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In 1929 Arthur Upfield, Australia's premier crime writer, plotted the perfect murder for his novel The Sands of Windee. Meanwhile, one of his friends, stock-man Snowy Rowles, put the scheme into deadly effect, even before the book was published. This true story resulted in one of Australia's most sensational murder trials of the 1930's and catapulted Upfield's name onto the world stage. Written by
You know those American TV cop shows or movies where a villain gets inspiration for the perfect murder from a work of fiction and carries out the crime? Well, stuff like that does happen, and maybe this story is the inspiration. At one time this story would have been famous/infamous in Australian history/popular culture. However, the decades have erased this from the collective memory, so it was a pleasure to see this true story so well told.
Set during The Great Depression, in the barren Western Australian outback, it concerns would be novelist Arthur Upfield, who, traumatised by his World War I experiences, has become a recluse of sorts, but working on the rabbit proof fence (a massive undertaking), to keep the scourge of farmers out of their properties. Just by the by, there is an Australian movie called "Rabbit proof fence", which concerns the said object and some Aboriginal children. It's a critically acclaimed movie I haven't seen, and another true story.
Upfield has contact with co-workers and farmers who like to share idle chatter with him. Working on a novel about a part-aboriginal tracker (aborigines used to be used by the police to track criminals hiding in the outback, by using their superior bushman skills), Upfield wants to come up with the perfect murder, to test his hero's skills. To this end, he seeks ideas from those around him as to the perfect way to dispose of a body so that no evidence of the body is discoverable (i.e. looking for means of destroying a corpse). One can't say whether such discussions give a certain character ideas, or whether the method discussed merely provides the final piece of a puzzle for someone with a pre-existing murderous intent, but in any case, Upfield's idle chatter does see several murders take place with no evidence of the crime being obvious.
The setting of this movie is quite oppressive-the landscape is vast and barren, and the hot, sweaty men makes you feel this horrible environment...you can just imagine the stink of the place.
I'd like to point out that seeing this movie was especially interesting for me, as I had vague recollections of seeing a TV series about Upfield's hero as a child. That show way about a part aboriginal tracker called Napolean "Boney" Bonaparte, the same character that Upfield was working on in this movie. There was a new version of that show called "Bony", but starring a white Australian in the lead role, but which I never watched. In any case, remembering that I was a big fan of the original TV series made me want to check this movie out.
Back to the movie - it has generally solid performances, and early on the characters do tend towards the ocker (like Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin). It wasn't off putting, but I liked it when it got toned down afterwards. In the last week or so, Australia's current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, did get some mocking for using ocker experessions in an ostentatious way...trying to appear 'ordinary' or something...didn't seem to work for him though! Oddly, I think someone like Rupert Murdoch could get away with it!
One aspect which didn't sit all that well with me was the device, I assume, of reflecting the social context of this case in the personal dialogues of the characters. This just made some of the conversations a little bit awkward and forced...inauthetic, in other words. This same device was used in an Australian movie about a real life crime case concerning the supposed murder of a baby. That movie was "Evil angels", starring Merryl Streep, who occasionally had a dodgy accent, perhaps. I preferred the brilliant mini-series "Through my eyes" for the definitive treatment of that story, which at one time was the biggest story in Australia...an absolute media circus, which the Streep movie and mini-series do go into.
Reading the credits to this movie, I had the sneaking suspicion that a relative of one of the characters in this movie was in some ways responsible for seeing this movie made. That was confirmed to me when I read an article on this movie in The Age newspaper's TV lift out "The Green Guide" (June 11, 2009, pp 12-13) where it is mentioned that the director of movies such as "The circuit", James Bogle, is the grandson of the man where the murders occurred. The Green Guide article features actual photos of Upfield and the murderer. Locals from the area play extras too.
Lastly, I'd like to mention one of the actors in this movie who I have seen before...Nicholas Hope, who plays Detective Manning. He was in one of Australia's greatest movies, I think, the grungy, blackly comic masterpiece "Bad boy Bubby". I highly recommend that movie. Can't say that I knew of many of the other actors in this movie, but I tend to have an aversion to seeing Australian movies, as I often get burned by them, so to speak (i.e. I don't find them that interesting of entertaining or good).
It should be noted that this movie has some female nudity and sex scenes. Also, some farm scenes involving animals occur, so these scenes may be mildly unpleasant to animal lovers.
Might have to acquaint myself with Upfield's books (at one time he was, and maybe still is, a major international figure in the crime novel genre) or re-acquaint myself with the original Boney TV series, if that is on DVD. From the movie here, you get the feeling that Upfield is ambivalent about a real life murder case making him a prominent author...as if he was merely piggy-backing off of a nasty crime.
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