A Ticket in Tatts

  • aka High Stakes (working title only)

George (George Wallace) is a destructive grocer's assistant who can wreck a grocery display in a slapstick fenzy while attempting to serve a customer.

Naturally he takes up work as a disaster-prone stablehand who happens to possess a whistle that can make Melbourne Cup favourite Hotspur run faster.

George foils attempts by gangsters to drug the horse, and poses as a singing waiter to spy on them, before whistling at the right time to ensure Hotspur wins the Cup.

Intermingled with this yarn, which features Wallace doing his usual vaudeville routines and song and dance items, the romantic plot concerns a high society girl (Thelma Scott as Dorothy Fleming) who has agreed to marry an ageing suitor if his horse defeats Hotspur in the Cup (Frank Harvey as Brian Winters). 

By whistling the horse to victory, George saves the girl from making a bad deal and lands her with the right horse (Campbell Copelin as author Harvey Walls), while George scores the maid, long his heart's desire (Joyce Turner) ...

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Production Details

Production company: Efftee Film Productions

Budget: n/a, low

Locations: stud farm near Melbourne, Flemington race-course for the staging of the Melbourne cup, a palatial Melbourne villa, and producer Thring's Efftee film studio at His Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne. Compared to other Frank Thring production, much of the movie was shot on location.

Filmed: mid-1933. The production was 'almost complete' by November 1933.

Australian distributor: Universal

Australian release:  13th January 1934 at Hoyts Theatre De Luxe Melbourne, where it ran for six weeks, and then to other major capital city and regional  theatres

Rating: For general exhibition

35mm        black and white

Running time: 88 mins (Oxford Australian Film)

ScreenSound VHS time: c. 1'25"20

Box office: the film was one of the more successful Thring/Wallace outings, doing initial good box office business, but it is unlikely that it recovered its costs, because after the initial runs bookings tapered off quickly, and the film did not travel internationally.

While it ran for six weeks in Melbourne after opening in January 1934, it took four months to move into a Sydney release, and the short UK release by Universal was muted.

Thring wrote an agitated letter to the Melbourne Argus, complaining about Hoyts Theatres and the decision to release the film in Sydney prior to Easter, an offer of the worst three weeks of the year, as opposed to opening the film in Thring's preferred slot on Easter Saturday (Melbourne Argus newspaper, 26th February, 1934).

Opinion

Awards

None known.

Availability

The film was released on VHS by ScreenSound, now the NFSA, and copies can still be found in the library system or via collectors, who circulate copies derived from this source, image quality contingent on the material used.

The tape also included trailers for That Certain Something and Seven Little Australians. In its original form it also came with a twelve page pamphlet. Anyone interested could also approach the archive.

For anyone who prefers to watch film clips rather than actual feature films, the ASO has three clips here, though at least these do showcase George Wallace's vaudeville comedy stylings.

 

1. Source:

as with other Efftee George Wallace productions, Wallace's vaudeville routines were at the heart of the story he devised with John P. McLeod.

In some pre-production press reports, C. J. Dennis was reported as a writer of the screenplay, but his name doesn't appear in the credits. 

The mechanics of the plot possibly owe a little to the plot by gangsters to shoot Phar Lap on 1st November 1930 after track work and prior to the horse racing in the Melbourne Cup, but this was only one of a number of scandals involving criminals and crime and horse-racing in Australia in the early decades of the twentieth century. 

Wallace takes to sleeping in the stables to protect Hotspur in the way that strapper Tommy Woodcock became famous sleeping in the stable to protect Phar Lap. The same plot-line was tweaked in Ken Hall's 1936 Thoroughbred with the climax the shooting of a horse as it reaches the finish line.

2. Production:

This was the last film producer director F. W. Thring shot at the Efftee His Majesty's Theatre studio, as well as the last he did with George Wallace, who turned to Ken G. Hall after Thring's sudden death in 1936.

The theatre studio was bedevilled with sound problems, so Thring shifted his production base to the Wattle Path Dance Palais at St. Kilda, which he purchased for £23,000 (it had cost £83,000 to build ten years previously):

 

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Perhaps tiring of criticism that he made static, studio-bound shows, Thring made a determined attempt to get out of the studio for this production, opening with bush views, and featuring shots of the Melbourne Cup in action at Flemington.

3. Efftee and Wallace:

Immediately after the release of this film, Thring began making Sheepmates, an outback story from a novel by William Hatfield, which also was to feature George Wallace, providing light relief in a dramatic film. 

The cast included Frank Harvey, Claude Flemming and Campell Copelin and late in 1934 scenes were shot on a central Australian cattle station. The film was never completed, and Wallace would next turn up in 1938 in Let George Do It, working for Ken Hall and Cinesound. 

A Ticket in Tatts was the first film to feature Frank Harvey, a British-born actor who toured Australia in 1930 for JCW, and who also turned to working for Ken Hall, participating in some nine Cineound productions in the late thirties, starting with It Isn't Done in 1937.

4. Release:

While the film was one of the more successful Thring/Wallace outings, doing initial good box office business, it is unlikely that it recovered its costs, because after the initial runs bookings tapered off quickly, and the film did not travel internationally.

While it ran for six weeks in Melbourne after opening in January 1934, it took four months to move into a Sydney release, and the short UK release by Universal was muted.

Thring wrote an agitated letter to the Melbourne Argus, complaining about Hoyts Theatres and the decision to release the film in Sydney prior to Easter, an offer of the worst three weeks of the year, as opposed to opening the film in Thring's preferred slot on Easter Saturday (Melbourne Argus newspaper, 26th February, 1934).

Thring and his studio were bleeding money, and Thring went overseas to try to improve his situation, but his films were too parochial for the international market, and eventually he suspended production, awaiting a quota for Australian films. When the NSW government introduced one, Thring moved his business to New South Wales, but he died of cancer on 1st July 1936.

There is a short but useful biography of Thring at the ADB here. Thring also lived on in the form of the film performances by his son, Frank Thring, with the bulk of the two men confirming a family resemblance.

George Wallace was much loved in Australia - his humour still resonates as distinctively Australian - but former vaudevillians doing slapstick on camera were a dime a dozen in the United States and the UK, and the humour which worked for local audiences worked against him on the international stage.

After Thring's death, he worked with Ken Hall on Gone to the Dogs, and turned up as a barber in Chauvel's 1944 The Rats of Tobruk, but apart from a cameo appearance in Wherever She Goes, his later work was restricted to radio and and variety shows. He has a short but useful biography at ADB here.