This section explores the relationship between the Australian film and variety theatre industries up until ca. 1935. It is divided into four parts. Click between the >> << to access details
These lists include details relating to ALL Australian films that involved variety performers or practitioners. You can organise your search by looking for FILMS (chronological) or PRACTITIONERS (alphabetical)
This section provides details on companies or troupes that primarily exhibited films but which also incorporated a small live performance component or occasionally featured vaudeville in its programs
An alphabetically-organised selection of Australian-made films that were either founded on variety genre forms (e.g. Cinesound Varieties, 1934) or which were adapted from variety productions such as revusicals, revues or pantomimes (e.g. George Wallace’s 1933 film Harmony Row). Each entry has an overview. Most will also have a pdf document with “More details” attached.
AN INTERRUPTED DIVORCE (1917)
Scenario by Agnes Gavin.
An inebriated and faithless husband comes home to find his wife suffering from a torturous toothache and gets the welcome he deserves. The couple later find themselves in divorce court, where the husband’s troubles really begin. Directed by John Gavin from a scenario written by his wife, Agnes, An Interrupted Divorce was filmed in mid-1916. A shortage of available film stock meant that its release was delayed by almost a year, however. Although it starred popular vaudeville comedian Fred Bluett and emerging dramatic actress Vera Remee, the film’s exhibition was largely confined to suburban and regional theatres. Scenes of the Sydney CBD and the inclusion of the chorus girls from Sydney’s Palladium Theatre were said to be additional highlights.
CHARLIE AT THE SYDNEY SHOW (1916)
Scenario by Agnes Gavin, with additional material by Ern Vockler.
Filmed during the 1916 Sydney Royal Easter Show (18-26 Apr.) by John Gavin for the Famous Films Company, Charlie at the Sydney Show features emerging vaudeville comedian Ern Vockler as Charlie Chaplin. Vockler had conceived the idea of presenting an impersonation of the Hollywood star for the vaudeville stage in early 1915. His earliest recorded performance was at the Princess Theatre, Sydney in March that year (under the Brennan-Fuller management). The film’s scenario, conceived by Agnes Gavin, involves a “supposed” visit to the show by Chaplin. He subsequently becomes entangled in various escapades. The film was first exhibited at Waddington’s Glaciarium, Sydney, on 15 May, only a matter of weeks after shooting ended.
1: From the early 1920s Ern Vockler was better known as Ike Delavale (aka Charles Delavale), and for his three major partnerships – The Delavale Brothers (1917-1920), Delavale and Stagpoole (1920-1931) and Delavale and Buckley (1930s-1940s). Vockler’s entry in the Australian Variety Theatre Archive is under Ike Delavale.
2: Charlie at the Sydney Show was not the first Australian film to feature a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Raymond Longford’s 1915 film, Ma Hogan’s Boarder stars Charles Evan’s as the Chaplin look-a-like. Although Evans was billed in advertising as “the Australian Charlie Chaplin, Ern Vockler had been doing his act well before the film was even shot. He continued to present it around Australasia until at least 1920 and as far as Australians in the 1910s were concerned Ern Vockler was Australia’s “Charlie Chaplin of vaudeville.”
CINESOUND VARIETIES (1934)
Screenplay: Vic Roberts and George D. Parker
A variety film made by director Ken G. Hall for Cinesound Productions, Cinesound Varieties was initially screened as a support to the full-length feature, The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934). Presented in two parts, the first, “Evolution of a Waltz,” has music director/composer Hamilton Webber and the State Orchestra demonstrate the evolution of the waltz. The second part, titled “Nautical Nonsense,” is a musical revue featuring more than 60 performers- notably Fred Bluett and his Boy Scouts (as pirates), Tom Katz and His Saxophone Band and Angela Parselles. The film was largely panned by the critics due to poor pacing and weak humour.
- More details
- See also: Cinesound Varieties (1934) Australian Screen. Includes two clips from the original film.
Cinesound Varieties also features the Cinesound Octette and the Cinesound Beauty Ballet (comprising 20 local dancers). It was filmed at various locations in Sydney, including a showground, the State Theatre, and on the harbour. Only 18 minutes still survive.
Screenplay: Pat Hanna and Eric Donaldson
A battalion dinner precipitates a series of flashbacks of war time experiences primarily based around the adventures of two Australian ‘cobbers,’ Chic Williams and Joe Mulga, who served in the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) in France during 1918. Much of the narrative is based on three of the Famous Diggers‘ more popular live sketches: namely, an incident involving the stealing of some rum (Rum Doings), the hospital scene where Chic and Joe feign illness (Chic and Joe in Hospital), and a scene set in a French estaminet (Mademoiselle from Armentieres). Although critical responses to the film were largely positive, Frank Thring‘s insistence on ending the film with the slow-paced emotional farewell scene proved to be a mistake. Diggers did poor business at the box office in all but a number of regional centres.
