Production company: Cascade Films presents; copyrighted in the tail credits to Cascade Films Pty Ltd and Australian Film Finance Corporation Pty Ltd; made with the assistance of Film Victoria; made with the participation of Australian Film Finance Corporation Pty Ltd.
Budget: $2.3 million. Film Victoria invested $300,00 (Filmnnews, November 1991). Nadia Tass in the DVD commentary rightly calls it “low budget”. According to David Parker, while there was some FFC finance, some 40-60% had to come from other sources, and one of the promised sources never landed. They were a week into shooting and he was having to deal with raising the money while lighting the set. Luckily they found a young merchant banker prepared to put the money in and they continued on.
Locations: end credit “shot on location in Melbourne, Australia”. For more details, see this site’s ‘about the movie’ section.
Filmed: the film was listed as being in post-production in the March 1990 Cinema Papers’ production survey with these dates for the shoot: 6/11/89 to 22/12/89, and post-production January/April 1990. The same survey listed a 12:1 shooting ratio. In the DVD commentary track, David Parker says it was a six week, six day week, shoot.
Australian distributor: Hoyts; Cinema Papers listed Overseas Filmgroup and Flatout Entertainment as the film’s international sales agents
Theatrical release: In Sydney and Melbourne on 20th September 1990, in a relatively wide release in Hoyts and associated theatres.
Video release: RCA-Columbia-Hoyts
35mm Eastmancolor neg 5294/5247
Running time: 99 mins (Murray’s Australian Film); 96 mins (Filmnews); 100 mins (Cinema Papers)
Umbrella DVD time: 1’36”07, including c. 18 seconds of music over black after tail credits finish
The film was modestly successful in the domestic market. Hoyts got behind it, and a reasonable amount of money was spent on press advertising and promotion.
The Film Victoria report on domestic box office recorded a total of $2,315,628, equivalent to $3,833,154 in A$ 2009.
The film didn’t travel well internationally, perhaps because it was competing with US productions aimed at the teen romance market. It didn’t attract the attention that Malcolm had received in the US market - for example, it doesn’t make it into Screen Australia’s list of 136 films that made over US$100,000 in the US market, whereas in 2016, Malcolm was still in position 87 on this chart with US$544,472 (data here).
The release in the UK market was also cursory, and the film mainly travelled abroad as a tape and television offering.
Heading off to the Cannes marketplace in 1990 with the title Mark Clark Van Ark - one of the sillier Australian working titles - probably didn’t help the film’s commercial prospects in the international marketplace, though some might suggest that much of the humour is also intrinsically Australian.
The film scored an impressive number of nominations at the 1990 AFI Awards, though it emerged with only 3 wins from its nine nominations.
The film’s publicity campaign was criticised when the trailer of the film - prepared before the results were known - ended with three AFI Awards being shown, as the narrator reads out “Winner of 9 A.F.I. Award nominations including Best Film Best Actor and Best Actress”.
The idea of 'winning nominations', as opposed to winning awards, irritated a number of people, especially as the film’s three eventual wins didn’t correspond with the trailer “wins”:
The film has jumped the digital divide to DVD in a number of territories, and can also be found on streaming services.
It was an early, 2003 release, for Umbrella, and for a standard def offering both image and sound were in good shape. Umbrella subsequently repackaged the film in a number of editions.
The disc contained a number of useful extras, with Umbrella doing its best to please:
- Filmmakers Featurette: This 21’34” ‘making of’, copyrighted to Umbrella, 2003, features interviews with director Nadia Tass and writer/DOP David Parker;
- Cast Interviews: this features interviews with Ben Mendelsohn in 2003 (15’23”), Claudia Karvan & Ben Mendelsohn in 1990 (13’34”), Claudia Karvan in 2003 (15’27”), Steve Bisley in 1990 (15’31”) and in 2003 (18’30”), with a ‘play all’ functionality and a ‘play 1990’ or ‘play 2003’ button.
Anyone interested in the key cast will find these interviews an amiable way to spend time - especially if interested in acting methods and character insights, and occasionally viewers will stumble across exotic items, such as Claudia Karvan recalling in her 2003 interview Steve Bisley turning up to set with a tie in the form of a big penis, with pubic hair up around the collar, and a big dick that he’d tuck into his pants. She’s not sure if was ever visible in the film, but Bisley wore it for one scene.
Karvan also recalls a scene in the script which didn’t make it into the shooting schedule or final cut which came after Danny was sprayed with the fire extinguisher. It was supposed to feature a nude Danny walking down the corridor, carrying a nude Joanna on his back. She vetoed the scene in negotiations with her agent (the cast are more clothed in the final cut).
Karvan, Mendelsohn and Bisley all recall many tiring night shoots.
A fair amount of the 1990 interviews involves questions about the Australian film industry (Steve Bisley spends time discussing “de-energised” films) which will appeal more to film historians than to general viewers.
- Cast Audition Tapes: running 7’28”, these are the audition tapes for Angelo D’Angelo (he was still in NIDA at the time), Claudia Karvan, and Damon Herriman. It’s a tad cruel to show this sort of behind the scenes material, though it does provide evidence of the way actors were expected to shine while strutting their stuff for a rough tape recording at Liz Mullinar’s casting agency;
- Commentary by David Parker and Nadia Tass: unfortunately this isn’t the best commentary track. It contains too much description of action and character, things which are already obvious up on the screen, and which don’t bear repetition. Insights about the actual production are slow to arrive, and apart from many location details, many of the insights are repeated, with more focus, in the ‘making of’;
- Original Theatrical Trailer: a 1’38” trailer in correct format, and in reasonable condition, though a little standard def soft. The narration ends with the line “From the makers of Malcolm …The Big Steal … Joanna and the Jaguar …It’ll steal your heart away … The Big Steal,” and the concluding gag is Gordon and his sidekicks crashing through the garage door. After the credit block, three AFI Awards are shown as the narrator reads Winner of 9 A.F.I. Award nominations including Best Film Best Actor and Best Actress.
- Umbrella Propaganda - including trailers for Malcolm, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Puberty Blues and The Club.
David Parker wrote the script on a spec basis, after Rikky and Pete’s commercial failure. Film Victoria provided script development funding, though the board’s feathers were ruffled when one board member (Chris Lovell) learned from film lawyer and film producer Bryce Menzies that Parker had already completed the script, and so any funding would be retrospective.
The board knuckled down however and provided the finance as well as what was then its top of the line investment offer, in the hope that Parker and Tass could revert to their glory days of Malcolm.
(a) Used cars:
In the ‘making of’, David Parker says that much of what’s in the film happened to him, as it also happened to other people: “the idea of buying your first used car is so exciting and so wonderful … invariably, it’s a fiasco …invariably, something goes wrong …as it does in The Big Steal.”
“The idea of The Big Steal came from when I went out to buy a used car, and I found that there was still a bunch of shonky used car salesmen out there, and I thought it was a really good basis because a lot of people have gone through that … getting ripped off by used car salesmen.”
In the DVD commentary, David Parker notes that he got a lot of Gordon Farkas’s dialogue as a car salesman from when he was out and about trying to find a used car for his partner Nadia Tass. They were about to have a child and he wanted to get a car that was safe, and he was amazed going around the car yards that the same dialogue he’d heard fifteen years earlier when he’d bought his first car was still happening. So the line about the genuine parts for the brakes rather than the Taiwanese ones that didn’t squeak (delivered by Gordon) came from field research.
Parker also cites his tour of shonky used car yards as contributing to the dialogue in the 'signing of the Jag' contract scene.
According to Parker, when researching the project, he asked mechanics how long it would take to do what Danny and Vangeli do, which is drop a Jaguar engine from one car to another, and they thought it was achievable in about three hours if enough people were working on it.
(b) Class and eccentricity:
In the ‘making of’ Parker says about his characters:
“I find there’s a lot of comedic potential, as well as … you know, there’s meat in those sorts of … juxtaposing those …the classes … against each other. You know, there’s obviously comedy but there’s also … you know, you are making a comment on that… ‘cause the thing about the Johnsons is that you know Johnson was working class, or still is, but he’s gone off on this odd tangent and he’s become quite an ugly person …and I just think that’s really interesting … he’s achieved more financially, doesn’t mean to say he’s a better person than the Clarks … ”
“As a writer, I’m really fascinated by eccentricity in people and er they just seem to have diverse ways of expressing that eccentricity” (said over shots of the Clarks doing Tai Chi, which some might think unexpected but which Parker says for him was “totally expected”).
(c) The name Farkas for Gordon the used car salesman:
David Parker confesses in the DVD commentary that in searching for a name for his chief villain Gordon Farkas, he wanted a word that sounded a little bit like the “fuck word… and so I looked in the phone book for names that started with F A, like Fark, and Farkus came up as a real name.”
(d) Primal Scream:
In the ‘making of’ and DVD commentary, Parker confesses to having been fascinated by the idea of primal screams since his time as a stills photographer on The Man from Snowy River, which also featured a primal scream after The Man - Tom Burlinson - sees his father killed by a falling log.
