High Rolling

  • aka High Rolling in a Hot Corvette (USA)

Texas (Joseph Bottoms) is an American carnie hand, and Alby (Grigor Taylor) is an Australian tent boxer. After Tex is kicked off the shooting gallery for dallying with a teenager (Christine Amor), and Alby is roughed up by a big man (real-life pro wrestler Mario Milano having a little fun), the pair steal a Corvette, and a marijuana stash from a homosexual Arnold (John Clayton) and drift around the Gold Coast, picking up a young hitch-hiker Lynn (Judy Davis).

They get pissed at a Surfers Paradise nightclub, and try but fail to pick up a couple of singers (Wendy Hughes, Sandra McGregor). Alby lucks in with a three-way with the pair, while Tex has a heart-to-heart with Lynn, but when they hit the road again the trio are pursued by a thug (Roger Ward) sent after them by Arnold.

To make a little money, to help them get away, they decide to hijack a tourist bus, using farmer Terry Norris's sheep as a roadblock. The bus has Peter Cummins as its driver and Chantal Countouri as its hostess, and soon enough the cops and Arnold and his heavies are in attendance.

Tex and Alby survive the bruising encounters, and with Lynn they set off again on the road ...

Writers:
Exec producers:
DOPs:
Production Designers:
Art Directors:
Composers:

Production Details

Production company: Hexagon  Productions

Budget: A$400,000, including an investment from the federal government investment body the Australian Film Commission.

Locations: All shot on location, no sets, Queensland Gold Coast, Surfers' Paradise and surrounds "for the glitz", Melbourne and outside of Melbourne for the rest, hitch-hiking component shot at Little River, inner city Melbourne shot as substitute for Queensland. Rain can be seen in the background in one big night shoot on the Gold Coast which threatened to wash it out.  

Filmed: started November 1976, six week shoot according to director Auzins. Shot for about two weeks on the Gold Coast, four weeks around Melbourne.

Australian distributor: Roadshow

Australian release:  4th August 1977, Village theatres around Australia, including Village Cinema City, Double Bay and Parramatta in N.S.W.

Rating: M

35mm  Colour            

Running time: 85 mins (Oxford)

DVD time: 1'22"05 (Roadshow and Umbrella editions)

Box office: According to the Film Victoria report on Australian film box office, the film did A$841,000 at the box office, equivalent to $3,868,600 in A$ 2009.

However it should be noted that the film isn't listed in Cinema Papers all time twenty-two Australian films in July 1984, using Variety data, with the point of entry in the list the $581,010 in gross film rental earned for Gillian Armstrong's Starstruck to take 22nd position.

But the film did receive what was then a relatively rare commercial release in the United States under a revised name.

In an interview in Cinema Papers in Sept-October 1979, producer Tim Burstall proposed that the film would break even some four or five years after its release, presumably after television sales kicked in.

Together with the failure of Eliza Fraser, the film's failure to immediately break even dealt another blow to Hexagon Productions, and 1979's The Last of the Knucklemen would see Hexagon down and out.

Opinion

Awards

None known. The film was completely overlooked by the voters in the Australian Film Institute awards.

Availability

The film was released on DVD as part of the tribute to Hexagon by Roadshow in region four, including a restored 16:9 image, 11'45"  interview with director Igor Auzins, Wendy Hughes, DOP Dan Burstall and Tom Burstall (but not Robin Copping, listed in the menu and on the slick), trailer and photo gallery, as well as an unrelated AFTRS 25'06" short film "A Horse With Stripes".

Image and sound quality were as good as could be expected for the film's age, and unlike many Australian DVD releases, Roadshow included a decent set of subtitles for the hearing impaired.

The same package subsequently was released by Umbrella, though instead of the AFTRS short, Umbrella had the good taste to include director Brian Trenchard Smith's 1'24"31 jocular documentary on STDs, The Love Epidemic. For BTS cultists, this makes the earlier Roadshow release uncompetitive.

