Film & Vaudeville

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.
Square brackets [ ] indicate that no official title has been identified or that a title was possibly never applied to the film.



Scenario: Beaumont Smith

A romantic comedy/drama starring English-born variety entertainer and self-proclaimed “professional idiot” Claude Dampier, The Adventures of Algy was the comedian’s second film for director/producer Beaumont Smith and his first to be set in both Australia and New Zealand. Following a series of misadventures in both countries, the film reaches its climax with the opening of an extravagant new revue at a Sydney theatre. It is here that Algy is reunited with his sweetheart. Among the cast were several high profile variety entertainers, notably Lester Brown, Verna Bain, and Hilda Attenboro.



In January 1929 English baritone Alfred Cunningham was filmed by Sydney radio engineer and inventor Ray Allsop during the development phase of his Raycophone sound-on-disc system. By then Cunningham had been working in Australia live on stage and on radio (notably for 2FC and 2BL) for several years. He left Australia in March 1929, however, to join Edward Branscombe‘s Westminster Glee Singers in Canada. No details regarding his film performance have been located. It has also not been ascertained if the short was exhibited before members of the public.

  • See also: [Jack Cannot] [below]
[Source: Chris Long and Graham Shirley. “Australian Talkies Before Showgirl’s Luck.” Newsletter (Australian Film and Sound Archive) 8 (Dec. 1987), 4.



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.



In early-July 1929 a studio was set up in the lecture hall of the Royal Sydney Showgrounds for the purpose of producing a number of short music and recitation films to accompanied by synchronized sound. Organised by the proprietors of Australtone, manufacturers of a locally-invented system for screening sound pictures, the shorts were eventually screened before a private audience of trade professionals at Queen’s Theatre, Crow’s Nest on 31 July. As such they were possibly Australia’s first locally-made and exhibited “talkies.” Headlining the series were vaudeville stars Fred Bluett and Hector St Clair. The shorts were used for later demonstrations of the Australtone system. A few individual films screened as supports to overseas talkies.



Scenario by Agnes Gavin, with additional material by Ern Vockler.

Filmed during the 1916 Sydney Royal Easter Show (18-26 April) 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.



Screenplay: Vic Roberts and George D. Parker

Cinesound varietiesA 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.

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.


[THE DARTOS] (1901)

Prior to their departure from Australia in November 1901 François Chabre (aka Mons. F. Darto) and Madam Aida Darto were filmed performing several of their feature dances. These “animated pictures” of the French couple are believed to have been produced during their season at the Opera House, Melbourne, under Harry Rickards management. The London Bioscope and Variety Company exhibited the film as early as December 1901 during its tour of regional Victoria. Reports from Tasmania in early 1902 indicate that the Dartos’ short film remained a major drawcard for the company.



DIGGERS (1931)

Screenplay: Pat Hanna and Eric Donaldson

 Diggers - ad [ozmovies]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.



Screenplay: Pat Hanna, Ed Warrington, Wilfred King and Bert Reid

Diggers in Blighty [ozmovies]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.



Series produced and directed by F.W. Thring

Efftee EntertainersEfftee 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).



Getting Through, Jim Gerald‘s burlesque of the “talkie” phenomenon is a silent comedy film that was accompanied by off-screen dialogue from its three Australian stars – Gerald, Essie Jennings and Phyllis Du Barry, along with members of the Jim Gerald Revue Company. The storyline depicts the troubles of an Australian family as they attempt to pass through an America customs office. The film’s genesis can be traced back to 1928 when Gerald travelled to America hoping to establish his career outside Australia. While in Hollywood he co-wrote and produced several two reel films. After returning to Australia in early-1929 Gerald presented Getting Through as a support feature to one of his revusicals.



Screenplay by George Wallace

Harmony Row posterTommy “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.



Screenplay by George Wallace and C. J. Dennis; Music incl. George Wallace and Alaric Howitt

His Royal HighnessBased 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.



Conceived as a novelty interlude for the Australian production of the hit London revue, Honi Soit, this 600 ft untitled film featured the show’s lead comedian, Barry Lupino and several other members of the cast. Inserted into the revue immediately before Lupino’s initial entrance, the film was viewed by critics as a wholly original theatrical concept, with much praise given to both the director, Lester Brown, and Lupino himself. Honi Soit was produced by Hugh D. McIntosh for Harry Rickards Tivoli Theatres Ltd. The film was also included as part of the Sydney production.



Scenario: Beaumont Smith

The story of a naive young remittance man and his adventures in Australia, Hullo Marmaduke was the first of two moving pictures to star English variety comedian Claude Dampier during his second lengthy visit to the Australasian region, the other being The Adventures of Algy (1925). Both films were written, directed and produced by Beaumont Smith. Dampier was given leave of absence from his contract with Fullers’ Theatres to take part in shooting, as was Jimmy Taylor, then a member of Dampier’s revue company. Another prominent Australian-based vaudeville performer to appear in the film was Cyril Northcote. Hullo Marmaduke is now considered a lost film.


[JACK CANNOT] (1929)

In January 1929 English comedian and longtime Australian resident Jack Cannot was filmed by Ray Allsop during the development phase of his Raycophone sound on disc system. It has not yet been ascertained if the Sydney-based radio pioneer, engineer and inventor exhibited the short before members of the public. No details regarding Cannot’s performance have been located either.

