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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They're a Weird Mob (1966)
By Henry Coombs
More than just a historical curiosity, and better than you think
7th June 2000
Whoever you are, you probably have no desire to see this film. I understand. I had no desire to see it either. It was a blockbuster in its day, but only in Australia, and Australians are among the last people on the face of the planet who'd want to see it now. We don't want to be reminded what our country was like in the mid-1960s. Not that "reminded" is the right word, for most of us either weren't born or weren't here in 1966 (I certainly wasn't), and so it's easy for us to suppose that this film is nothing more than (a) a sustained exercise in wog-bashing, and (b) a celebration of everything we've all been earnestly trying to escape ever since the introduction of decimal currency and decent coffee. I'm sure most Australians, like me, will be thinking: If I watch this movie, how much will it make me cringe?
The short answer: okay, it probably WILL make you cringe now and then; but it's more moving, more witty, and more enlightened, than you might think. No wog-bashing. And it's NOT, as I feared, the 1960s equivalent of "Crocodile Dundee". Neither a kangaroo nor a swagman in sight. Powell even resists the temptation to show the Sydney Opera House as he pans over the harbour, probably because it hadn't yet been built.
I wouldn't have seen it if it hadn't been directed by Michael Powell. And here I have grounds for disappointment, since there's none of Powell's usual visual inventiveness or splendour. But fair enough: visual splendour would have been beside the point in this kind of comedy, and it may have been fatal. It's not that there's anything WRONG with the cinematography. To compensate for the fact that it's not another "Black Narcissus" we get a nice, light, and in the end surprisingly touching, comedy. The obvious cultural misunderstandings (Nino thinks, for a while, that there's a region of Sydney called "King's Bloody Cross" - that kind of thing) are neither laboured nor over-stated. Nor are they really the point of the film. Sure, Nino solemnly does what everyone tells him to do as if he were an anthropologist entering a mosque, but the story takes us further than this.
By the way, you'll note that almost every spoken sentence contains either a "bloody" or a "bugger". Powell later said that this was the key to getting past the censors. If he'd been conservative and had his characters swear only once or twice, the censors would have insisted on minor cuts; but since everyone swears constantly, it's impossible to cut one scene without cutting the rest, so the film emerged unscathed - with a G rating!