Parker thought there was something comical about it, and he can remember as a crew member having to hide behind trees and try to stop laughing because “it wasn’t the effect that the film-makers had wanted … in the film it worked fine … for those of us who were there on crew, it seemed ludicrous, so I actually quite liked the idea of … I find it …as distinct from Nadia, who actually created an extraordinarily powerful moment … and I suppose that’s another example of me as a writer writing something, and I saw it as quite comical, and Nadia didn’t and has directed it in another way which actually makes it quite powerful…”
In the ‘making of’ Parker says that unlike some of their other films together, The Big Steal turned out being different to his screenplay in ways he hadn’t imagined while writing it. Director Tass and the cast contributed in unexpected ways.
The DVD commentary provides some amusing asides on the screenplay.
When the art department, unknown to the director and writer, put Steve Bisley’s face up on the used car yard signage next to the name Geoff Mullens, they had to do a quick re-write - so that Bisley’s character, having introduced himself as Gordon Farkas to Ben Mendelsohn’s Danny, could joke “Mullens’ the boss, but I’m better looking. That’s why my picture’s up there.” In the ‘making of’, Parker adds that he thought it added to the sense of shonkiness and that it worked quite well for them.
Parker notes that Gordon’s fishnet stockings and stilettos weren’t in the script, and were added later by Tass and Steve Bisley: “I remember at the time thinking ‘oh I’m not so sure about that’, but of course it’s become one of the memorable images of the film. It just shows the collaborative effort of film-making.”
According to Bisley in his 2003 DVD interview, it was his idea to make Gordon a cross-dresser. He liked the idea of “flipping” his audiences (and liked being “flipped” as a member of an audience), but when he proposed the idea to Tass, it was initially met with some sort of disbelief but then Tass really warmed to the idea.
Bisley says it was largely kept secret from most of the crew, apart from wardrobe who had to research the larger than usual shoes and fishnets. When he appeared on set in costume, the crew went very quiet and he thought he might have made the biggest mistake of his career, but later seeing it with an audience he thought it really worked, while also serving the genre. It was funny while also giving the character another side.
(f) Daniel the lion tamer or Daniel our son:
In both the ‘making of’ and DVD commentary, Parker recalls that the lines about Daniel the lion tamer came from his Presbyterian upbringing and sitting in Sunday school and hating it - but he did remember some simple things and he says about the only character he could remember from those days was Daniel the lion tamer “and somewhere it just stuck in there and somewhere it came up as I was writing the script.” He adds in the DVD commentary “and it just seemed to be a nice thing to include in this story.”
The routine is a running gag in the film - see the extended synopsis below for all the times it appears.
(g) Working title:
For reasons that remain mysterious, the film’s working title was Mark Clark Van Ark and travelled to Cannes May 1990 under that name. See this site's photo gallery for the film listed in Cinema Papers this way.
(h) Additional scripting:
Writer Max Dann received a credit for “additional scripting”. Dann at the time had written the Melbourne comedy with Anthony Hopkins Spotswood (also known as The Efficiency Expert). AustLit has more details for the 1955-born writer here (subscription service):
Max Dann was born in Yarraville, Victoria, the setting for most of his books for children and adults. Dann worked as a carpenter's apprentice, handyman, factory worker, and gardener before taking up writing full time.
Like many of his fellow television script-writers, including Doug McLeod, Brendan Luno, and Louise Fox, Dann got his start in television scripting skit comedy: in this case, Fast Forward. Around this time, he also contributed material to the scripts for the feature films The Big Steal and Spotswood, both set in Yarraville.
In the 1990s, Dann contributed scripts to a number of television programs across a variety of genres, including Wedlocked, Flipper, Full Frontal, Crash Zone, and SeaChange, as well as writing the film scripts for Mumbo Jumbo and Siam Sunset.
This blend of writing for both children's and adults' television programs continued after 2000: in that decade, Dann contributed scripts to programs such as Stingers, Worst Best Friends, CrashBurn, and McLeod's Daughters, as well as writing for numerous Jonathan M. Shiff Productions...
(a) Extensive rehearsal:
With Nadia Tass coming from a theatre and acting background, there was an extensive rehearsal period prior to the shoot starting, and the results and methodologies employed in relation to characters, through lines etc are discussed at some length on the Umbrella DVD release of the film.
A story in The Sunday Age, 23rd September, says three weeks of rehearsals were scheduled.
(b) Ben Mendelsohn:
The film was Ben Mendelsohn’s first feature as the leading man.
In the ‘making of’, Nadia Tass explains that “as I read it for the first time (screenplay), I usually see certain actors in the parts, and I just couldn’t get away from Ben … you know the moment that I started reading Danny, it was Ben … and then I saw Claudia in the part of Joanna.”
Mendelsohn read the script when he was doing the Tom Selleck down under Oz western Quigley. He came down for rehearsals, then returned to complete Quigley, before returning to do the Big Steal shoot. He actually shot his first day on The Big Steal before he’d finished Quigley (He had also worked on the comedy Spotswood prior to doing The Big Steal).
Mendelsohn in a 2003 interview on the Umbrella DVD said when he first received the script, he didn’t think that he was right for the role - he didn’t think he could be a leading man and he also thought he couldn’t do comedy. He says Tass called bullshit on his doubts.
(c) Claudia Karvan:
Claudia Karvan was 17 at the time (two ages are mentioned, 17 by Carvan, 18 by Tass, on the DVD release, but 17 seems the more likely), and and doing her HSC. During the first week of shoot, she spent her time studying, while flying back and forth to Sydney.
In a 1990 interview on the DVD, Karvan said she didn’t think she could do comedy - she was worried about timing and other technical things - but Nadia Tass told her to play it serious and to not even think about when the laughs were going to happen. If she played for laughs, she wasn’t going to get them.
(d) Steve Bisley:
In his 2003 DVD interview, Steve Bisley says he had another offer on the table when the offer for The Big Steal came along.
One was a period piece and attractive to do - it never rains but it pours, he mourns - but he chose Big Steal on the basis of track record and his regard for Malcolm as a ground-breaking comedy.
In relation to the Farkas character (Steve Bisley), Nadia Tass in the ‘making of’ says “What I wanted was really to explore the extremities of that character. You know there’s a safe way of playing Gordon Farkas, and both Steve and I didn’t want to play it safe. To achieve the maximum amount of potential for comedy and you know emotion for the character, we really needed to branch him right out … so you know it was a case of again sitting down and going through and mapping out the arc of the character.”
Parker recalls that when researching his character, Bisley would go to car yards and pretend to buy used cars. At one particular yard, Parker's story goes, the salesman just wouldn’t let him go. It was a Volvo, and the salesman just wanted to make a sale - he didn’t care how much he sold it for - and as Bisley tried to back out of the place, “the price’s coming down faster than you can imagine and you know Bisley could have bought this car, which was ticketed at $8,000 for $2,000 just so the guy could get a sale … the fellow just could not understand why he wasn’t doing it.”
Bisley doesn’t mention this anecdote in his DVD interviews, but instead offers a tale which happened when the unit was filming at the car yard (with the right sort of dodgy cars that Gordon would sell, and with price tags on them).
A guy turned up at four o’clock in the morning and started to look at the cars, so Mark (Mark Hennessy), who played a mini-Gordon, went down and sold him a car, right up to the point when Hennessy had to confess that they were actually making a film and the cars weren't for sale.
The notion of Hennessy's character becoming Gordon’s protege with the same hair etc Bisley recalls as being Mark’s idea, in consultation with Nadia Tass. (Bisley thought the idea of having his own shadow really delightful).
In his 1990 interview, Bisley also recalls doing field research with a friend on Parramatta Road in Sydney and while rehearsing for the film in Melbourne, saying used car salesmen seemed to have scored a job lot of grey shoes, and calling the result just extraordinary and fantastic research, seeing this host of grey shoes.
Bisley won the AFI award for best supporting actor for his work, and he has a wiki here.
(e) Other supporting cast:
The supporting cast also attracted attention, with Marshall Napier (short wiki here) playing Danny’s father and Maggie King as his mother (short wiki here). Damon Herriman started as a child actor in Adelaide (short wiki here), so there's something of an injoke happening when he tells Gordon he's new at the car park, and is from Adelaide. Herriman later ended up working in the United States.
Mark Hennessy was a stunt man and so was in the fortuitous position of being able to do his own stunts for the caravan chase scene.
The teacher featured about 43 minutes into the Umbrella DVD was David Lander, one of Nadia Tass’s old directors of improvisational theatre, who’d come from Canada to Australia. In 1975, while a staff member at the Education Department’s Drama Resource Centre in Bouverie street, Lander and Sue Neville embarked on the Mad Hat Theatre, which explored improvisation and trance states, in part inspired by Artaud and in part by alternative new age religious movements. (See this history of drama in teacher education in Melbourne here).
The final gathering of plumbers at Mr Johnson’s garage beer party was a mix of crew and extras. David Parker in the DVD commentary points out key grip Robbie Hansford raising a beer.
