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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Don Handley

They're a Weird Mob (1966)
Australian Cinema - The First Eighty Years

From: Australian Cinema - The First Eighty Years
By Graham Shirley and Brian Adams. 2nd ed 1989

From the cover:
Shirley is a researcher, writer and director of documentaries on a broad spectrum of Australian history.
Adams divides his time as a writer and television producer between Australia and Europe.

They're a Weird Mob, a much-publicised "rebirth" of Australian cinema, had been planned since the early 1960's. The initiators of the project were the British producer-director Michael Powell and John McCallum, then managing director of J. C. Williamson Ltd. A third of the $600,000 budget came from the Rank organisation, another third from Britain's National Film Finance Corporation and the remainder from Australian interests, principally J. C. Williamson Ltd. The story, adapted from the 1957 novel by John O'Grady under the pseudonym Nino Culotta, is about Nino, an Italian immigrant, and his endeavours to adjust to the rituals of mateship, learn enough local slang to get by, and win the strong-minded daughter of a building contractor. The script by "Richard Imrie" (Powell's long-time collaborator Emeric Pressburger) broadly caricatures Australians but not without affection. Character focus is nowhere near sharp enough to capture the consistent quirkiness of the book, although the hard-working performance of Walter Chiari as Nino manages to make an impact, but only occasional inventiveness recalls the Powell-Pressburger talent so strongly evident in their earlier films AMOLAD (1946) and TRS (1948).

The commercial success of TAWM, which established an unbeaten record at Sydney's large State Theatre, drew heavily from the continuing popularity of the book and attracted considerable publicity for what was, after all, an unusual event - an Australian feature film. Within a year, production grossed $A3 million from Australian screenings alone but because of the nature of WIlliamson-Powell's distribution agreement, the producers had received only one-sixth of this amount by the end of 1967, and would not recoup production costs until 1974. The box office success, coupled with Williamson-Powell's well-publicised frustration over the distribution deal, led to its prominence as a key film in the drive to re-establish the (Australian) film industry with Government support. Michael Thornhill wrote:

`When the Greater Union Theatre Group of companies and the Rank Distributors are taking $A2,500,000 from $A3,000,000 and the producers are left with $A500,000 the cards are really stacked against the independent producer in Australia'.

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