main strong points of this mildly engaging adventure story.
Anyway, writer-director Ralph Smart had a hand in concocting several earlier, notable British comedies ALF'S BUTTON AFLOAT (1938), CONVICT 99 (1938), etc. and later went into TV where he dealt with such heroic figures as William Tell and Robin Hood; indeed, BUSH Christmas adequately displays his light touch and sense of adventure which makes for a decent, low-key entertainment which passes the time amiably enough. The unassuming plot has to do with a group of young children (including a bungling, bespectacled Briton and a half-Aborigine tracker) falling foul of three horse thieves (one of whom is played by popular Australian actor Chips Rafferty).
On the other hand, I know of USA kids in the late 1990s who were 13/14 years that were left to camp in the wild for a week by parents, and given instructions on how to hike out to a meeting point. I find even that unimaginable, so what do I know of childhood independence?
Overall, it's a very likable film. No gratuitous sex/violence thrown in, to the point where you don't fear when the kids get naive about thinking they're back in civilization when in fact they're setting themselves up to get caught by the bad guys.
Anyway, this is mostly a film for kids, as it is mostly about kids who survive in the wild so well that they give some horse thieves some serious haranguing. But for parents and adults looking for a view into optimistic child-oriented films of the 1940s, look no further.
It should remind the viewer in some ways of the modern Australian television show "Saddle Club" as the kids are around horses all the time; even riding them to and from school. And the plot involves Grinch-inspired horse thieves who almost ruin Christmas for the family when they steal their prize mare, leaving her young colt behind. So the five children head into the bush to track down the horse thieves, while their parents and the police attempt to rescue them. There is even a Ghost Town (also found in "Walkabout") although you have to suspend disbelief as the (until then) very perceptive children inexplicably take far too long to recognize that the horse thieves are its only residents.
Worth noting is that Helen Grieve plays the only girl in this group of adventurous children but there is no condescension to her, she rides better than the boys and takes on a kind of "Wendy" from "Peter Pan" role in the group.
Christmas in the southern hemisphere is a summer event but the holiday is still celebrated with winter wonderland decorations, presents, and a tree.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Australia where they never dream about a White Christmas serves as the backdrop for the kid's adventure. Children are on a quest for stolen horses after encountering the thieves Good location photography out in the outback really sets the tone for the kids. No crazy special effects, but the Australian background accents the danger of the kids search. I wish this original version had been done in color, but that was all, but unknown in the nascent Australian film industry.
I like the kids here because they are real. When you watch something like Home Alone or Spy Kids you can't forget you're seeing Hollywood personalities no matter how talented they are. These Aussie kids are real and charming.
Finally to recommend this film is the presence of the first real star who worked and developed the Australian cinema. Chips Rafferty plays Long Bill, one of the horse thieves and even though he's the bad guy, he's a likable cuss as he is in all his films.
At 6'5" Chips is kind of hard to miss and he doesn't exactly have matinée idol looks. But whenever I do see him, I think he represents Australia the same way Maurice Chevalier became an international Frenchman or Harry Lauder is the quintessential Scot. He's tough, he's funny and he had to be the inspiration for Crocidile Dundee. He never gave a bad performance in anything he ever did.
This one is recommended for Australians wherever they might be on this old globe of our's.
Well acted by the young cast and supported by able adult actors as well. This original version shot in black and white has a unique quirky feel to it. For the kids it's a fun kids vs bad guys story too.