An unofficial France/Australia co-production shot in Tahiti and the Tuamotu islands, with a small amount of filming in France.
Production company: Silverfilm (France)/Australian Television Enterprises (Australia)
Budget: n/a, but Lee Robinson and Chips Rafferty invested £40,000 of the money they had made from money they had made by way of studio hire of the old Cinesound studios in Bondi (acquired by them May 1956) and by working on the US documentary series High Adventure.
Locations: Tahiti and Tuamotu Islands, and a few minor scenes set in France
Filmed: late 1958
Australian distributor: None
Australian release: None; the film was released simultaneously on three Paris screens on 15th October 1959, and quickly disappeared.
Running time: 98 mins (Oxford, Variety)
VHS time: 1'24"50 (US television version 1'28"15)
Box office: Never released in Australia. The film was poorly received in France on a very limited release, and was quickly cut down to a television version for US screening which made no mention of the Australian component of the production. The film resulted in the effective dissolution of the feature film partnership between Chips Rafferty and Lee Robinson.
Robinson noted in an understated way that the film "didn't go well" and blamed the outcome on it being released at the time when theatrical feature films were being hit by TV.
Screened Locarno Film Festival July 1959
Mention has been made of a DVD release of the film in Tahiti, but it hasn't been possible to confirm this - it possibly derives from a reference to the ICA in Tahiti - the Institut de la Communication Audiovisuelle - making a digital copy of the film for its internal use.
A terrible copy of the American TV version circulates amongst collectors on DVD under the title The Climbers, derived from tape sources and possibly copied off air.
It is also possible to discover a copy of the original Australian version circulating on DVD amongst collectors, albeit with time code. This is the best version currently available.
The film is based on the novel Manganese by François Ponthier.
The novel later sometimes became known, after the film was made, as l'ambitieuse Managese.
The film was an unofficial French-Australian co-production. Tahiti's ICA lists it as a coproduction franco-italo-australienne (here). It is uncertain which elements Italy might have contributed to the co-production, if any, but perhaps it reflects the presence of Henry Crolla, an Italian jazz guitarist and film composer, given the lead music composing credit.
The adaptation is credited to René Wheeler, a French screenwriter and film director, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1947 for "best story" for A Cage of Nightingales with Georges Chaperot.
(Below: René Wheeler)
The film was initially going to involve shared directing duties, with Lee Robinson directing the English language scenes, and director Yves Allégret handling the French, but after a few days filming, Robinson withdrew, and Allégret directed both language versions. Two language versions were prepared, but it is often mangled versions of the English language version that remain available.
Where Robinson exerted control over co-director Ralph Habib on the previous French-Australian co-production, The Stowaway, on this occasion it seems that Allégret quickly won the battle to control the set, but apart from an extended opening tracking shot, there's little in the film beyond standard coverage to suggest a French auteur is teaching an Australian director how to compose a film.
3. Box Office:
In an extensive interview with Albert Moran, Lee Robinson merely noted that the film didn't go well, but blamed the problems on the way the film business was being impacted by television:
"There used to be big page advertisements: 'Pictures are better than ever. Anamorphic lenses were brought in, Cinemascope, anything to try to get students into the cinema. The whole business was going bad. Stowaway didn't do too bad, but after that nothing at all worked. (full interview here)
Robinson contrasted the $1,500 a week he made as a director working on the High Adventure documentary series for Lowell Thomas and American TV, up against the £15 ($30) a week he made working in features (he obtained the documentary work after the US producers saw his New Guinea feature Walk into Paradise).
4. The significance of Lee Robinson and Chips Rafferty's partnership:
In the 1950s, the Australian production industry - that is, films made by Australians, rather than films made by Australians for US and UK production companies was at a low ebb, though it would get even lower in the early to mid 1960s.
Right through the decade of the 1950s, only the partnership of Robinson and Rafferty kept the torch alive. They made a few duds and the path into co-productions with the French was a blind alley that produced few useful results, but then co-productions, official and unofficial, have always found it difficult to resolve conflicting tensions between the demands of domestic markets (key cast, story elements) and the need to make the show work internationally.
