Ralph Smart (director)
Network On Air (studio)
86 min (length)
29 June 2020 (released)
25 June 2020
This Australian-British co-production is the third Ealing Studios movie made ‘down under’. Chips Rafferty once again takes the lead here – this time as the head of a pioneer family who, at the turn of the century, occupy land leased from the government. No prices for guessing they’ll soon clash with the local indigenous people.
At the beginning of the 20th century Wally King (Chips Rafferty) travels a whopping 600 miles to the South Australian outback in order to claim his territory. With him travel a herd of sheep (very important Down Under!) and his family, comprised of his wife Ma King (Jean Blue, who already had played his wife in THE OVERLANDERS) plus his daughter Emma (Nonnie Piper) and son John (Charles Tingwell). Also traveling with him are Scottish carpenter Mac (Gordon Jackson), Wally’s close friend Tommy (comedian Tommy Trinder) and his little son Charlie (Nicky Yardley). Last but not least there’s Blackjack (Henry Murdoch), a native scout and interpreter. After a perilous and exhausting journey through the bone-dry outback (heat, lack of water and so forth) the Kings family arrive at their appointed spot and don’t waste time building their new home while the local Aborigines initially greet them with a mixture of curiosity and even friendliness.
But things soon get out of hand thanks to Wally’s rather bigoted viewpoints concerning Australia’s indigenous people (“Those Blackies are on my land!”) and no, he sure doesn’t like the fact that they use ‘his’ nearby pond! Whilst little Charlie is particularly fascinated by the kangaroos (cue for some cute scenes in which kangaroos ape the movements of humans and a baby kangaroo slips into his mother’s pouch) the adults have of course nothing better to do than hunt them for food (Charlie: “Why can’t we eat mutton?”)… When Wally cold-heartedly shoots a kangaroo just as the aboriginals wanted to spear it for their own food supply it increases the friction between the white settlers and the natives further. As the tension escalates and Wally arrogantly forbids the local tribe from using ‘his’ pond once and for all it doesn’t take long before his house goes up in flames and the natives kidnap little Charlie… White troopers eventually rescue the Kings - now in imminent danger of getting killed by the tribe – and we get a happy ending of sorts: Wally, forced to see sense, is finally willing to compromise for peace’ sake, thus agreeing to work with the Aborigines who from now on will help him running his sheep station… something that Blackjack had suggested all along!
There’s plenty of action here though the underlying issues regarding the unfair treatment of Australia’s indigenous people is only too prevailing and sits particularly uncomfortable in nowadays p/c climate. Aboriginal Lives Matter! The fact that in the original script the entire Aboriginal tribe was supposed to be massacred by the white settlers speaks volumes, luckily Ealing Studios insisted on a re-write. Australia’s shameful treatment of its native inhabitants is further exemplified by the fact that Ealing insisted on equal pay for Aboriginal actor Henry Murdoch, a request that was refused by the Department of Native Affairs.
Although comedian Tommy Trinder gets first billing in the opening credits he’s not actually in every scene and was cast primarily for comic relief – a decision which somewhat diminishes the film’s main agenda (i.e. white settlers vs native tribe).
Vaughan William’s dramatic landscape music feels occasionally a little overpowering but is effective during fight scenes. BITTER SPRINGS features stunning cinematography courtesy of George Heath, now even more impressive thanks to the film’s new High Definition re-master and available in Blu-ray format.