According to David Parker, coverage was mainly one camera. Car interiors were lit with small 18 inch Kino Flo® lights, “a godsend to cinematographers”, according to Parker.
For Desmond Clark’s primal scream about losing his Nissan Cedric, the unit build a circular track for the 360 degree revolve around him.
David Parker calls it a “dance floor”, a floor built for the dolly on the backyard grass. The train in the background wasn’t timed into the shot; rather the unit timed the camera move to go at the time the train arrived. It was just a regular train, with a unit member up on the tracks calling its arrival as it moved past.
When it comes to the climactic chase sequence, done on a low budget, Parker acknowledges that the stunts “are pretty lame in the scale of film stunts, but in terms of these characters, they’re actually really fitting … I really like the idea of - even if we did have a big budget - the idea of doing these stunts that are just … they’ve got a really quirky, strange quality to them … things like the guy on the back of the caravan, and things like that crash that just happened (between Gordon and his sidekick) …it gives Gordon such material to work with …
These locations are as described in the DVD commentary track. Parker says that at the time he had a yellow transit van and he used to drive around Melbourne at night looking for locations and so had quite a bit to do with the locations featured in the film.
The result was a film praised at the time for its evocations of quintessential elements of Melbourne:
Danny’s house: this is featured under the head titles with the Melbourne city skyline in the background, and was located in Footscray area, a western suburb.
The precise address was 129 Albert Street, Seddon, and though renovated and with the view of the city obscured and with the council land obscured, it was still standing as of 2014.
The house was completely closed off at the back when chosen for filming - the Art Department opened it up with windows and back stairs, and replaced the concrete in the back yard with grass. The unit took over a piece of council land at the side where the caravan and Nissan Cedric were installed.
Collingwood Tech: The featured school where Danny tries to engage with Joanna was the old Collingwood Tech, which had an unusual rise in its corridor, which in the commentary track David Parker said visually “sure worked for us.”
Canterbury Road: The scene with an embarrassed Danny shrinking down while being mocked by teenage girls for driving a Nissan Cedric was shot on Canterbury road in Middle Park.
Car park: The car park was in Little Bourke street in the city. (The location was used for all the car park scenes, and for the scene of Pam and Van making love). According to David Parker, the car park had two entrances, so the unit was able to use one entrance for filming purposes, while the car park still stayed open using the other entrance. (Later known as the Golden Square carpark, with an entrance on Lonsdale street, and the back entrance on Little Bourke).
The purple and green neons on the car park ceiling were placed there by designer Paddy Reardon to add to the atmospherics. Parker says he kept them for years but has never been able to use them in a subsequent film;
Footscray car yard: The first car yard sighted in Danny’s quest for a Jaguar was in Footscray;
Victoria Road, Richmond car yard: the second, and main car park, run by Gordon Farkas, where Danny sights his Jag, was in Victoria street, Richmond. David Parker recalls that it was a busy road which made life hard for the sound department, but virtually all the dialogue made it into the final mix, with little or no post synch, despite the flimsiness of the structures.
The lot had previously functioned as a car yard, but had no offices or buildings, so the Art Department built them for the shoot. Because of the low budget, the yard was filled with cars by getting extras to bring their cars to location (as a result, Parker jokes, there’s a quick turnover of cars in the yard).
The precise address was 581 Victoria street, Richmond, but it no longer looks the same, having been built on.
Nightclub: The nightclub where Danny takes Joanna on their first date was a nightclub in Hawthorn, just off Glenferrie Road. David Parker recalls that it was called Madisons, but isn’t certain, and as this is the name used in the movie, it seems unlikely. It was shot day for night with blacked out windows;
Docklands: The post-nightclub fish and chips scene in the Jag between Danny and Joanna was filmed night for night down in the Docklands, looking over the city and the Yarra river.
William Street: Danny getting challenged to a drag duel with his Jag was shot near the overpasses next to the Yarra at the bottom of William Street.
Drag race action: The actual drag sequence was shot on a location where the Melbourne Southbank casino was subsequently built. According to Parker, it was a great little spot for filming, where it took only two policemen to “cut off half a suburb”. It was close to the city, with city backgrounds, and yet completely safe, and is now sorely missed. The location later reappears in the climactic chase. Parker identifies the place as Kavanagh Street;
College: Danny and his mates emerge from Melbourne Technical, the technical college then next to MSAC, the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, in Albert Park;
Chinatown: When on his bicycle trailing Gordon Farkas in his Jag, Danny (and Gordon) goes through Melbourne’s Chinatown in Little Bourke street to get to the car park;
Mud-wrestling: The mud-wrestling shots enjoyed by Gordon Farkas were done in post-production, filmed in the unit’s production office in Windsor. Steve Bisley in his 2003 interview notes that he never saw the mud-wrestling shots. They shot him on one location, having to imagine the mud-wrestling, which was filmed in the office location when he was back in Sydney;
Seddon: After the mud wrestling, the drunk Gordon Farkas pulls up in his broken Jag near the Seddon railway line in Footscray;
St Kilda Road and Luna Park: The sequence in which Farkas is pulled over by the cops while drunk driving jumps all over the place. The cops stop outside St Kilda’s Luna Park, but the previous shot had them and Farkas at the beginning of St Kilda road, leaving Melbourne’s CBD;
Joanna’s home: Desmond Johnson’s McMansion location isn’t precisely identified by Parker (Danny stands outside it with loud hailer for his Romeo and Juliet scene with Joanna on the balcony), but one line in the DVD commentary suggests it was somewhere between Footscray and Yarraville. It was in fact in Gallipoli Road, Pascoe Vale South, which is more out Essendon way. A sign on the letter box says number 65.
The fire extinguisher scene required negotiation with the house’s owner, and involved a re-painting of the walls;
South Melbourne: Gordon emerging from court with his lawyer was filmed outside South Melbourne Town Hall. He ends up on the top of the South Melbourne markets car park to discover his Jag’s engine is ruined and some dirty stinking bastard has done a swap on him.
West Gate: The West Gate freeway cityside features several times, including when a nude Danny catches a lift wrapped in a carpet rug.
In the ‘making of’ David Parker explains it this way:
“Why are boys fascinated with cars? I think because they’re not very good at many other things, so cars are an easy way out …I think that we do live in a car culture. You’ve only got to look out there on the street and find how many males express themselves in their cars. If you look at the line of traffic, you find young women in a nice Barina or you know a Festiva or something like that … very, very sensible under $20,000 car, maybe $15,000 car, it’s new, they’re paying it off, it’s all fine, it works, it starts in the morning … guys seem to have another take on this …they buy things like Jaguars or BMWs that are 10 or 15 years old, and they’re bound to have trouble with them, but they look good. So I think that’s it, they like … they like the quality of these machines that they buy...
The fetish starts in the film with the Nissan Cedric, which is gifted to Danny as his birthday present in a way certain to ensure peer mockery.
The other vehicle of note is the Jaguar, heralded by Danny clutching a model Jag, and his room full of Jaguar memorabilia in an opening scene.
A couple of Jaguar XJ-6s go on to play important roles in the plot. Danny, Joanna's dad Desmond Johnson and Farkas all drive Jags.
Both the key Jaguars were bought from a wrecker and sold back to the wrecker on completion of shoot.
Before the head credits are over, Vangeli’s Holden Monaro has also roared into view.
The featured old school caravan was a normal caravan given a wood cladding by the Art Department, as a reference to a 1950s Australian style, when Parker notes it was the custom for some to varnish their caravans.
The Monaro is chased in a climactic scene by a Volvo. David Parker says he found the idea of a Volvo being used as a chase vehicle, going after the Monaro, quite amusing, “because, as we know, Volvos are driven sedately by sedate people.” (Vangeli makes a joke about being chased by a “bloody Volvo”).
Dean Gawen was the sound designer and music supervisor and collated pop music tracks for director Nadia Tass’s final selection. (He also had David Parker put bolts on to the fan of his van, and then down in the boondocks in the early hours, produce the clicketty click sound used for Danny’s Jaguar’s motor blowing up).
The film makes extensive use of pop music, which mingles with a narrator at head and tail of film over the credits.
This is a transcription of the music, narration and a few lines of the dialogue:
As Danny sits on his bed fondling a model Jaguar, we hear Mr Clark:
Mr Clark: “Son, there’s no doubt a Jaguar is a beautiful motor. It’s beautifully designed, British craftsmanship at its very best. In fact, your mother’s brother, Uncle Donald, worked at the plant in Coventry during the war. But these cars … they’re not for us. We’re working class, we always will be …so stop all this nonsense about the Jaguar. Now what would Grant Bickley say if he saw Desmond Clark’s son driving a Jaguar? Probably throw me out of the union …”
Narrator: “There are only two things that Danny Clark wants in this life. A Jaguar motor car … and a beautiful, intelligent (we see Joanna, she’s with Mark, Danny’s friend) vivacious Joanna Johnson …”
Joanna (laughing): “Who?”
Mark: “Danny Clark.”
