Unofficial Australian-French co-production filmed in New Guinea
Production companies: Southern International (Australia)/Discifilm (France)
Budget: £65,000 (Geoff Mayer puts the budget at £68,000)
Locations: New Guinea highlands, Asaro and Wahgi valleys, and upper reaches Sepik river area.
Filmed: shooting began June 1955, twelve week schedule, with three week over-run
Australian distributor: M.G.M.
Australian release: 24th October 1956 as a splash release at six Sydney theatres; the film was given a Red Cross Lady Gowrie Home Building Appeal charity preview at the Metro Theatre, King's Cross Sydney on the 5th October 1956, prices from five shillings. It had been given a release at five theatres in Paris on 28th July, 1956.
Rating: For General Exhibtion
Running time: 93 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
DVD time: 1'28"42 (excluding modern presentation credits)
Box office: the film was given a splash release in Sydney and was released around Australia, but it was the international market that it achieved real attention, all the more so when the notorious Joseph E. Levine bought the picture's U.S. rights for a fixed sum.
We did Walk into Paradise … which until Mad Max 2 was probably the highest earning Australian film ever. A lot of people don't realise that, at the time, it was one of the 100 top grossing films in America. It was the first Australian picture to go into competition at Cannes, one of the very first multiple releases in Australia. We took about £90,000 out of England with it. I forget how much it made there. (Interview with Albert Moran) (Geoff Mayer puts returns at £70,000)
Robinson and his partners saw no returns from the U.S. market because of the buyout, with Levine marketing the film as a schlock horror show with snakes and women and threatening wild natives and the title Walk into Hell, and doing very well with the show. Levine added more jungle footage to make sure there was a sufficient sense of threat.
Screened in competition, 9th Cannes Film Film Festival, 1956, with direction credited to Marcello Pagliero and Lee Robinson.
Some sources claim that Carl Kayser's photography was 'highly commended' at the festival, but this is not listed on the festival's official web site.
The winners of the Palme d'Or that year were Louis Malle and Jacques-Yves Cousteau for Le Monde Du Silence.
Fortunately, the Australian version of the film has been released on DVD in region four with the assistance of the PNGAA (Papua New Guinda Association of Australia), Lee Robinson's son Penn Robinson and Rhonda Grogan, with quite reasonable image quality. It's a pity other films of the period haven't found patrons.
The extras include a 20'14" interview with Fred Kaad OBE, a supporting actor in the film and former New Guinea district commissioner, 9'06" minutes of "Behind the Scenes Footage" shot by Rhonda Grogan with director's comments added from a 1976 interview, the original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. It's a good presentation of a film which at one point in time was almost impossible to see.
The film was at time of writing available via the PNGAA here, but the National Film and Sound Archive could also be contacted.
The script screen credit is ambiguous - Rex Reinits (spelled Rienits in other films) is credited with an "adaptation", from an orginal screen story by Lee Robinson and Chips Rafferty.
Rienits was a television drama editor for the ABC, and claimed a number of screenplay credits, including Smiley Gets a Gun, Walk into Paradise and The Million Pound Note, with Gregory Peck. Rienits also wrote radio series and serials (Stormy Petrel), as well as a book about William Westall, Matthew Flinders official artist.
(Below: Rex Rienits in the Sydney Morning Herald, 2nd July 1959)
Novelist Gavin Casey wrote a 98 page spin-off based on the screenplay which was published by Horwitz Publications in 1956. It had a cover inclined to pulp and copies can still be found in the second hand market.
More details on the publication at Trove here - the publication had a foreword by Chips Rafferty.
Southern International, the Rafferty/Robinson company, was already well advanced in pre-production when visiting French producer Paul Edmond Decharme proposed a series of co-productions, unofficial at that time because no co-production treaty existed, between Southen International and his company Discifilm.
The screenplay was re-written to accommodate two French stars.
Remarkably Robinson claimed in The Australian Women's Weekly on 9th May 1956 that housewives played a big role in financing the Australian end:
"Contrary to what you might expect, the Australian housewife is the greatest individual supporter of the Australian film industry," said Mr. Robinson.
"About 60 per cent. of the money invested in 'Walk Into Paradise' was put up by housewives.