They did however, with their quest for exotic locations, make a number of films which still repay viewing, most notably King of the Coral Sea and Walk into Paradise, a singular achievement at a time when no one else was up for it. They carried on the legacy of Ken Hall and F. W. Thring and Charles Chauvel, and it is a pity, somewhat ironic, that their life in features should have sputtered out with a film titled The Dispossessed.
Robinson continued to shift towards documentary and television production, and in July 1959, he was commissioned by rock music promoter Lee Gordon to make Rock 'n' Roll, a feature-length record of an all-star concert at the Sydney Stadium.
While Robinson was involved in They're A Weird Mob (1966) and Nickel Queen (1971) and Attack Force Z (1980), he is now best remembered for being one of the principals behind the ground-breaking children's series Skippy, which also involved directing the feature-length spin-off The Intruders (aka Skippy and the Intruders).
Rafferty made use of the persona he tirelessly established in outback movies and the family shows Bush Christmas, and the two Smileys to produce a baleful portrait of a malignant cop in an Australian classic, Wake in Fright (directed by Candadian Ted Kotcheff).
Without the work of this pair, the Australian production industry in the 1950s would have been virtually invisible.
In relation to the status of the film in Tahiti, the ICA website provides this information:
L’ICA a retrouvé ce film dans les archives de « Screen Sound Australia». Par chance, le copie du film était encore de relativement bonne qualité, et une numérisation du film a pu être réalisée. Le producteur australien du film, Lee Robinson est décédé il y a quelques années. Sa fille (sic), Penn Robinson, actuelle propriétaire du copyright de la version anglaise a permis à l’ICA de téléciner le film et lui a donné gracieusement les droits d’exploitation non commerciaux. Aussi étrange que cela paraisse, le film n’a jamais été distribué en Australie, Penn Robinson découvrait donc ce film pour la première fois grâce à Tahiti. L’ICA tient à remercier Marie José Schantz qui, bénévolement, à traduit les dialogues du film. Yves Allégret (1907-1987) est le frère cadet du cinéaste Marc Allégret. Il débute en 1930 comme assistant de celui-ci, puis occupe différents postes dans les équipes d'autres réalisateurs. Parallèlement à cette formation sur le tas, il tourne ses premiers court-métrages. La guerre étant déclarée, il est mobilisé. En 1941 il tourne en zone libre son premier long métrage « Tobie est un ange ». Il se fait remarquer ensuite avec des films d'une grande noircur poétique comme « Dédée d'Anvers » ou « Manèges » écrits par Jacques Sigurd et avec Simone Signoret. Yves Allégret aété marié à Simone Signoret, avec laquelle il a eu une fille atherine Allégret. (here)
A rough translation:
The ICA found this film in the archives of "Screen Sound Australia." Fortunately, the copy of the film was still relatively good, and a scan of the film was achieved. The Australian producer of the film, Lee Robinson died a few years ago. His son, Penn Robinson, current owner of the copyright of the English version allowed the ICA to telecine the film and gave it the rights to free non-commercial use. Strange as it may seem, the film was never released in Australia, so Penn Robinson discovered this film for the first time thanks to Tahiti. The ICA would like to thank Marie José Schantz, who volunteered to translate the dialogues of the film. Yves Allegret (1907-1987) is the younger brother of filmmaker Marc Allegret. He began in 1930 as an assistant director, then held various positions in the teams of other réalisateurs. Parallel to this hands-on training, he shot his first short films. The war was declared, he was drafted. In 1941 he toured the free zone's first feature film "Tobias is an angel." He then was noticed for films of great dark poetry such as "Dedee d'Anvers" or "Rides" written by Jacques Sigurd with Simone Signoret. Yves Allegret was married to Simone Signoret, with whom he had a daughter Catherine Allegret.
The Australian credits assign copyright in the Southern International English-language version to 1961, but in this instance the film has been dated to its year of production, in conformity with other sites' dating of the film, and with this site's preference to date films as close to their time of manufacture as possible.