A feature film spin-off from the TV serial/soap, about daily life and crises in television station UCV-12, which had been produced since early 1974 by Crawford Productions in Melbourne, as competition to Number 96.

In the movie version, UCV-12 is in financial difficulty, and managing director Sir Henry Usher (Fred Betts) initiates an efficiency drive with the help of a female systems expert Dr. S. M. Winter (Cornelia Frances).

The staff make desperate attempts to impress Dr Winter, but none work, especially in relation to a feature film Manhunt, which the station is shooting as a way to bring in some income. The film's star Tony Wild (Ken James) is so inept that the decision's made to present the show as a comedy. 

Eventually there's a series of hotel bedroom seductions, Dr. Winter gets drunk for the first time in her life, and writes favourable reports on the studio staff, who all end up on a boat, and watch as Sir Henry goes down with the ship ...

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Production Details

Production company: Crawford Productions

Budget: c. A$300,000, substantial investment by Australian Film Development Corporation (Oxford Australian Film, some other sources put the budget at A$315,000)

Locations: Melbourne and suburbs, Eildon, Crawford's Abbotsford studios

Filmed: early 1975 over four week period

Australian distributor: Roadshow

Australian release: 8th August, 1975 Albert Cinema Brisbane

Rating: M, for mature audiences

35 mm   colour

Running time: 100 mins (Oxford Australian Film), 107 minutes (Crawford web site)

A version presented in seven parts on YouTube ran 1'03"59, and can therefore be considered relatively complete.

Box office: $857,000, equivalent to $5,022,020 in A$ 2009, according to the Film Victoria report on box office.

This is a more than reasonable result for a movie which would also have a second life on television, but like the TV show, the movie didn't travel internationally, being designed for parochial tastes already trained to low rent soapie comedy by the TV show.

As the Aussie Soap Archive notes, the film opened after the introduction of colour TV in Australia, and one of the angles for earlier TV spin offs had been the chance to see the cast and the show up on the big screen in colour. Now the regular TV show could be seen for free, and in colour.

Opinion

Awards

None known.

 

Availability

The Box has long been unavailable on VHS, and at time of writing, hasn't been released on DVD.

Copies derived from tape sources (usually with time code) circulate amongst collectors, and a version in seven parts was posted to YouTube (with poor image quality). It was taken down as a result of a dispute over rights.

Crawfords has lately taken to releasing its product directly online via its shop, here, but while at time of writing you could buy the complete Flying Doctors  (all 234 epsiodes with bonus miniseries) and other Crawfords shows, such as Fortress, the Sullivans, The Saddle Club, All the Rivers Run, Carsons Law, Homicide, Acropolis Now, the Henderson Kids, and the Saddle Club, there had been no attempt to satisfy fans of The Box.

This is little short of a scandal, since cultists in love with The Box have long been starved of the movie version.

Ironically the opening episode of the TV series circulates among collectors, suggesting that the issuing of a restored version of the feature film version is long overdue.

The slapstick, the mayhem, the verbal jousting, the nude romping, and the "Carry On" capers might now seem more than a little dated, but that's part of the charm for cultists in search of period Australiana. The rival TV show movie spin-off of No. 96 came out on DVD a long time ago, with generous extras, and The Box deserves the same treatment.

1. Source:

Tom Hegarty, then a Crawfords house writer, cobbled together the screenplay, with story assistance from Ray Kolle.

After the TV show's lead Peter Regan dropped out for deal reasons - he didn't like working on a feature film for TV rates - Graham Kennedy, originally scheduled for a cameo in the Manhunt 'film within the film' part of the show, was given an extended role and worked the full four weeks of the shoot. He also worked with Hegarty on the script.

As a result, Kennedy was given a couple of honours - the only expletive in the show, and a song and dance number, inserted at his request, and performed in the film as part of the Big Night Out routine.

After his cameo in They're A Weird Mob, and this more extended romp, Kennedy would continue to hanker for the big screen, and he would distinguish himself in more demanding roles later in his career. Here he plays a variation on his television persona, but it is an entertaining riff which will appeal to his fans.

2. Production:

The production attempted a better finish than other television spin-offs of the period by shooting on 35mm, and this was largely due to the assistance of the new federal government funding body, the AFDC (the Australian Film Development Corporation).

Crawfords never had any ideological difficulty accessing government money, and shows like Flying Doctors relied for years on a revolving loan fund provided by Film Victoria.

In fact 1975 was a difficult one for the television industry and for Crawfords, and there were disputes with actors over pay rates, and a street march in Melbourne demanding government support for the television industry. The financial support for the movie was one sop thrown the way of Crawfords.

In the canny way you'd expect of a TV production company, the office sets built for the film would be recycled and used to replace the original TV series studio sets. The new sets were explained in the TV series as being the result of an office fire in the fictional television station UCV-12, which resulted in a remodelled interior.

The cast largely came from the TV series, with the exception of television comedian personality Graham Kennedy, imported to play himself, and add a bit of street credibility to the comedy. Cornelia Frances also turned up to deliver time and motion studies and barbs about the bizarre world of television.

There was little either of them could do to improve the result, with the script settling for an extended bout of boat-related mayhem as the climactic set piece, which sees the head of the television station go down with his ship.

The film nonetheless remains a part of the Kennedy canon, and the film is often asked after by devotees of the king of television comedy.

Actor Fred Betts, who played the patriarchal station owner and manager, died in New Zealand, aged 63, on March 16th 1977, only a few years after completing the film.

Betts made his name in Australian television dramas such as Adventures of the Seaspray and Boney, and in his earlier days, he worked in more than one hundred plays and in professional repertory companies in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Unlike the storyline in the Manhunt 'movie within the movie', designed to produce revenue to save the ailing television station, The Box movie didn't help Crawfords that much.

The series had been of particular benefit to Crawfords at a time when the company had to endure the cancelllation of its mainstay television cop shows. Hector Crawford didn't think it was the company's finest work, but throughput and cash flow were the name of the game.

However by the time the movie version came out, the company was in another trough.

Crawford Productions sacked 60 staff in September 1975, and another 40 in October, reducing what had been a staff of 360 in January 1975 to a total of 80 by end of year.

At the time only two Australian-made shows were airing on TV - No. 96 and The Box - with Homicide and Matlock both cancelled. The networks, always ambivalent about local content, had made the conscious decision to degut Crawfords as a supplier, lest it get too big for its boots.

DOP Waynne Williams worked at Crawfords 1974-75, and went on to work on camera at TVNZ Christchurch.

Director Paul Eddey was a Crawfords regular, directing a number of episodes of Homicide, Matlock Police and Division 4, and also producing episodes of Homicide and Matlock Police 1970-1975.

3. Further reading:

As well as the comprehensive report on the TV show and feature film in the Aussie Soap Archive, the show's wiki, here, takes a look at both the series and the movie spin off.

The Crawfords web site offers a more extended synopsis, here - follow the tag to movies - and a preview which at time of writing no longer worked.

The trailer for The Box was however available on YouTube, here.