  • See also: Jack Cannot[Alfred Cunningham] [above]
[Additional information: Chris Long and Graham Shirley. “Australian Talkies Before Showgirl’s Luck.” Newsletter (Australian Film and Sound Archive) 8 (Dec. 1987), 4.



Scenario by Lindsay Kemble.

aka Lindsay Kemble’s Adelaide Escapades / Lindsay Kemble Cinematographed

In January 1915, Lindsay Kemble a 19 year-old man from Burra, South Australia became infamous throughout much of Australia after being arrested in Adelaide dressed as a woman. The incident subsequently led to a three night headline engagement with Brennan-Fuller (King’s Theatre) and a simultaneous contract with Lou Powell and Fred Coffey to appear on stage at their Star Theatre as a between films act. Powell and Coffey also arranged for cinematographer Harry Krischock to film Kemble replicating some of the incidents that occurred during the two months he masqueraded as a woman. The comedy, which played the Star from 23 January remained a major attraction for several weeks. Largely billed as Lindsay Kemble, it later toured some South Australian regional centre.

Image source: Journal (Adelaide) 23 Jan 1915, 13.



In February 1914 Lou Powell and Fred Coffey, proprietors of Adelaide’s Star Theatre (King William Street), organised with local cinematographer Leslie Keast to make a moving picture comedy set mostly on and around the resort suburb of Henley Beach. The story concerns a party of bathers who travel to the beach – the girls by tram and the men (who miss the tram) by motorcar. After many amusing incidents the men attempt to photograph the girls in their bathing costumes but are foiled by the “playful and muscular damsels.” Although very few details about the cast and production are known, two of the male characters (described by one critic as “mashers”) were reportedly played by local comedians. The “surfing sirens” also likely included female “artistes” from the local variety industry. The film premiered at the Star Theatre on 14 March.

Image source: Mail (Adelaide) 14 Mar. 1914, 12..



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.



aka Percy Gets a Job at the Lawyers

Scenario by W.S. Percy.

While little is known about the narrative and production aspects of this short silent comedy film, Melbourne’s Newsletter confirms that the scenario had been written by Percy (27 Apr. 1912, 2). This is not surprising given the comedian’s authorship of numerous theatrical sketches around this period and his scenario for Franklyn Barrett’s 1911 feature film All For Gold. Produced and distributed by Universal, Percy Gets a Job was given its premiere at the Victoria Theatre, Sydney on 29 April 1912. It is known to have been still been screening in regional centres as late as December that same year.

  • See also: W.S. PercyPercy’s First Holiday (1914) [below]
Image: W.S. Percy; Source: Peter Downes. The Pollards.



Scenario by Lloyd F. Lonergan.

After leaving Australia for America in late-1913, W.S. Percy met up with Millard Johnson, the American representative for Greater J.D. Williams Amusement Company, in New York, and was invited to visit the Thanhouser Film Company. While at the studios a short film scenario was written for him. Although initially intended for Australian exhibition only (as a compliment to the comedian), the producers later decided to give it a wide US release along with other countries. The storyline sees Percy (“the Australian theatrical star”) arrive in New York from Australia on a holiday. He meets some pretty girls but also becomes involved in a fight with a 16 stone actor and is later fleeced of all his money. Broke he manages to gets a job as a steward aboard a ship bound for home.

Image: British publicity (Aug. 1914); Source: Chapman University.



Screenplay: Frank Morton Chappell, with Alex Rosenblum; Music: Frank Morton Chappell

Show BusinessTwo 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.



aka Talkie Mad / Show Girl’s Luck

Screenplay: Martin Keith; Songs Jack O’Hagan and Ormond Bulmer

The first Australian feature film to be produced, completed and exhibited with an entire sound accompaniment, Showgirl’s Luck tells the story of the making of a fictional “first Australian talkie.” Directed by Norman Dawn, an American filmmaker who had previously made two films in Australia, leading variety comedians Arthur Tauchert (“the Sentimental Bloke”) and Fred Bluett appear in the film, along with well-known entertainers Peggy Pryde, George Lloyd, and Les Coney. Problems with the sound-sync system led to the film’s release being delayed by upwards of a year. Dawn’s marriage also fell into difficulties and he fled Australia before the release. The film was exhibited only briefly in Sydney and Northern New South Wales. It also did poorly in Britain when released there in 1933.

Image Source: National Film and Sound Archive



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.

Strike Me Lucky [SofC]


This variety theatre and film research list was first published in 2011 using information compiled during the course of Dr Clay Djubal’s MA and Ph D candidature at the University of Queensland (1997-2005), and through private research between 2005 and 2011.
Dr Djubal also acknowledges the project headed by Prof Tom O’Regan (University of Queensland) which aims to investigate the intermedial relationships existing between the Australian theatre, radio, film and television industries. Dr Djubal was employed by Professor O’Regan from late-October 2016 to early-January 2017 to research links between stage, radio and television from the 1930s until the early-1960s. Some additional information identified during the course of Dr Djubal’s employment with the project is included in this list.
Images (top banner): L-R – His Royal Highness (1934), Cinesound Varieties (1934), Strike Me Lucky (1934), Harmony Row (1933), Diggers in Blighty (1933).

Pages: 1 2

Published on December 22, 2014 at 3:45 am  Comments Off on Film & Vaudeville