"They really believe in the future of the local industry."
Only access to the film's finance books would sort out whether Australian housewives were movie angels, or whether Robinson was running a line designed to appeal to the Weekly's demographic.
3. Production and Collaboration:
Marcel Pagliero was given the full credit as director on the French version. Robinson was given the full credit as director on the Australian version.
Post-production for the film was completed in France.
Robinson discussed his working methodology with Marcel Pagliero - which saw versions shot in English and French - in an interview with Albert Moran:
Moran: On Walk into Paradise you collaborated with a French director Marcel Pagliero. How did that work?
Robinson: By making sure that he had enough people down at the pub in Goroga to talk to. He was one of the most delightful guys you would ever meet in your life. I had seen him, of course, as an actor. He worked with Rossellini after the war in a couple of pictures and he came on the set for the first two or three days and then after that he said I think the best technique is that I go through the lines with the French actors in the morning and where the Australians have to speak in French I will get all the dialogue done out on idiot boards for them. Then he would go into town and talk to all the locals, all the planters and coffee growers. He loved to do that. Whenever he was needed he was always there, but he stood back from the film and worked with his actors a bit, helped the Australian actors with the French dialogue. Every scene was shot twice, once in English and once in French: two separate versions.
I think Marcel might have contributed a lot more than I was aware of because I became very fond of him. Later I stayed with him at his home in Paris and we became very good friends. I think the mere fact that I had such tremendous respect for him, both as an actor and as a director, is shown by the fact that I would sit at night in the pub and drink with him and talk about scenes. I probably got a great deal more. But he very quickly realised that you can only have one boss on the floor of the set. We tangled early on over a very, very minor incident which was purely a matter of timing. I was doing a shot where I was tilting down from the Australian flag being lowered at the end of the day which was the procedure with the patrol camps in the bush, they stand to attention and they play whatever they play, all their procedures and I tilted down from the flag and the guys were all at attention and finished the bugle and then get on with the actors moving and doing. He wanted to find the actors already on the move which is the way you should have tried to do it in any event and we argued over simply the fact that the Australian flag can't be coming down and people doing what he wanted them to do. It was a national argument rather than a film argument. But he was terribly aware of the fact that confusion would arise if the two of us were trying to run the set. (here for the full interview)
4. Man-to-man greetings:
According to one anecdote that emerged from the set in Bob Cleland's memoirs of New Guinea Big Road, there were some curious moments of cultural interaction:
Cleland helped host the shooting in the Highlands of a film starring Chips Rafferty. He describes sharing "smok brus" (bush tobacco) in a village with an old man whose newspaper roll-up Rafferty lit. By way of a thank you and as a sign of what a good bloke he thought Rafferty was, the old man stretched out and gently cupped Rafferty's genital area in his hand, the customary man-to-man greeting common among men in the Asaro Valley (The Australian, June 1st 2011, Rowan Callick)
It almost goes without saying that the film was made at a time when Papua New Guinea was governed by Australia, and the film displays the ambivalence to indigenous culture and society, and the paternalism and condescension common at the time.
The opening narration sets a certain tone:
This is the real story of New Guinea, that large Pacific Island where today a gallant band of young Australian administrators are bringing civilization to the most primitive people left on the face of the earth. The story of a land as yet unconquered, where the ranges and valleys in the deep interior have still to feel the tread of a white man's foot ...
But story does attempt some complexity in the relationships, and isn't a simple 'white man's burden' yarn.
More than anything, it's the picturesqueness of the exotic, remote locations which clearly appealed to the film-makers. These offered spectacle, with insight only a secondary concern for a drama - a gambit Robinson had previously exploited in the outback locations on view in The Phantom Stockman (repeated in Dust in the Sun) and the pearling industry of Thursday Island for King of the Coral Sea. It would have seemed only logical for Southern International Films to head off to Tahiti for their next and last French co-production, The Stowaway.
The colonial mood and tone in Walk into Paradise is no greater than can be found in these other films, or by way of comparison the presentation of the colourful exotic natives paraded to entertain the Queen on her coronation tour in The Queen in Australia. It wouldn't be made the same way today, but then what picture would.