Umbrella replicates the Roadshow error of listing DOP Robin Copping as one of the interviewees, instead of listing the ones who did make the cut, namely Wendy Hughes, Dan and Tom Burstall and Igor Auzins. Is it too much to expect the distributor to watch or take an interest in the product?

 

1. Source:

According to Cinema Papers, young writer Forrest Redlich - he was 25 at the time of the film's release - based his screenplay on his experiences on the Gold Coast in 1968 when he fought in tent shows and hitched about with a friend. He saw the story of the show, and the two leads as a kind of down under variation on the relationship presented in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

According to director Igor Auzins, when Forrest Redlich presented the idea to producer Tim Burstall, he was working as a panel beater, and was a young writer without much experience, except being of "the ethos" which the script described.

Redlich would later work in television, scripting shows such as Blue Heelers, A Country Practice and Sweet and Sour, and is perhaps best known for joining Bruce Best in running Westside Productions, and mounting the serial E Street, which ran 1989-1993 on the Ten Network, and reached some 404 episodes.

A sequel, Tow Trucker, also by Redlich with Tim Burstall producing, was mooted to go into production the following year, but the film failed to deliver the box office momentum required.

2. Production:

After the mixed response to Eliza Fraser, both critically and commercially, Tim Burstall decided to take a break from directing, and offered the project to Igor Auzins, who had been working in television, directing many hour cop shows for Crawfords (and incidentally working with DOP Dan Burstall on Matlock). Burstall had admired his visual style when dealing with action shows.

It was Burstall who offered the leading role to Joseph Bottoms, who in 1974 had turned up in the north of Australia to shoot part of the round the world feature The Dove. Bottoms was an affordable B-picture name who would nonetheless be at least recognised in the US marketplace.

It was also Burstall's initiative to approach John Clark, the then director of NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Art) to see if he had any young actors worth testing for the leading role of the young woman who would accompany the two leads on their road movie. Burstall knew Clark from the time they had both been on a Harkness Fellowship in the United States.

Clark suggested a number of names, and one of the actors tested was Judy Davis. This would be her first screen outing, while she was still a student, and requiring permission to be taken out of class for the six week period of the shoot. She would go on to My Brilliant Career, and relative to most Australian actors, a brilliant career.

The film was shot over six weeks, with some two weeks on Queensland locations and the other four weeks on Melbourne and near Melbourne rural locations.

Mario Milano, who was at the time well known as a professional wrestler in the ring circuit and on television, appears in a cameo role as a country fighter who gives Grigor Taylor's tent boxer character a hard time at the start of the show. (Milano has a wiki here).

3. Release:

Despite the figures proposed by the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, the film didn't perform well, as Tim Burstall acknowledged in an interview for Cinema Papers Sept-October 1979, while doing his best to drag in solid titles, such as Mad Max!

One couldn't describe High Rolling as a success, though it will finish breaking even four or five years after its release. 

I am very fond of High Rolling, although in some ways it doesn't come off. There is a slight problem in Jo Bottoms' performance, which goes over a bit, and the bonding aspect works only fitfully. Still, I think Igor Auzins is a fine director and the film only narrowly misses capturing the spirit of a good AIP road film. Max Max is certainly handled better, but one can easily see the progression from Stone to High Rolling to Mad Max.

It takes the fondness of a parent to see much connection between High Rolling and Max Max, and the reality was that the wagons were circling at Hexagon.

Eliza Fraser had been a failure relative to budget, High Rolling didn't recover its budget in a timely manner, and when The Last of the Knucklemen failed to fire in 1979, it would be the end of the Hexagon Productions/Roadshow distribution alliance.

When asked about Hexagon in the Cinema Papers interview, Burstall did his best to deflect the topic, by talking about the SAFC, a favourite subject in which the resentment of government-funded production bubbled to the surface once again:

If you compare what happened to Hexagon with the South Australian Film Corporation, the difference is that while the SAFC may seem to have a comparitively-successful track record, it probably owes $5 or $6 million. If it were a commercial operation, it would be bankrupt, but it can go on because the debts are presumably written off by the South Australian Government.