Joanna: “Er, why would I want to go out with him?”
Mark: “Er, he’s one of the most interesting people I know.”
Joanna (smiling and gesturing): “So why don’t you go out with him?”
(They both laugh awkwardly.)
(Mark turns to see Danny crouched behind a car bonnet waving at him)
Narrator: … “Neither seems very likely at this stage.”
Then music begins as head credits continue. Lyrics for the song over the opening credits:
How does a man get the love of a woman
Or a woman of a man
How does a man tell his feelings to a woman
You know it’s hard to understand
The world seems difficult to me
It’s such a change to see
The loneliness, the days to waste, of you and me
Where will I find a love to protect me
Not run away with my mind
How will I know that you won’t reject me
Somebody give me a sign
The world seems difficult to me
It’s such a shame to see
The loneliness, the days to waste, of you and me
And if I’m lying … lying down
(as the credits end, the song begins to fade away, as a flash Holden Monaro drives down a Melbourne street to Danny's home).
I’m confused … I’m confused ...
The first of the end songs accompanies Danny and Joanna as they kiss and get into the caravan together, and the camera pulls back to show the Melbourne skyline at dusk:
Ooh, I wouldn’t waste your precious time …
And I don’t need anybody wasting mine
When I’m with you all we have is precious time
Ooh, won’t you give me just a little of your precious time
And I’ve tried so hard to make it on my own
when I’m with you …(end titles begin to roll)
The song is interrupted by the return of the narrator, as the end titles freeze.
Narrator: “Oh there’s one thing I forgot. Gordon! …”
The end titles roll backwards off the screen.
Narrator: “… he still had some unfinished business with Mr Johnson…”
Gordon (speaking to assembled tradies hitting the Fosters hard in his home garage): It’s been a bloody awful week. Car’s been stolen, me daughter’s run off with some kid (‘lucky bloke’, one shouts), but nothing gets in the road of the Johnson plumbers’ annual party (the men cheer) … now the pipe bending competition will be starting in a few moments …(as Steve Bisley’s Gordon Farkas drives up to the house in the paint-daubed Jaguar with his sidekicks) …each and every one of you, and I particularly want to thank Brian and Chook and Gazza the tap for bringing in the Atwood Plaza and Mitchelton jobs on time … and budget! So …
Grodon and his sidekicks step inside the garage door, see what’s going down, shout “Shit” and burst out through the garage door, chased by pipe-wielding tradies …Gordon weeps to see his paint-covered Jag.
The Narrator returns to describe the various characters as they go about some wrap-up action matching his words.
Narrator: “After getting out of hospital, Gordon Farkas was charged with thirty seven counts of contravening the Motor Car Traders’ Act. He is at present serving a five year non-parole sentence in Pentridge gaol. He intends to start a business in Queensland after his release.
Danny and Joanna were married later that year in a beautiful ceremony in the church down on Gradstone Road.” (sic, pronounced this way, perhaps as a variant on Gladstone. Google shows no Gradstone Road in Australia).
Danny now drives an Australian-made car.
Mark is a computer programmer for IBM.
And Vangeli? Vangeli has a business … (Vengali is standing in front of a used car yard reading Petrakis Prestige Autos)
The Clarks got back their beloved Nissan Cedric (they pose in front of the car)
And the Johnsons? The Johnsons spend their lives avoiding the Clarks …” (the Clarks peer over the fence while the Johnsons huddle below)
Music takes over, Long Hard Road by Phil Judd and Tim Finn. Lyrics for the song as they are heard in the movie (the song is both on the soundtrack release and also another album, Other Enz):
It’s been a long hard road
And it’s a heavy load
So take a long last look
Down the long hard road
Struggling with the weight on my back
I hear a lot about screeching tires
Even getting there is half the fun
Rolling with the punches and walking through fire
Wasn’t for you, I’d pack it all in
The journey would be over before it could begin
Out in the wilderness
Searching for tenderness
I’m looking for something I can’t find
Take a long last look
Down the long hard road
When the dream runs wild
It’s all I can do
Nothing is easily understood
It’s a twisting path, a rocky old track
Mountains and valleys, no turning back
Wheels go round, the engine runs hot
Driving me on, oh it never stops
Out in the wilderness
Searching for tenderness
I’m looking for something I’ll never find
It’s been a long hard road
Yeah it’s a heavy load
So take a long last look
Down the long hard road
Down the long hard road
(Musical interlude dominated by guitars)
Look at all the strange things we do
Coming from a different point of view
It’s been a long hard road
(Chorus: the dream runs wild, it’s all I can do)
And it’s a heavy load
(Chorus: it’s easily understood)
So take a long last look
(Chorus: it’s a twisting path it’s a rocky old track, mountains and valleys no turning back)
Down the long hard road
(Chorus: Wheels go round, the engine runs hot
Driving me on, won’t it never stop)
(Movie version ends )
(For more details of the film’s music and the LP and CD releases, see this site’s pdf of music credits)
6. Metro interview:
Brian McFarlane interviewed David Parker and Nadia Tass for Metro magazine, number 166. The interview covered their films to that point, and opened with some general points about their careers, company and backgrounds:
BRIAN MCFARLANE: You've been making films together regularly for twenty-five years now. How difficult has it been to maintain a career like that in Australia?
NADIA TASS: Oh, impossible. It's the toughest thing. That's why we work overseas so much. We've made both features and television in America and the Stark miniseries for the BBC. I think it's really too difficult to just make films in Australia. So we fund the making of films in Australia by working overseas! We couldn't have afforded a reasonable lifestyle if we hadn't ventured out and made films in America, and we've currently got a slate of films we're going to be making there in the future.
DAVID PARKER: Most of the television stays on mainland USA, which is good in a way as we prefer to be going down the feature film route, but it's terrific when, say, Disney or Warner Bros, come to Nadia saying, 'We'd like you to direct this or that piece.'
Tass: It's the material,too. I'd much rather do a really good high-end television story than some crappy feature.
McFarlane: Why do you think it is so hard to keep a filmmaking career going in Australia? Do you think there should be more government support, for instance?
Tass: I think a lot of money is pumped into the Australian film industry, but the questions are: how is that money managed? Where does that money go? How are the projects chosen? What are the objectives of institutions like Screen Australia? In one week about three years ago, we were in Film Finance Corporation being assessed for this film we've just done, Matching Jack. The two people considering this film at that time did not assess it accurately. One of them said, 'The father needs to be a nicer person.' Now, I don't know where that person's judgement was coming from and why he was sitting in that chair. His opinion was completely wrong: if we'd followed his suggestion we'd have had no film.The woman assessing it also wanted the female lead to be a battered wife. So where did these people, who in the same week rejected films by us, by Fred Schepisi and by Bruce Beresford, come from?
Parker: I suspect that some of the people who inhabit these positions are failed filmmakers. That may be okay in the sense that they may be better bureaucrats than filmmakers, but on the other hand they carry with them a lot of baggage. Also, we perhaps find it difficult because we have been around for so long. People love discovering new talent and being responsible for that. And this isn't just our view; it's a criticism levelled at the agencies by other experienced filmmakers.
I think Screen Australia and the state bodies have their hearts in the right place. It's a matter of being sure they're putting in the best intermediaries between the money and the filmmakers.
McFarlane: What do you think of the idea floated in a recent article I took exception to which argued that Australian films should aim to be more like Hollywood - more sex, more love stories, more happy endings, etc.?
Tass: I need to look at that statement, because if what they're saying is that the subject matter that Hollywood concerns itself with is what we should be dealing with, then I disagree with it. But if they're saying we should be approaching Hollywood's expertise in, say the matter of ensuring the maturity of scripts to ensure they're ready for shooting and in paying the same sort of attention to detail that Hollywood does to its work, then I totally agree with such statements.
McFarlane: That's a valid distinction not often made. How did you both come to be involved in filmmaking? How did you come to start working together?
Parker: I started as a stills photographer and had gone through the RMIT photography course after dropping out of mechanical engineering, which wasn't what I wanted to pursue.
One of my early clients after leaving RMIT was the magazine TV Times, which was half-owned by Packer and half by the ABC, which ran it, and I was the Melbourne photographer on that. This led me into all sorts of things - television, films, ballet, theatre, opera - and I started honing in more on stills for movies. I remember talking to Colin Friels during the making of The Coolangatta Gold [Igor Auzins, 1984] about the idea of Nadia and me making our own films, and it was he who suggested I should write our films myself when I was wondering whom I'd get for the job.
I thought it was a pretty audacious thing to do, as I regarded the art of scriptwriting very highly. When you were asked to do the stills photography for a film, you'd read the script first and decide if it was something you wanted to work on, so I'd see it from script stage right through and I'd be there on opening night. I saw the whole process, the films that worked and those that didn't, and started to glean an idea of how, if I were making a film, I'd go about it. One of the things that concerned Nadia and me was how the technical side took over, whereas it was really the story that mattered and how it was told. On a shoot they'd invariably spend half a day setting up the shot, the lighting, and that was something we talked about as we prepared to make our first film.
