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A faithful and powerful adaptation of a great autobiography
"Some men think it is awfully smart to insult a woman behind a bar".
This film is based on the book "Caddie : the Autobiography of a Sydney Barmaid" (London, 1953), by Catherine Elliot-Mackay, who struggled to survive throughout the Depression in Australia after her wealthy husband had abandoned her. It leaves out the horrific story of her childhood in the mountains where the lives of her family were made unbearable by a monstrously cruel father, but picks up the story as she is forced to leave her comfortable home and find work, and shelter for her two children. With experience in hospitality and good looks she manages to get various jobs in pubs ("I became good at my job. I had to be. I was there to make money and I made it. If an inch off the bottom of my skirts meant an extra 5 shillings a week in tips, I was prepared to put up with the boss's idea of 'Art' "), but one disaster after another befalls her. How she found the strength to carry on is explained by her over-riding love of her children - the hardest thing she ever has to do is to put them in charity homes. One of her admirers, an SP bookie (played by a typically crafty Jack Thompson) who is known for his flash clothes and his very rare and luxurious Cadillac car, says Caddie has real class - "You're like her - an eight cylinder job" - and so christens her Caddie, a name which sticks.
Having read the book some years before seeing the film, I was fascinated to see what the filmmakers would do with the story, and fearful that Caddie's character would be without the subtle balance which made her book so moving: luckily, I needn't have worried.
The part of Caddie is played to perfection by the beautiful Helen Morse. She has 'real class' of course, but also the no-nonsense approach which got Caddie through all those years in rough and tumble pubs in Sydney. "Barmaids generally have a bad name. Some of them are not too nice, but most of them are decent, hard-working women, and there are plenty like me who slaved to keep their children". The supporting actors are all good; I especially liked the performance of Drew Forsythe as the young Rabbito who is (not very secretly) in love with Caddie, and goes out of his way to do little things for her despite his own poverty - a micro-tragedy in the overwhelming tragedy of the Depression. Jackie Weaver is excellent as Caddie's barmaid friend who goes through the trauma of an illegal abortion, and Takis Emmanuel as Caddie's Greek lover gives his role a wonderful dignity, of a different but equally inspiring kind.
This is a film which ought to make anyone who sees it furious at the sort of humiliations forced upon women in the past and enormously inspired by Caddie's spirit of survival. Unfortunately, Caddie didn't live to see the film made, having died at the age of sixty in 1960, but her autobiography was published with the help of writers Dymphna Cusack and Florence James ('Come In Spinner', etc.) for whom she had gone to work as a maid. Her daughter has said, "Mum was terrific, and you could always trust her. As a child, I don't remember ever seeing my mother cry". Vale, Caddie.
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Coom on, join in! What'sa matter with yer ?!
The silliness of this film seems to be lost on many Americans as a matter of cultural difference, but to anyone brought up in the British or Australian tradition it's a shambolic delight. There are many moments which stick in the mind, but my favourite is probably the sing-along in the bus, when a drunken Ringo begins singing "I've got a looverly boonch of coconuts..." and, upon getting no reply from his fellow travellers, loudly and stroppily remonstrates, "Coom on, join in! What'sa matter with yer ?!". Magical Mystery Tour has the amateur, string-and-stickytape appeal of the early Gumby series, but with the bonus of Northern English sensibilities and great Beatle songs. The poor boys were shattered after the death of Brian Epstein, John Lennon's marriage was coming to a very unfortunate end, they had had enough of so many things and were moving into a new and frightening phase of their lives : the film can be seen as an expression of all this angst overlaid with nostalgia for the Music Hall, Crazy Gang, Goon Show comedy and tragic sea-side holidays of their, and many of their fans', childhoods, and the sheer, magical power of their creative imaginations always looking forward to new possibilities. I love it.
The Ghosts of Motley Hall (1976)
Ghostly uproar at Motley Hall
This comedy from the creator of the immortal Catweazle is set among the ghostly inhabitants of dilapidated Motley Hall who are determined to keep their home from being sold or otherwise intruded upon by the rude living.
Matt the eighteenth century stable-lad, Bodkin the Elizabethan Fool, Fanny the eighteenth century fop, Sir George the Victorian fogey and the enigmatic White Lady are the ghosts; their foil is the ghost-shy real estate agent Mr. Gudgin.
The special effects of ghosts appearing and disappearing etc. are indeed special, in the same way as Doctor Who's "I can see the string" monsters, but as with Doctor Who and other great shows of that era, this only adds to the charm. The characters each bring points of view to bear on their predicaments based on their respective historical origins and conflicts occasionally arise from these culture clashes. The regular cast and guest actors are good to excellent as one would expect from the likes of Freddie Jones, Nicholas le Prevost etc.
This is the sort of story, like Catweazle, which stimulates the imagination irresistibly to create new scenarios for the characters, and the desire to join in with their adventures is considerable. As a child "The Ghosts of Motley Hall" seemed to offer me a very attractive idea of a possible after-life; it would be nice to think we could all spend our after-lives so amusingly.