However, it is significant that the SAFC is moving closer towards a commercial program like Hexagon's. It is using John Lamond and Alan Hopgood on Pacific Banana, which is like our Australia After Dark. You have Bruce Beresford, who basically occupies the same position that I occupied in Hexagon, doing a Williamson play, The Club. It is, in fact moving into that mainstream middle area of drama, with the emphasis on entertainment. It is trying to get away from the culturally respectable stuff with which it made its reputation.

Sadly Pacific Banana didn't work for the SAFC - or for the politicians providing the funding - and The Club didn't work commercially, and the SAFC shifted to rather dull television productions as its production staple (Robbery Under Arms, for example, and Under Capricorn), while doing its best to keep local crews in work in the 1980s with 10BA genre feature film fodder.

It might have had an easier life with culturally respectable stuff, at least politically, but commercially, neither the SAFC or Hexagon could in the end build a business model out of ocker sex comedies, and The Last of the Knucklemen would be Hexagon's last hurrah, before Burstall began taking jobs (Attack Force Z) or trying to work out ways of funding quite different slates - including, ironically, the culturally respectable business of making a feature film out of D. H. Lawrence's Kangaroo in 1987.

It was a sad end to a bold adventure that played a key part in the commercial good fortunes of the 1970s Australian film revival, with Burstall briefly matching the production company/distributor financing model first developed by Ken G. Hall in the 1930s.

4. Igor Auzins: 

Director Igor Auzins had joined Crawford Productions in 1969 as a cameraman, but after 1971, he began directing Crawfords series television such as Division Four and Homicide. He became a freelance director, making documentaries for the SAFC, commercials, and telemovies for Reg Grundy Productions and other companies.

5. Music:

The film is notable for featuring the pop rock band Sherbet, probably the biggest act in Australia in the 1970s.

Below are the lyrics for the title tune as it plays over the film's head credits (a shorter version runs over tail credits, starting at the "do do" point of the song):

Going high rolling

Going high rolling

High … high rolling

I'm gonna go high, (high) rolling

Taking it easy, high (high) rolling

I'm gonna get high rolling

Gonna take a look at what's doing on the other side

Gonna move out to see what I can find

Spent too much time rolling money for someone else

It's time I did some rolling for myself

And now I've thought it over 

I'm going to move on

Before I find I get taken over

High rolling's where I want to be

There's always been a money-hungry evil man

Chasing me with a cashbook in his hand

Squeezing life out of me for every single cent

He's as straight as a gun with a barrel that's been bent

He can't hold that gun at me

I'm stepping free along the road

It goes on forever

I know where the grass is greener

I'm going high

High rolling

I'm gonna go high rolling …

High rolling … (under dialogue)

I'm gonna get high 

It's only a moment away

So follow your dreams where you may

From now on there I'll be

Rolling free

Do-do-do do do-do

Do-do-do do do-do

Do do

Do-do-do do do-do

Do-do-do do do do

Wah

I've thought it over and I'm stepping free along the road

That goes on forever

Onto where the grass is greener

Loving life, feeling free

High rolling's where I want to be

I'm going high

High rolling

I'm gonna go high rolling

High rolling

Taking it easy, high rolling

High rolling

I'm gonna get high

High!

High rolling

I'm gonna go high rolling

High rolling

Taking it easy, high

High rolling

I'm gonna get

High

High … (fades out under effects and dialogue)

In a cameo, Brian Cadd - well it looks and sounds like Cadd - who did the theme music for the two Burstall Alvin films - briefly appears around the 32'45" mark singing solo, and around the 33'35" mark, Wendy Hughes and Sandra McGregor launch into a version of I Love to Love You Baby.

Around 43'35" another Sherbet song, a slow ballad, appears:

Your life is like a different game

You forget all the graces

Games you played and don't know why

You're dealing all the aces

What happened to

The woman that I knew just yesterday …

What did you do?

I heard you lost your heart along the way

Still you give what little there's left to give

Oh, lady of the night

Oh, lady of the night

Oh ...

(Joseph Bottoms: So good to feel you all again)