McFarlane: Nadia, I understand you had worked in the theatre as an actress and I wondered if you felt there was much sense of carry-over when you turned to film. Did it, for instance, give you a special appreciation of performance and actors?
Tass: Yes, I was acting on the stage and in television as well at that time, so I had an appreciation of the way I was being directed. I had my first television role when I was fourteen in Division 4, I think. To me, I always felt there was something strange in the way directors came at me to give me instructions about what to do. I realised that it was really important if a director was to get the best out of actors to know the processes of acting and how actors actually arrive at the point of performance. I was directing theatre then, so I felt very confident about the creative processes involved in telling a story, and this wasn't daunting to me as I went on to direct films. And because I'd done acting for television I was familiar with the type of acting that was necessary for the screen - that's where I come from. Then I did courses to make sure I knew what the technical side required. But I knew my strength was in telling a story and working with actors, and I continue to love and respect the work that actors bring to a film or a stage production or to television. They are the faces that ultimately tell our stories, and what we do behind the scenes is to prepare them, if it's for the stage, and record them, if it's for the small or big screen.
McFarlane: You've really answered one of the questions I was going to ask you about the actors in your films: you're clearly someone who enjoys actors.
Tass: Yes, and as a director I continue to find out about performance. Every time I'm in New York, I'll go and do a workshop about the latest thoughts on acting, whether it's the Method or Meisner, or Berkoff in London. There are new teachers and constant developments in acting techniques. I took a Stanislavski course in Yugoslavia over twenty years ago, but I can't just sit on my laurels. I think directors have to be informed as to how the actors go about their work.
McFarlane: What can you tell me about the formation of Cascade, your production company? How does it function?
Parker: We formed it in 1984 and at that stage we were starting to work on Malcolm . I was beginning to think about casting ...
McFarlane: Sorry to interrupt, but I notice, Nadia, that you are usually listed as casting director on your films. Is that usual?
Tass: No, I think that was a bit of a mistake. I did all the casting for Malcolm and went on doing it, but we had a casting agent on Matching Jack. I've tended to come to the casting having very strong opinions ...
Parker: And I think too that in that earlier period you were so connected to the theatre and the acting world, whereas now there may be actors in, say, Brisbane that we've not been exposed to and who may be very good, and a casting agent will have gone to all those areas and seen new talent. It was Christine King on Matching Jack and she was great; she had her finger on the pulse.
Tass: Plus I've been out of the country for such a long time. I generally know the actors who are out there, but Christine was able to say, 'There are all these new people that have come through and perhaps you're not familiar with them.' I wasn't, and she was able to call them in and I could audition them, including some of the women in the film that the husband has had affairs with.
McFarlane: You're both listed as producers on your films: is this part of the Cascade set-up?
Parker: Definitely. I remember early in the 1980s, I was working as stills photographer on a film in which the person whose project it was, who'd actually come up with the idea and had written it and was directing it, was elbowed off his own show by the producers, and I just thought I'd never want to be in that situation. We were determined from the word go that we would be producers, as a matter of self-protection. What we did need was to get someone in who could actually help us, and on those early films it was Tim White. We did need someone when we were out there working and he'd come out at lunchtime and talk about the rushes or the budget and so on.
Tass: That other producer is so important to us, and Tim was exceptional. And another one we worked with was Phil Jones, who filled that role on Amy . We wanted another point of view than our own, but to be in a strong enough position to resist if we wanted to.
McFarlane: How important is the input of others listed as 'In association with'?
Tass: It's usually a matter of money. Most often with Film Victoria or Screen Australia.
Parker: There's no other business like filmmaking! You're presenting a dream. As much as people try to design films to appeal to this or that demographic, very often those films fail. It's a high-risk business and we're in a very vulnerable position.
McFarlane: It seems to me that there are some continuing threads, preoccupations in your films - e.g., quirky dealings with machines like the tram in Malcolm, cars in The Big Steal (1990) and Amy, the delivery van in Rikky and Pete (1988), and with slightly (or more than slightly) offbeat characters. How conscious are you of such continuities or is that just the sort of thing critics write about?
Parker: No, it's very accurate. My take on this is that we're not a bland race of people; these kinds of offbeat people exist out there. You don't have to go too far to find them. I'm drawn to these kinds of characters and that's how they get into my screenplays. Like Danny's [Ben Mendelsohn] parents in The Big Steal, playing Scrabble while mayhem is going on around them. But the real formation of those characters is Nadia's work and she creates them in tandem with the actors.
Tass: And it was really important that Danny and Joanna [Claudia Karvan] be more or less regular people because they're the ones the film hangs on, and they need to be characters the viewer can relate to. Generally you'll find that it's the peripheral characters who add that quirky quality.
Parker: I'm fascinated with that side of society that isn't merchant bankers or bank tellers or shop assistants. There's another kind of person out there, who's often frowned upon in the community at large. I like that scene in Malcolm when Judith [Lindy Davies] is talking to Mrs T [Beverley Phillips] in the milk bar and Malcolm [Colin Friels] walks past with two seats strapped over his shoulders, one in front and one over his back, and no one takes any notice of him. In real life, if you saw this figure you'd almost certainly avoid eye contact, whereas in our film we know he's completely harmless - though he does rob banks!
McFarlane: What about all these bizarre preoccupations with machines?
Tass: David's fascinated with machinery. I love trains and trams all over the world, but the mechanical bent here is David’s...
This excerpt features their thoughts on The Big Steal:
… McFarlane: Teen movies were popular in the 1980s, perhaps still are. Did you feel The Big Steal was your go at a teen movie?
Tass: I didn't consciously think that. I was just interested in youth and I love the idea of first love. Young people are desperate to connect with their first love and are concerned with how far they can go without compromising themselves and manoeuvring in order really to connect, and that was why I wanted to tell that story. David's reasons were quite different.
Parker: Yes, I always thought there was a good story in the boy who gets ripped off when he buys his first used car. That's a real kind of boy experience. Also, I'd heard about someone who'd had an engine swapped in a car. and I thought that was a really interesting idea, so I integrated that.
McFarlane: I like the way you're both coming at the story from different directions. Each of the leads had a supporting cast of friends around them.
Tass: Well, that's normal life. I wasn't setting out to say that either Danny or Joanna was a loner, without friends. If that had been the case, we'd have had a different story. These are very normal young people, with recognisable needs in an early-1990s world, and part of being seventeen or eighteen is to have friends who provide support for them literally.
McFarlane: How interested were you in the class divides separating Danny and Joanna? How important was Paddy Reardon's production design in saying things about class?
Tass: Very. It's about choice of location, which is really David's and my responsibility, though this is certainly in conjunction with the production designer. David and the designer usually go out and find the locations that basically reflect the characters, then I have a look at it and we finally decide. The designer then says what he can do with the locations within his budget, such as change the curtains, fix up the garden, etc.
McFarlane: Did they recreate those places in the studio?
Parker: No. we used the actual houses. For the little house on the railway line in Footscray, Danny's house, we had to do extensive work on that. Paddy actually built a whole new back on that house to take advantage of the views of the city and the docks beyond the railway line. The family was happy to be moved out. They had a concrete garden, so we had to put grass down on the concrete garden, and it was very much a set when the art department finished with it. I remember opening a cupboard one day and there was a toilet inside - it was their actual bathroom! When we got to the end of it, the art department said to the owners they'd fix it up and leave it for them, but the owners said they wanted it returned to its original state, so we had to pull it all down. The other house, Joanna's, was pretty much the way it was. The only thing we had to be careful of was in a scene when a fire extinguisher goes off and we had take care that the carpets and so on were covered in plastic and taped, and we repainted the walls. The folks who owned the house were terrific, very generous and accommodating.
McFarlane: In a film you can immediately pick up information about a social gulf, say between Joanna and Danny's family, from the mise en scène that would take a novelist paragraphs to detail.
Tass: Yes, in seconds you've actually communicated an enormous amount of information to the audience. By taking great care in choosing what you show, you can give the audience the message that is right for your story. In Malcolm, for instance, when the designer presented us with a room that was Malcolm's mother's room, when Frank opens the door, the message we get as an audience needs to be very clear, because Malcolm is the product of that woman. If that room is not dressed according to who that character was, then the audience will be confused. It's much more than setting: it's there to support the characters and to give the audience the information it needs to understand the character. The original design for this room was all purple scarves and crystals, hippy stuff, and I said, 'No, strip it back, this woman is a church-going Protestant, very severe, and this room needs to reflect that.' Locations and props are paramount in establishing and reflecting character.
McFarlane: How difficult to film was the final car chase [in The Big Steal] with Jimmy (Mark Hennessy) hanging on to the caravan? Parker: It was pretty tricky, and also [Mark] had been a Stuntman who was keen to get into acting proper. He wasn't entirely happy to be doing this scene, as he wanted to be acting more than stunting. That sequence was filmed round Kavanagh Street in Southbank, near where the [Australian] Ballet [School] is now, though of course they weren't there then. It was a tricky scene to film. The main sequence was shot where the casino is now. It was a great block because it was on the river and it was a triangle that only took three policemen to close this whole area off. It was all industrial, so all the workers were gone and we could work all night there; there was the [King Street] Bridge above us, and the city clearly visible. It was a brilliant setting.
