Hal Wayne (Norman Shepherd) is a bank clerk turned thief on the run. He hijacks a plane, which crashes in a remote mountain location. The survivors' hopes of rescue soon fade, and they try to ration their remaining supplies.

Wayne decides to steal the food, and abandon the others to death. But he is driven mad by his attempt to escape the forest, and he throws away his stolen money. When he's found by a prospector, he's taken back to civilisation, but then spends years tormented by guilt, until eventually he confesses to the police.

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Production Details

Production company: Centenary Films

Budget: c. £4,000

Locations: Kinglake ranges near Melbourne, Cinesound's new studio, St Kilda Melbourne.

Filmed: July 1933, several weeks on location followed by studio filming.

Australian distributor: Universal

Australian release:  31st March 1934 in three Sydney theatres, the Broadway theatre, the Arcadia in Pitt St and the Australian at Liverpool St in time for the Easter break.

Rating: For general exhibition

35mm    black and white                                                                                                      

Running time: 56 mins (Oxford)

Box office: Initial box office results were good (Oxford) but reviews were poor, and the film did not receive a wide release in other locations. In a report in The Courier-Mail of 29th February 1940, it's proposed that the film cost "several thousands" to make, and returned £325 to its producers. 

Opinion

Awards

Not known.

Availability

Not known outside the archive.

1. Source:

Laurence Brewer's script makes fictional use of a real event, the crash of the Southern Cloud, a plane which had disappeared three years earlier in March 1931 on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, an event which had gripped newspapers and the popular imagination.

It was particularly notorious because the plane was one of five Avro X aircraft operated by Australian National Airways, which had been founded by Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm in 1929. There were no radios on board the plane to warn the pilots of weather conditions, and eight people were killed when the plane crashed - two pilots and six passengers.

Part of the film's pitch was that it proposed possible solutions to the "riddle of the skies".

The real plane was not found until October 1958 when a Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme carpenter on his day off hiked up Blackjack mountain, near the Snow Mountains village of Tintaldra.

A documentary covering the crash, the search and the aftermath, Southern Cloud, was released on the History Channel in March 2011.

2. A. R. Harwood:

"Dick" Harwood was an indefatigable survivor within the production industry, even if his films failed to achieve significant commercial success. He also did a musical variety show for the stage (Something Different - 1934), and  Pearl Lust, shot on 16mm in 1936, a South Sea island romance which was aimed at the new home movie market. It wasn't released theatrically, and Harwood's next feature film would be the failed 1937 melodrama The Avenger.

In keeping with his bargain basement production philosophies, Secret of the Skies was shot and edited quickly and rushed into the cinemas, with the shoot using old and makeshift equipment in Cinesound's newly launched Melbourne studio, itself a failed attempt to colonise Melbourne's film-making activities by producer Ken Hall.

The film was the first to be shot at the studio, located in Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda, which was opened by the Mayor of St. Kilda, Councillor H. Johnson in October 1933. It was a converted picture theatre, claimed to be the second largest in Australia, and the Mayor could see no reason why St. Kilda wouldn't become the "Hollywood of Australia".