Perhaps not the very best, but not so bad as that...
I have to disagree with the earlier comments on this film. Having idly switched on the telly when I ought to have been doing something else, I found myself unable to switch off as Reg Varney's performance as the tragi-comic Sherry impressed me more with each scene. The combination of comedy and drama worked very well, to my taste, being written and performed with real empathy and what-not.
I particularly enjoyed the horrid owner of the caravan park where Sherry has been living and working - in one scene she has overheard Sherry's wife and her lover planning to run away together, and, rather than breaking it to Sherry in a kindly fashion, she simply tells him to move out of his two-bed caravan so that she can have it : he protests that the other caravan has only one bed, to which she replies, "Well, you'll only be needing one bed now that your wife is leaving you."
The scene where Sherry and his wife (Diana Coupland) go to tea with their son's upper-class fiancee and her parents is a classic unravelling of self-conceit under pressure, and quite painfully funny. (A very young Jane Seymour plays the part of the fiancee).
I found the ending a little anti-climactic, but on the whole "The Best Pair of Legs..." might not be the very best film of all time, but it really wasn't that bad either.
This Life (1996)
Strangely addictive tales of sad, pretentious young persons
This Life was a very crafty, addictive soap, which kept even skeptics like me interested to the end - and what a delicious, bitter-sweet end it was. The thing that bothers me about this story is the characters - are big-city, professional twenty-somethings really such sad people ? Everything in their lives was so empty and pretentious that it was quite hard to feel any empathy with them at all, and despite the self-conscious realism there was an almost sterile feeling to the production (perhaps this is largely a question of culture-shock for a person who has never been in such an environment - I kept thinking, these people want to get out into the bush a bit more), but the sharp direction and writing swept me along. If only we could get a show which combined good writing, good direction and likeable characters...
The Flaxton Boys (1969)
Spiffing days gone but not forgotten - Oh, no!
"The Flaxton Boys" was a perennial presence throughout my childhood in the 'eighties with unfortunately not endless repeats making many a rainy day more Spiffing, as the lads of Flaxton Hall and their mates went gallavanting across the cold, wet, it's-grim-up-north countryside on their way to defeat the Cunning Plans of smugglers and such like fiends. Each generation (1854, 1890, 1928 and 1945) had its own historical setting and colourful fashions from which to draw for inspiration, so that the Victorian series had their false moustachios, bad wigs and imperial clobber, while the WWII series had its chocolate rations, gas-masks and black-out curtains. Perhaps most Thrilling of all was the opening sequence, where the Flaxton Boys galloped to the strains of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony - an inspired choice, containing both the ebullience of the lads and the elegance of spooky old Flaxton Hall (Ripley Castle). The dear old boys are fading into dusky memory now, and, as they are not available on video, are likely to remain there, alas (and alack). Three cheers for the "days when kiddies' television had a bit of Spunk about it" ! Comparing "the Flaxton Boys" and other Ripping Yarns of the past with today's beige, politically-correct pap, it's no wonder kiddies watch "South Park".
The Moon Stallion (1978)
A magical piece of nostalgia for children of the 'eighties, and fun for anyone who enjoys spooky fantasies.
This series was shown in Australia several times during my childhood, and I became thoroughly obsessed with the idea of the lost but not really forgotten world of Bronze and Iron Age religion in the British Isles. The story begins with the arrival in the Berkshire Downs of a young blind girl, Diana (Sarah Sutton, best known as Nissa in Doctor Who), her brother and their father, an archaeologist who has come to study the ancient sites around Uffington. He is trying to find evidence to support an historical King Arthur, and has the patronage of a local gentleman, with whom they are to stay. The most impressive and enigmatic site in the area is the White Horse, a giant hill-figure carved in the chalk, in a style reminiscent of designs found on Celtic coins of the Roman era. This is said to represent Epona, the great Horse Goddess, whose festivals, including human sacrifice, took place on the Downs. Soon after their arrival, Diana, her brother and father, go out for a drive to see the countryside. Diana, though blind, has the gift of second sight, and is the first to sense a mysterious wild white stallion galloping across the hills. Is this, as some believe, the Moon Stallion, magical messenger of Epona, whom no-one can see on a full moon night without dying, or is it just an ordinary horse ? Todman, the sinister Horse-Warlock is determined to catch the stallion, and Diana, whose name allies her with the Moon Goddess, is called upon to stop him. Having ancestors who were shepherds in the Berkshire Downs, and having studied the history of the Uffington White Horse, its folklore and rituals (largely inspired by seeing this series as a child), this programme will always be a magical piece of nostalgia for me. The music is especially memorable, with driving rhythms and Celtic-style melodies. I can really recommend the Moon Stallion to anyone with an interest in ancient Britain, folklore, comparative religion, etc., or just anyone who enjoys a bit of spooky fantasy.