7. Synopsis with sample dialogue, cast details and many spoilers:
18 year old school student Danny Clark (Ben Mendelsohn) lives with his parents beside a railway line in Melbourne.
Danny is obsessed with Jaguar cars and delectable fellow student Joanna Johnson (Claudia Karvan).
Danny tries to get his nerdy mate Mark Jorgensen (Damon Herriman) to organise a date with Joanna, but she brushes Mark off.
For his 18th birthday, his mum Edith Clark (Maggie King) bakes Danny a cake, while his father Desmond Clark (Marshall Napier) is called in from tending his vintage caravan:
Mum: “Desmond! Haven’t you forgotten something?”
Dad (looking at some cream on the van that still needs polishing): “No Edith I haven’t forgotten, I just haven’t got to that bit yet.”
Mum: “Don’t mean that! I mean Daniel’s birthday!”
Dad: “Would that be Daniel the lion tamer or Daniel our son?””
Mum: “Daniel, our son!
Danny’s English-accented parents gives him his father’s pride and joy, an aged but much loved and cared for Nissan Cedric. They’ve got themselves a Nissan Pintara.
Danny’s other mate Vangeli Petrakis (Angelo D’Angelo) jokes the women will mob him, while telling Mark he wouldn’t be seen dead in it.
Dad takes Danny for a drive where he runs him through his slow-driving hoops, to much tooting and the mockery of a car-load of young girls who pull up alongside at the lights.
Cut to a Little Bourke street car park, where Daniel works at night with his mates.
Sports-car-driving Angela (Chess Winters) arrives and lures away Vangeli for some canoodling.
Next day at school, Danny plucks up the courage to confront Joanna, though she’s guarded by her best friend Pam Schaeffer (Sheryl Munks).
With Joanna not sure, Danny makes a rash promise to pick Joanna up in his Jaguar, even though she tells him that really isn’t a drawcard. But she’ll still go out with him …
Luckily Mark reads the newspaper classified ads and discovers a ’73 Series 1 XJ-6 in immaculate condition …
Van offers Danny his pride and joy, a Holden Monaro, but Danny insists it has to be a Jaguar …
Cue a trip to the car yard and the British racing car green Jag, where Gordon Farkas (Steve Bisley) runs the show …
Gordon: “You lookin'or dreamin'?”
Danny: “Series 1 XJ-6, late ’73 …4.2 fully imported …hey?”
Gordon: “So you’re a Jag expert? So am I. Maybe we should go on Sale of the Century” … (They laugh together as Gordon holds out his hand) … “Gordon Farkas …”
(Danny looks up at the car yard sign which has a picture of Gordon next to the words Geoff Mullens prestige, pre-owned cars)
Danny: “Isn’t that …?”
Gordon: “Geoff Mullens the boss? But I’m better looking …that’s why my picture’s up there …ah let’s not talk about me …what’d you say your name was?”
Danny: “Ah, Danny …Danny Clark.”
Gordon: “What star sign are you Danny?”
Danny: “What star sign? Um …I’m a Pisces, why?”
Gordon: “That figures … you’re a bloody dreamer …maybe that Ford Escort’d be more in your price range…” (We see the orange Ford).
Danny: “I really want a Jag … do you do hire purchase?”
Gordon: “Yeah, to people who have a regular income and a decent deposit …”
Danny: “Well I’ve got two thousand seven hundred saved up …”
Gordon: “This car’s worth seven and a half.”
Danny: “But you advertised it at 6.8?!”
Gordon: “I said worth! Very different from the selling price. Let me tell you something Danny …I’ve always driven Jags … that’s mine over there…” (cut to a shot of his camel yellow Jag) …
Danny: “Oh, series 2 …yeah?”
Gordon: “Now that’s worth about 25 grand. But you know the most amazing thing? It’s almost identical to this …and this is worth seven and a half! Must have been mad buying that …if I had the cash, I’d get this for my wife …”
Danny and Gordon go on a (low loader) test drive …and Danny’s impressed as Gordon keeps up with the pitch. When Danny worries about the brakes squealing a bit:
Gordon: “I could kick myself. You know what I’ve gone and done?”
Danny: “No, what?”
Gordon: “I’ve gone and put the genuine brake pads in …bloody things always squeak. If I’d have put the Taiwanese ones in, no problem … I never learn …”
Gordon mentions Danny will need another two grand or a trade-in …
Back home, Danny fronts his mum, busy sowing, and worrying whether the Pintara - which sounds Aboriginal to her - might have been made for the Aboriginal market.
Mum (through the kitchen window): “Desmond, I am not going to Port Campbell in an Aboriginal’s car. You should never have bought it. They need all the cars they can get, all those long distances they have to travel …
Dad (outside still working on his caravan): Edith, it is not an Aboriginal’s car!! Anyway, Aboriginals have extremely large trunks. They wouldn’t fit into a Pintara. I think a more suitable vehicle for them would be a mini-bus …”
After noting her Scrabble word, “penis envy”, Danny pitches the notion of using the Cedric as a trade-in …if it’s really his car:
Mum: “‘Course it is … your father and I had a little ceremony the other night …we drove the car on to the carpark of the Lutheran church down in Gradstone street … we chanted, threw water on it, and we told Cedric you were his new owner … it were very moving …it were your father’s idea …”
Danny heads off to the car yard with his mates. Van checks out the motor, while Danny heads into Gordon’s office to start signing forms - including one his father should sign. Danny’s dismayed but Gordon tells him it’s just a formality - he can sign it with his left hand. It’s just red tape.
Ruthie (Beverley Anne Foster) arrives with a form, as Gordon goes through the payments.
Gordon: “Sounds like a lot but it isn’t. Remember you’re not buying a car, you’re buying a piece of motoring history.”
Danny works out all up it works out to over 11,000 and Gordon wonders if he wants to drop out. But he’d lose his deposit. He can arrange the finance and within 24 hours Danny would be driving out in a thoroughbred.
As Danny ponders, Frank (Frankie J Holden) bursts into the office.
Frank: “Gordon, I’ve got a guy who wants that Jag!”
Gordon: “Sorry Frank, I’ve just sold it.”
Frank: “Well I can get seven and a half for it. I mean is this kid signed?”
Gordon: “Seven and a half!? We’re talking 6.8 here!!”
Frank: “6.8?! You lost your marbles? The bloody thing owes us seven!!”
Gordon: “Excuse me Frank, I have to stand by my word. Now young Danny’s got the first option, okay? I’m sorry …”
Frank (turning to Danny): “Well let me shake your hand my young friend …well if you get that car for that price, you are getting the bargain of the year …”
Frank leaves with a sigh and a shake of the head, watched by Gordon clone Jimmy (Mark Hennessy).
When Danny says Frank’s not serious, Gordon calls him back in to ask him if he’s serious. Frank says he’s got the guy on the phone, and asks Gordon for a decision.
Meanwhile, Van’s checked out the motor and gives Danny the thumbs up.
Back home, Desmond and Edith are devastated to hear of the fate of his beloved Cedric. It was traded in …on a Jaguar?
Desmond heads out into the backyard and lets out a primal scream of pain at the news that Cedric has gone …
Edith: “He’s taking it quite badly. It were just the same when Joan died.”
Edith: “The budgerigar.”
After the scream, Desmond feels much better, as Edith explains to neighbour Colin (Reg Gorman) that he’s clutched some prickles …
That night Danny turns up at Joanna’s house in suit, and in his new Jag.
Mrs Johnson (Lise Rodgers) confiscates his flowers and introduces him to her husband Desmond Johnson (Tim Robertson).
Desmond was a contractor on Madison’s disco, where the teens are going … they did the toilets.
Danny promises to check them out … “the men’s, I mean.”
Desmond comes up to him and taps him on the chest with his fist:
Desmond: “I want her home at 1 a.m. And if you lay a finger on her I’ll belt the living daylights out of yer. You don’t know what it’s like having a beautiful daughter. And don’t you try touching her breasts! You understand?”
Danny (compelled, softly): “Yes… sir, this is our first date ...”
Desmond: “What? Are you saying you’ll touch them on the second date? Hmmm?”
Danny shakes his head ‘no.’
Desmond: “Is that what you’re telling me? Listen to me sonny …there isn’t gunna be a second date!!”
(As Joanna comes down the stairs, he turns smarmy).
Desmond: “There you are my petal.”
Joanna knows what’s happened, and tells her dad not to wait, asking Danny if he’s been told not to touch her breasts …
Desmond’s startled to discover Danny drives a Jag.
Joanna: “Just like yours Dad. You two will have a lot to talk about …”
As Danny escorts Joanna into the car, Desmond comes up to him again:
Desmond: “Just remember what I said to you, you little smart arse.” (thumping Danny’s chest, then waving him a smiling farewell).