DIGGERS IN BLIGHTY (1933)
Screenplay: Pat Hanna, Ed Warrington, Wilfred King and Bert Reid
Lanky and phlegmatic Chic Williams and his short and resourceful friend Joe Mulga face ten days in the stockade for absconding with five jars of rum from the Quartermaster’s stores. At the same time a British intelligence officer is seeking to outwit a German spy ring. Chic and Joe, along with Corporal Joe McTavish and Captain Jack Fisher help trap the spies and are rewarded with ten days’ leave in London. Responses to the film from reviewers around the country were mixed. While it did good business when screening jointly with George Wallace‘s Harmony Row [below] during its initial release period, Diggers in Blighty took years to eventually turn a small profit.
EFFTEE ENTERTAINERS (1931-1933)
Series produced and directed by F.W. Thring
Efftee Entertainers is the series title for a collection of approximately fifty short films (“revuettes”) made Frank Thring and Efftee Film Productions which largely feature performances by variety artists. Most of the films were shot in His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne using a static camera. Among the best known performers to appear in the Efftee Entertainers series were George Wallace, Ada Reeve, Jack O’Hagan, George Moon Jnr (with Stan Ray), Lou Vernon, Minnie Love and Marshall Crosby. Several “legitimate” performers and/or companies are also represented – notably J.C. Williamson’s Imperial Grand Opera Company Orchestra.
- More details (This PDF includes links to individual clips published on the Australian Screen website).
HARMONY ROW (1933)
Screenplay by George Wallace
Tommy “Dreadnaught” (George Wallace) joins the Victorian police force and is assigned to Harmony Row, the roughest and most notorious district in Melbourne. Although inept as a policeman he is liked by the local community but but runs into trouble when he comes up against the notorious thug Slogger Lee. The second of three George Wallace films to be produced by Efftee Film Productions, Harmony Row (with His Royal Highness, 1932), was adapted from the comedian’s original stage revusical – this one having been first produced by his revue company in 1924.
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS (1932)
Screenplay by George Wallace and C. J. Dennis; Music incl. George Wallace and Alaric Howitt
Based on George Wallace‘s revusical of the same name, His Royal Highness is the first of the comedian’s five feature films, and one of three that he starred in for Efftee Film Productions. The revusical had first been staged by Wallace’s Revue Company in 1927. The story see Wallace play aspiring vaudevillian Tommy Dodds, who takes a job as a stagehand to be near Molly, the actress he is infatuated with. When a disgruntled fellow employee hits Tommy on the head he finds himself back in the streets of Fitzroy, where two men from Betonia recognise him as the lost heir to their throne. He subsequently travels to Betonia, and is crowned King.
OH WHAT A NIGHT (1932)
Screenplay: George Wallace
George Wallace is first known to have staged “Oh What a Night” as a sketch with his revue company while touring New Zealand in January 1928. In 1931 he travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne to undertake a screen test for Frank Thring (Efftee Film Productions). Thring was so impressed with the test that he included it with his Efftee Entertainers series of pre-feature shorts and quickly produced Wallace’s “Oh What a Night” sketch to accompany other Efftee films. The short (14 mins) was first exhibited in 1932 as part of the entertainment package accompanying Efftee’s then current feature Pat Hanna‘s Diggers. The narrative involves a bickering husband and wife, their neighbours, a burglar and a policeman.
SHOW BUSINESS (1938)
Screenplay: Frank Morton Chappell, with Alex Rosenblum; Music: Frank Morton Chappell
Two brothers attempt to persuade their wealthy father to finance a stage musical and a movie. These projects are very much the result of their infatuation with Nina Bellamy, a scheming femme fatale, who has convinced the pair that she should star in both projects. Despite being A. R. Harwood’s most expensive film (£8,000), Show Business failed to find a major city release and his production company folded soon afterwards. In 1951 he raised money to make a partial remake of Show Business, titled Night Club but this also failed to receive a commercial exhibition.
STRIKE ME LUCKY (1934)
Screenplay: Vic Roberts and George D. Parker • Music: W. Hamilton Webber • Lyrics: Vic Roberts
Subtitled “A Farce with Music,” Strike Me Lucky is comedian Roy Rene‘s only film. It was directed by Ken G. Hall and produced by Cinesound Studios. Although it initially did good business, largely due to the popularity of its star, the film eventually failed recoup its investment money – the only one of Hall’s productions not to do so. Strike Me Lucky’s storyline centres on the friendship between Mo McIsaac, who is broke and behind in his rent, and Miriam, a young girl who claims to be an orphan, but who is in fact the runaway daughter of a rich aristocrat. The title is in reference to one of Rene’s vaudeville catch-phrases.
- More details
- See also: Strike Me Lucky (1934) Australian Screen. Includes three clips from the original film.
The Australian Variety Theatre Archive’s “Film and Vaudeville” section has been assisted by research into the intermedial connections between Australia’s early theatre, radio, film and television industries. This project has been carried out under the direction of Professor Tom O’Regan (School of Communication and the Arts, The University of Queensland).