An M-G-M release, not copyrighted or theatrically distributed in the U.S.A. Released in the U.K. on 18 August 1957. Australian release: 29 August 1957. Sydney opening at the St James: 22 August 1957. Australian running time: 103 minutes. Cut to 99 minutes in the U.K.
SYNOPSIS: Itinerant swagman snatches his young daughter, taking her along, as he hunts for jobs in the Australian countryside.
COMMENT: The screenplay tends to over-do the Aussie "She'll be all right, mate," lingo, especially in the first half of the picture, but despite this, and episodic plotting which lessens the overall dramatic impact of its later more heart-tugging stages, The Shiralee is both an attractive and appealing little yarn.
Mind you, it does have other minor distractions, besides all its sports, nippers, booze artists and fair cracks of the whip. Finch is perhaps a little too intense and too intellectual an actor for Niland's carefree swaggie, but the support players, led by young Dana Wilson, are a joy.
I particularly liked Russell Napier's fine study of a torn-each-way grazier with a conscience, Elizabeth Sellars as the tramp's vengeful wife, George Rose as her criminally vindictive partner, and Frank Leighton (star of Thoroughbred and Tall Timbers) as a sympathetic barman. True, some of the support cameos are little more than caricatures (Sid James and Tessie O'Shea are the worst offenders), but this is a fault in the writing, rather than the playing.
However, one member of the cast I would describe as less than adequate and that is the too bland and less than striking Rosemary Harris in a key part as the swaggie's former love.
However, the movie's main problem lies in the unrealistic broadness of the script's characterizations and dialogue. Two things overcome this potentially fatally flaw. The first are some fine performances, as already noted. The second is Paul Beeson's marvelous location photography in places like Coonabarabran and other outback settlements in NSW. These genuine glimpses of rugged Oz countryside not only give flavor and color to the story but set it up firmly as realistic and believable.
Norman's direction has moments of drama and inventiveness, but generally rates as unobtrusively skillful. (Number twelve at Australian ticket-windows for 1957, yet it is the only one of the Top Twenty Box-office Hits unavailable on DVD).
OTHER VIEWS: "The Shiralee" cries out for color, yet it was lensed in black-and-white. Nonetheless, the now-nostalgic scenes of 1957 Sydney and dusty countryside are still worth a look. Despite Norman's mostly flat direction, enough happens to keep interest alive; while the winning playing of Dana Wilson in the pivotal title role helps overcome technical deficiencies such as obvious process screen and day-for- night lensing (neither noticeable on TV) and the deliberate over-use (and miss-use) of Oz idiom in the dialogue. - JHR writing as George Addison.
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