In the car, Danny notes her old man can get a bit heavy and Joanna says she should have warned Danny - her dad got Mason Ferguson’s arm broken for having his way with her. When Danny asks if Mason did have his way, she tells him it’s none of his business ...
At the disco, where Joanna’s a regular - it brings out the worst in her - she meets her friend Pam and Pam’s friend (Eve Von Bibra).
They want to lure her away to a new guy back from London, and a hunk guy with a convertible who has the hots for her, or do Golden Slipper cocktails, but Joanna says she’s there with Danny, apologising that they can be real bitches sometimes.
Danny offers to buy her a Golden Slipper but she suggests he take her somewhere he’d go …
They end up on a dock with the Melbourne skyline in the background, eating fish and chips and chatting …
Danny lets slip she’s the only person he’s dated, and his worry about asking her out on a date.
She was so beautiful, he thought she was too good for him.
Danny says he can’t imagine their parents getting along together, and Joanna says she’d like to meet his parents and is glad he got the car he wanted.
But when he doesn’t sound ecstatic, he explains to her about the Cedric trauma …and how he hurt both his parents a lot.
Joanna leans over and gives him a peck on the cheek …
They drive back under the concrete underpass at the bottom of William street, still chatting when a couple of hoons pull up next to him and the passenger hoon (Anthony De Fazio) abuses Danny as the son of a yuppie.
Joanna accuses the hoon of being a son of a neanderthal, out of his cave, and when Danny explains that she’s going for a ride in a real car ‘shit for brains’, the hoon driver (Mark Warren) joins in, saying if Joanna comes with them, she’ll get there faster.
Challenge accepted, Danny flattens the pedal to the metal, but soon enough the Jag throws a rod and clatters to a halt.
Joanna is mortified, all the more when Danny tends the engine and after asking her to hold the bonnet for him, oil spurts all over her dress.
Joanna: “Little boys in big cars, you’re all the bloody same …”
Joanna runs off to hail a taxi, leaving Danny struggling, trapped beneath the bonnet …
Danny calls his dad asking for help and a tow.
“Funny how Cedric never let us down, isn’t it?” dad says to Edith.
Next day, Van’s Monaro tows the Jag into Gordon’s yard.
Gordon jokes about batteries and electrics, but Van is outraged.
Gordon: “Listen sonny, when I want pig, I’ll rattle a bucket, okay?”
Van: “No you listen you crook, this motor is as reconditioned as my arsehole. This isn’t the motor I heard, you’re a rip-off merchant.”
(as Danny tries to shush him)
Gordon: “Danny, Danny. Who is this loud-mouthed dago?”
Gordon has been joined by his two heavy sidekicks, George (Roy Edmunds) and Dougy (Mike Nikol).
Danny: “Now look, I don’t want any trouble. All I want is the car fixed.”
Gordon (smugly): “No problem.”
Danny: “Are you serious?”
Gordon: “Yeah. It’s in the contract.”
Danny is relieved and apologetic.
Gordon: “Just gives us till the end of the year.”
Danny: “That’s ten months away!”
Gordon: “We’re a bit snowed under here …”
Van: “You lying piece of garbage.”
Gordon: “What’s that, wog boy?”
Van: “I should punch your ugly puss in …”
Gordon: “You and whose army? Grease … ballll …
Van goes to punch him and Danny holds Van back.
As his heavies look threatening, Gordon warns them to get off the property in two minutes or he’ll call the cops and charge them with assault, “and don’t try any of that legal bullshit either …remember you forged your father’s signature!!”
At school, Joanna, in company with Pam, cuts Danny dead, and Pam explains Joanna doesn’t want to talk to him.
Van also explains it’s hopeless - even if he gets his wheels back. Van knows how the female mind works.
Later Danny tries to call Mr Johnson, but he cuts him off with a click, and he retreats to the broken Jag in the back yard as his parents do Tai Chi.
Mum: “There’s a young man sitting in a car over there. Who would that be?”
Dad: “That would be Daniel.”
Mum: “Daniel the lion tamer, or Daniel our son?”
Dad: “Daniel your son.”
Mum: “I think you should speak to our son. He needs your help.”
Dad knocks on the car window, and Danny invites him in, and they talk …
Dad explains he’s extremely unhappy and very hurt in the matter of the traded-in Cedric, which saw them through the happiest times in their lives, including when they brought him home from hospital at five days old.
Danny is teary and sorry, and explains the car yard and Joanna not talking to him anymore …and his Dad offers to help.
Danny says he got himself into the mess and he’ll get himself out of it.
Cue a tram arriving outside Gordon’s car yard.
Gordon: “What do you reckon the Queen of England wants?”
Jimmy: “I know what she needs …”
Gordon: “Yeah, and I know just the person to give it to her.”
Then Gordon takes a phone call from Dad, voice disguised by hankie over the phone and the noise of chomping biscuits.
Dad explains he’s a friend of Danny’s and tells Gordon he’s obligated to repair the car in a reasonable time.
Gordon reveals Danny signed his father’s signature and the contract isn’t worth a pinch of shit.
He hangs up and turns to Edith, and is startled when she asks him about a Nissan Cedric.
Cut to Danny and his mates emerging from Melbourne Tech discussing what Danny should do.
Danny wants to follow Gordon to find a chink in his armour.
That night, they discover Gordon emerging from an adult book store in St. Kilda. And then they realise he’ll be at the Tropicana mud wrestling for the rest of the night, in a place which is right next to their car park work place.
In the graphics class, the lecturer (David Lander) wonders why the trio have drawn posters with free parking voucher for the Tropicana mud wrestling show.
He wants an explanation, and Mark explains it’s an initiative for the car park and their ongoing employment. And to improve their life-drawing skills.
Meanwhile, married Ruthie is giving Gordon a neck massage when yet another customer turns up asking for a Cedric.
Later that night as the car yard shuts up, and Gordon drives off in his Jag, Danny follows him on a bike into Little Bourke street and the car park.
A plan swings into action.
Danny bandages Mark’s to disguise him, and when Gordon presents his free parking voucher, Van takes his Jag into a bay where the boys begin switching the engine from Gordon’s car into Danny’s.
Van realises that Gordon’s motor came from Danny’s car and must have been swapped.
Gordon returns early, to Mark’s consternation, and so he sends him up the top to look for his car.
The boys have to clamber under the hood into the now empty engine bay to weigh it down, but when an irritated Gordon finds the car, he only wants his camera, and he heads off with it to the mud wrestling.
At the mud wrestling, Gordon disgraces himself by getting drunk and pawing the nude waitress, as in a montage to music, the boys finish the job of the engine swap.
Gordon emerges drunk, and doesn’t notice his new, broken engine, as he drives off in the Jag, smoke billowing behind.
Gordon stops at a public toilet to slip into something more comfortable.
A cop (Ken Radley) on St Kilda road notices the smoke-belching Jag, and outside Luna Park busts Gordon for heading through a red light.
Gordon gets out of his car, doing a fart and suggesting he stick the cop’s alcohol blow bag up his bum.
Gordon’s conspicuously wearing black stockings and stiletto heels in place of trousers.
Gordon offers the cop a car for trade prices and when the cop says it sounds like a bribe and they’ll be taking him down to the station, warns the cop about his police friends in high places. When a female police constable gets out of the cop car to drive his car down to the station, Gordon jokes “look at the tits on that bloke.”
Meanwhile the trio of friends are enjoying the ride in the Jaguar with the original working motor, as they purr along the West Gate freeway.
Danny heads off to Joanna’s home and with a loud hailer asks to speak to Mr Johnson.
Joanna, Juliet-like, emerges on the balcony, and is bemused by Danny’s 5 am arrival. She agrees to meet him on the weekend - her parents will be away - but she tells him to get the hell out of there, as her angry dad emerges to confront Danny.
Danny hastily drives off, but not before shouting via the loud hailer that he loves her.
Meanwhile, Gordon emerges from court with his lawyer (Robert Meldrum) who explains he’s not going to be charged for wearing his female garb, but his car has been impounded for pollution.
Gordon asks about the engine number and explains he swapped the engine, and hadn’t got around to replacing it again, so the number isn’t right.
His lawyer explains he’s a lucky man - the cops checked the number out and it’s fine, it’s just that the engine’s stuffed.
In the police pound, George and Dougy are checking the motor, and Gordon is outraged.
Gordon: “That ain’t my motor. That’s my car … that ain’t my motor… some dirty bastard here’s done a stinkin’ swap on me ...”
Gordon meets a corrupt cop, Stewart (Robert Morgan) and berates him about the motor swap.
Gordon: “I told you, I’d buy any good stuff you can get but I’m telling ya now, I ain’t gunna buy my own stuff back again…”
Stewart: “I’m sorry Gordon, I’m not following you.”
Gordon: “I’m telling ya, one of your mates at the pound knocked off my motor.”
The cop tells him he’s mistaken, there was none of them on last night, and suggests he’s got someone moving in on his territory.
Gordon works out he got screwed at the friggin’ car park … or Stewart’s covering his arse.
