His Royal Highness

  • aka "his Loyal highness"

Stagehand Tommy Dodds (George Wallace) is knocked out, and dreams he has been made King of Betonia.

Being true blue and dinky di, Tommy upsets the court by gambling with the footmen, and teaching his courtiers the fine art of rollerskating.

The rightful heir to the throne eventually turns up, and Tommy is kicked out of the palace, at which point he wakes up, but not before there are several song and dance and comedy routines, in what was called a "burlesque operetta" at the time, and which bears more than a passing resemblance to George Wallace's vaudeville stage routines...

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Production Details

Production company: Efftee Film Productions

Budget: £19,000, of which some £7,000 was allocated to building the Betonian palace set.

Locations: essentially a studio picture, shot at Efftee Films converted studio, the fire-damaged His Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne.

Filmed: February 1932

Australian distributor: Universal

Australian release:  1st October Regent theatre Brisbane.

Rating: for general exhibition

35mm        black and white

Running time: 84 mins (Oxford Australian Film)

NFSA VHS time: 1'08"53 (taken from a British release print)

Box office: 

The film did solid business, with various theatres claiming it set box office records. It was also sold to Universal in England, where it was widely screened, with an initially respectable 700 theatrical bookings (compared to a 1,000 or so for an average UK feature). However producer Thring reduced the budget of Wallace's next film, the 1933 Harmony Row, a less ambitious effort which attempted to bring costs (minus ambitious palace set) more into line with likely returns.

Thring claimed in December 1932 (here) that he had sold His Royal Highness, Diggers, The Sentimental Bloke, and various short films, including Noel Monkman's Barrier Reef series to Universal in the UK for £100,000. This generated handsome publicity for Thring prior to a trip to the UK, but it's worth remembering that by his sudden death at the age of 48 in July 1936, it's been estimated his company had lost a substantial amount of money, well over £50,000. The story of a huge sale to the UK made for good press, but didn't necessarily do the same for his company's bottom line.

Pat Hanna, of Diggers fame, who had worked with (and fought with) Thring, in the late 1940s bought the rights to some of the old Efftee catalogue, including His Royal Highness, and along with Hanna's Diggers trilogy, gave the films a revival in suburban cinemas, with some modest success. As a result, His Royal Highness was still being screened in the 1950s in Australian theatres.

 

Opinion

Awards

None known.

Availability

The film has been released in Australia by the National Film and Sound Archive on VHS. It is the shorter UK release of the film under the title "his Loyal highness", complete with UK censorship advice.

While now rare, it might be possible to obtain via the Australian library system or through a collector, or by contacting the archive.

Digital copies circulate amongst collectors, derived from this source, quality contingent on the original material used.

In the usual way, the ASO has three clips from the film here, but Ozmovie cultists will want to see George Wallace in his vaudeville antics at full length. It is shameful that Wallace's films - those he did for Frank Thring, and for director Ken G. Hall - haven't been issued as a box set, but perhaps in the age of streaming, they might be able to be seen as digitised high quality releases.

1. Production: 

Essentially producer/director Thring treated the story as an opportunity to feature Wallace's vaudeville routines - Wallace had been a successful vaudevillian since 1919, when he turned out as Onkus in a routine Dinks and Onkus.

Wallace developed trademark clothes (checked shirt, hat, trousers), and a reputation for slapstick, including an ability to fall onto his left ear from a full height, a routine featured in the film.

He first did a stage revue under the title His Royal Highness in the nineteen twenties. 

Being more a businessman than director, Thring didn't do much to change Wallace's mugging for camera, retaining theatrical make-up and giving Wallace free reign, the result being a rare opportunity for later viewers to connect to Australian vaudeville.

In typical vaudeville style, the action is staged without much in the way of conventional plotting, though the film does have a more substantial budget than vaudeville. The pie stall routine which starts the film, for example, is heavy-handed in terms of film, but interesting in terms of its theatrical vaudeville origin. Naturally a 'falling on ear' routine makes the cut.

C. J. Dennis, author of the poem The Sentimental Bloke, turned into a film by Thring, was called in to assist Wallace in structuring his routines into musical comedy format:

(Below: C. J. Dennis)

 

2. Release: The first musical comedy talkie?

The show promoted itself as the "first musical comedy talkie", a claim that might have been disputed by the ill-fated Showgirl's Luck, but that's a reminder that the notion of Australian talkies was still a strong selling point in 1932. The film itself carried the sub-title that it was a "comedy with music".

Producer Thring cannily first released the film in Brisbane to cash in on Wallace's reputation as a local comedian who'd made good on the national stage.

3. George Wallace:

Wallace would later make several films with director Ken Hall (Let George Do It and Gone to the Dogs), and both films would show more discipline and adjustment to the needs of medium. 

In his films for Thring, Wallace remained theatrical, and despite these early efforts, he continued to attract most attention as a stage performer. He didn't attempt serious roles, and his attempt to leaven the dramatic mood in Chauvel's 1944 The Rats of Tobruk, as the barber of Tobruk, is one of the reasons that film failed to cohere. He died in 1960 at the age of 66.

The ADB has a more detailed biography of Wallace here.

4. John Dobbie:

John Dobbie was a frequent partner in Wallace's stage and screen comedies routines, deploying a big physique and deep voice. Dobbie later took a regular gig with J. C. Williamson's Comic Opera Company, before turning to work in commercial radio in Brisbane, dying there in 1952.