Film - The Man From Snowy River - Analysis
1982 - Produced by the then Michael Edgley Promotion Corporation and George Miller - Released to the world by 20th Century Fox - Directed by George Miller.
A strange film in that, despite some vastly bad and ghastly editing at the beginning of the film, then starts to weave quite a compelling story that provides a powerful romantic and dramatic background to one of Australia's most beloved pieces of literature. That being the poem by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson (1864 to 1941) called "The Man From Snowy River". The film cleverly weaves a viable story around the opening line of the poem:
"There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound, So all the cracks had gathered to the fray."
And that, indeed, is part of the film. In fact, it's the climax of the film as you see the muster of old, grizzled and experienced Snowy River mountain horsemen ready to retrieve the colt from Old Regret.
So what makes this film so good despite some terrible technical film making glitches?
1. Horsemanship - the producers went out of their way to gather the best horsemen they could find. In particular, Snowy River and high country horsemen. By doing so, authenticity was increased.
2. Cinematography - to an almost sickening degree, the beautiful vistas of the Great Dividing Range (5th longest in the world) are magnificently presented in this film. Both the "beauty" and the "terror" (to quote from another Australian loving poet) are on full display
3. Casting - I'll just point out some of the well cast people....
- Kirk Douglas - He grounded this film. His portrayal of Harrison and his brother Spur provided a great sense of duality and inherent drama because of their combined love for Matilda and the hatred that caused between them both. Mr. Douglas is one of the foremost reasons why this film stands apart from other Australian films. His sense of professionalism is to be lauded and it must be said that the film would not have worked without him.
- Tom Burlinson - In the few short weeks after when he was cast, the man not only had to learn how to ride a horse, he had to learn how to apply a stock whip, how to rangle cattle and how to look good doing it. Apparently, as the film quite obviously shows, he achieved the objective.
- Jack Thompson - Just a few years after his introduction to main-stream Australia via his controversial centerfold in Australian "Cosmopolitan" magazine, Mr. Thompson showed why his love affair with the Australian camera lens was still valid. His portrayal of the "Banjo" Paterson created "Clancy of the Overflow" was perfect and required in order for this film to work.
- Lorraine Bayly - One of the other reasons this film works. Her firm portrayal of Matilda's feminist sister Rosemary provides a particularly grounded and strong method of exposition that provides the film's backstory relative to the hatred between Harrison and Spur. I'll also point out that she is regarded as one of Australia's great creative talents right up there with Barry Humphries. I personally think that if circumstances were different, she could have quite easily have been the world's "Meryl Streep".
- Singrid Thorton - As "Jessica" in this film, she requires some note. But she was at the time Australian film & Television "flavour of the month" so that's why she was cast. But it has to be said that the chemistry beween Jim Craig and Jessica Harrison seemed real and passionate. Also, Singrid was willing to put up with the hardships of filming so again, a wonderful job by Ms. Thornton. I would've casted differently, but there you go.
- Gus Mercurio - The father of Paul Mercurio, lead actor and dancer in the Baz Luhrmann film "Strictly Ballroom", Gus has been the perennial bad guy in much of Australian film and television since 1956 when he transferred to us after the Melbourne Olympic Games. In this film, he stars as "Frew", a man with a history who just wants to be left alone. But who has knowledge of, and respect for, Jim Craig's heritage.
Apart from the casting, the obvious next hero in the film is the writing and that marvellous surrounding story to the opening line in Banjo Paterson's poem.
The film was written by a guy called Fred cul Cullen, a part time actor (and great writer who died way too soon) who was brother to Max Cullen and Mary Hardy both of whom have particular noteriety when it comes to Australian entertainment.
(Mary Hardy herself has a story. But that was 1960-70s aussie TV and we ain't going there - sorry Mary, maybe another post)
The fact is, I have watched this film year after year since it has been released. The film is, in fact, getting better with age.
The film's accelerated romaticism has made more sense since I have seen films like "Punch Drunk Love" and remember that "unconditional love" is still a thing.......an often ignored thing.
But it is true......Jim Craig's final comments to Harrison in that he will "come back for what is mine" while looking at his daughter don't exactly and correctly point out a healthy start to a relationship. Now that, I can't defend.
But apart from that, it was a great and supercharged romantic film.
Also again, and I cannot stress this enough, Kirk Douglas was the reason that film worked. His dual roles provided the drama around which everything else coelesced.
Thank you Mr. Douglas. It's a good, if not great film. You should be proud.