Danny arrives at Joanna’s door but is intercepted by Pam, who tells him Joanna’s not in.
Joanna arrives and Danny jokes about her stepping up security.
Joanna suggests Pam leave, but Pam tells her she can do much better than Danny. Pam refuses to leave until Danny does.
Joanna returns with a fire extinguisher and sprays Pam out the door, as Van arrives.
Danny realises that “Vanny boy” is going out with Pam …and Danny jokes that Pammy could do much better than this …
Pam invites ‘Van baby’ to go.
Danny: “Van baby, Vanny boy, what is this … name the Greek?”
Van: “Listen honky one more smart arse remark out of you …”
Joanna settles things by spraying Van with the fire extinguisher, and then accidentally sprays Danny …
Meanwhile Gordon returns to the basement, and sets heavy George on Mark. Gordon, holding up four fingers, gives Mark until three to tell him who is behind this …
George starts smashing up the joint and Mark calls for help, shouting Van’s name, but Van is up on the roof in the Monaro, in coitus with Pam, who is yelling Van’s name.
Meanwhile, Gordon has got out of his clothes, and while they dry, Joanna offers to give him a massage.
Joanna (feeling his neck muscles): “You’re really tense.”
Danny: “Yeah, that must be the coffee, causing the tension.”
They both giggle, and Joanna kisses him on the neck.
At that point Danny decides it’s about the right time to tell him about the Jaguar he didn’t have … and she tells him he’s crazy, she doesn’t even like Jaguars.
Danny says there was a point to prove …
Just as they begin to kiss, the phone rings, and he decides to piggy back her to the phone.
When she picks it up, it’s her Dad wanting her to check the cars in the drive way.
She looks through the blinds and sees her birthday present, a car, just as her dad arrives, mobile phone brick to his ear.
Danny is startled at the sight, and collapses, the blinds coming down on top of them.
Danny races away to escape Joanna’s dad, wrapped only in carpet.
Meanwhile, the Clarks are playing Scrabble when there’s a knock on the door.
Dad: “It’ll be two Jehovah’s Witnesses with flat bicycle tyres.”
Mum: “How do you know?”
Dad: “Had a vision.”
(The knocking continues).
Mum: “Well you’d better go and see. All that talking in tongues, they might disturb the neighbours.”
Dad: “Yes, we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
It’s Gordon at the door, and he thinks he knows Dad. It’ll come to him.
He asks to see Danny, and then Gordon realises it was Edith who was after the Cedric, and he’s been conned by a couple of geriatrics.
Dad warns him to watch his tongue.
A car pulls up, and Desmond Johnson storms up, demanding to have a word with Dad, as Mum scuttles away to put something more suitable on.
Dad invites him in, as a bemused Gordon realises the real plot … involving Johnson.
Meanwhile, Danny is on the West Gate freeway wrapped in his carpet.
A Jewish driver (David Prince) pulls up: “Are you buying or selling? Get in, get in …”
Gordon gets a call from Jimmy which tips him off that the Jaguar in question is registered to Desmond Johnson …
Gordon: “It all makes sense. Johnson runs it, he’s got these schoolkids doing his dirty work. Well I’m gunna play you at your own game, Desmond Edward Johnson …go for it …”
George gets out, and breaks into Desmond’s Jag, as inside Edith is telling Desmond that Danny is a fine young man, and he should be proud to have Danny as a son-in-law.
Desmond: “What? What are you saying? Are you mad? My God woman, the girl is just 18!”
Edith: “Kids are very mature for their age. Daniel has just bought a Jaguar! Iced Vo-Vo?”
Desmond snatches the biscuit, crushes it and hurls it to the floor.
Dad: “So you’re unhappy with the situation Desmond? I think perhaps we should all take a seat and er have a little talk, don’t you?”
Wrapped in his carpet, Danny has arrived at the car park, but can’t find Mark. He hastily puts on the clothes he keeps in the locker, as Joanna arrives with a shirt.
They hug, and he consoles her, and then she notices the wrecked car park office.
They go looking for Van, who’s still in the car up in the roof making out with Pam.
The foursome head off in the Monaro … as back at Danny’s home, Desmond, mum and dad emerges on the front verandah …
Edith: “Well I do hope the next time we meet it’ll be under more favourable circumstances.”
Dad: “I’ll have a serious talk with young Daniel.”
Edith: “Is that Daniel the lion tamer? Or Daniel our son?”
Dad: “That’s Daniel our son.”
Desmond: “You people are totally mad.”
Edith offers Mrs Johnson some apricots as Desmond realises his Jag has disappeared. He demands the Clarks call the police, telling them they’re ‘jinxed’.
Edith realises that’s the word she should have used in Scrabble. It’s got a J and an X.
Danny and his friends arrive at the car yard.
Van can’t quite see if Mark’s inside. He gives Danny a leg up, and Danny sneaks inside.
Joanna thinks she sees her dad’s car, as George swings it into the car yard garage.
Jimmy, George and Gordon begin maliciously spray painting the Jag as Danny and Van watch.
Pam says she’s got to go to the toilet, and they head to the car yard toilet, as a shadowy figure emerges from behind a car.
Van jumps the figure, but it’s Mark. They let him go, only for his friends to drive past him on their way to the yard.
Van explains they were trying to save him, and now Danny’s inside!
Joanna takes charge, telling the boys to get up on a car bonnet. Then she starts thumping on the car yard garage door.
Gordon’s sidekicks emerge and set off after the boys, but trip over loose fence cable.
Van and Mark make off in the Monaro.
Danny sees the chance to escape, ducks around Gordon and heads off with Joanna.
Gordon tells George to chase the Monaro.
Danny and Joanna arrive at his home to see Desmond arguing with the cops, telling them if they ran his business the way they run theirs …
Meanwhile, George in a Volvo is after the Monaro …
Danny is tapping on the kitchen window.
Dad hears him and comes across to meet Joanna, noting her father isn’t very happy. He isn’t either, asking Danny what he was doing at the Johnsons without his clothes on …
Danny says he can’t explain now, he just needs to borrow the keys to the car.
Joanna knows her father’s car’s been stolen.
Dad hands over the keys, and reveals he knows about Danny signing his name. When Danny asks how he know, Dad explains he had a vision, as in the background, an unaware Edith announces a triple word score: “Bizarre. Your turn dear”.
Meanwhile the Volvo is still chasing the Monaro.
Van: “My first car chase and it’s a bloody Volvo! I hope none of my cousins see it.”
As Desmond keeps arguing with the cops, and Gordon and Jimmy arrive to see the cops arrest Desmond, Danny and Joanna sneak away, though dad realises that the caravan is still attached to the Pintara.
Gordon sees the little runt go, and sets off after him, telling Jimmy it’ll be a piece of cake.
At a red light, Gordon asks Jimmy what he’s waiting for, “go and shoot the guy in the balls.”
Jimmy: “Yeah? I don’t have a gun.”
Gordon: “Just get him back here!”
Jimmy gets out of the car, as Danny jokes to Joanna that his mum knows more words than Shakespeare does.
He drives away and Jimmy desperately lunges at the caravan, grabbing hold and swinging on to it …
Gordon follows laughing, as Danny realises they’re being chased.
Danny swings the car down a road, as the Monaro and the Volvo converge on the chase.
The Volvo slams into Gordon’s car, and Gordon shouts at George he’s a bloody idiot, as George apologises.
Van yells to Danny to go faster and speeds off in the Monaro, but Danny is handicapped by the caravan - it’s easy for him to say.
As Gordon calls him a prick and George tells him he’s dead meat, Danny decides to head down a narrow lane.
Gordon and George follow, but George wants to go first, and their cars collide, with the bingle trapping Gordon behind his car door …
Jimmy swings on to the van roof, and when Danny brakes, topples over and ends up in front of the Pintara.
With Gordon trapped, it’s left to Danny and Van to mock the dumb, ugly bastard, as Danny, echoes of his original Jag problems, asks if he’s got a bit of battery trouble.
Gordon threatens to get him, but Danny wishes him “good luck sucker” as he drives away ..
Back at the car yard, Pam finally emerges from the car yard toilet asking for Joanna …
Cut to Joanna and Danny by themselves in what will be revealed as the same place where they shared fish and chips …
Joanna: “I wish we didn’t have to go back.”
Danny: “Mmh. It’ll be okay though.”
Joanna: “Yeah. I know it will be.”
(They exchange looks)
Danny: “Huh …it’s a funny thing, you know, but er, I don’t like Jaguars much anymore.”
Joanna (laughing): “I wonder why …”
Danny: “I think it’s the people that drive them, you know …”
Joanna: “Yeah, could be …”
(They exchange meaningful looks).
Joanna: “Do you want your birthday present now?”
Danny: “Ah I think I’ve probably had about enough now of my birthday.”
(Joanna leans in and kisses him …)
Joanna: “You sure?”
They move from the kiss on the car bonnet towards the caravan, as music swells, and the film ends, as outlined in the music section above and in this site’s pdf of music credits ...