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Sydney, Australia in the mid-1920's. Proud and classy Caddie Marsh is forced to get a job as a barmaid and raise two children on her own after her rich cad husband walks out on her. Despite numerous hardships such as the Great Depression, Caddie still manages to catch the eye of smooth dandy Ted and strikes up a romantic relationship with dashing Greek gentleman Peter. Written by
This autobiographical account of the life of Catherine Elliot-Mackay, who styled herself as a Sydney barmaid, begins with Caddie (so named by an admirer after the beauty and class of his new Cadillac) leaving her adulterous and brutish husband and taking her two children with her. This was a particularly brave and uncommon thing to do in 1925 when she had no one else to turn to for financial support. The film chooses to omit the early years of Caddie's life with a cruel father, but as so often in life it indicates how a child who suffers abuse can choose unwisely in marriage and end up reliving the horrors. Her husband has no concern for her welfare and when Caddie is determined to take her children he makes no attempt to maintain them. Forced to find work as a barmaid in the bear pit of a pub, in stark contrast to her former employ as a waitress, she struggles to survive its perplexing social status, as well as the intolerance of her children by selfish shortsighted adults.
Superbly cast as the resilient yet beautiful and classy Caddie, Helen Morse's (Picnic at Hanging Rock) performance clearly demonstrates why she is one of Australia's finest actors. Having won the Australian Film Institute's Best Actress award for this role in 1976, and in recent years received critical acclaim for her contributions to Australian theatre, it is a disappointing shame that she has not made any films since 1982 (Far East). Takis Emmanuel is the sensitive and kind Greek businessman who falls for Caddie and gives her a season of happiness, and in his case rebuffs the concern that Caddie has with men losing their respect for the women they sleep with. The able supporting cast includes Jacki Weaver (Picnic at Hanging Rock), also a successful stage actress, who won an AFI award for her role as a colleague who undergoes a back-street abortion after being abandoned by the father of her child, and the often-dire consequences are touched upon. Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant) is the snappily dressed card who gives Caddie her name.
Despite Caddie's tribulations through the Great Depression years, Donald Crombie's film never appears as bleak or oppressive as it could have done. Instead it chooses to make its points in a calm and measured way, to the strains of mournful jazz, in a languid style that is obviously from a period long past. It illustrates the injustices of life to a woman driven to leave her home and the financial security of her marriage, and the humiliations she suffered to earn enough to support her children. Even at the heartbreaking moment when Caddie is forced to place her son and daughter in separate children's homes the film avoids Hollywood schmaltz, as Caddie purposely walks away from them, only then briefly allowing the tears to well up in her eyes. Apparently she never let her children see her cry. When she does reclaim her children from the church homes she finds her new job lost and her accommodation under threat, and consequently, against her sense of pride, is forced to seek help from the State. Fate has a cruel twist for Caddie when she does find someone who truly loves her, he is called back to his home country by an ailing father. Without her divorce finalised Caddie cannot follow him to Greece for fear of losing custody of her children, and there is a tragic footnote to the film.
Caddie's story is Dickensian in its proportions and her trials would have sorely tried the patience of Job. She was a tough and determined character who had her unfair share of hardships, yet always showed her love for her children and put their welfare first, even at the expense of her personal happiness. Ultimately it is a tale of a woman to be admired.
I obtained a secondhand copy via Videoshift as the video was last released in 1993, or you could try ScreenSound Australia's archives.
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