Production company: Rosen Harper Mortlock Entertainment in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Rough Diamond Productions present; tail credit copyrights to Classic Films Pty Ltd and Australian Film Finance Corporation Pty Ltd. Made with the participation of Australian Film Finance Corporation Pty Ltd.
Budget: n/a, low (the FFC made a practice of hiding the budgets of films in which it invested, but this one of a package of four films financed jointly by the ABC and the FFC, with all four of them described as “low budget”). the original Cinema Papers, November 1989 listing called it a Hoyts Prods-ABC show, suggesting Hoyts might have put a little finance or p & a into the mix.
Locations: Sydney, including the ABC’s studios at Frenchs Forest (long gone). The demolished Sydney monorail (often seen from Pitt street) appears a number of times, as does a double decker bus (the last of that era ran in 1986 to the northern beaches). The Botanic gardens appear, and one scene shows off Sydney harbour views from the north shore. The Art Gallery of NSW and several of its galleries and artworks also feature.
Filmed: a report in The Canberra Times, 26th June 1989, said “shooting starts next week on another US/Australian production involving the ABC”. Cinema Papers’ November 1989 production survey lists the film as being in post-production, but this probably reflects the belated way the production office provided information to the magazine.
Australian distributor: Hoyts
Theatrical release: the film began a short run at three Hoyts cinemas in Sydney, City, Eastgardens and Warringah Mall on 2nd August 1990; it opened the same day in Melbourne in the city, Chadstone and Forest Hill. It quickly dropped to smaller indie cinemas, and then disappeared. It quickly turned up on the ABC, screening July 1991.
Video release: RCA-Columbia-Hoyts
Running time: 84 mins (Murray’s Australian Film); the British Board of Film Classification listed the film as running 81m 59s, passed uncut, here.
US DVD time: 1’20”34 (this version omits some final credits, including copyright notice and FFC/ABC credits, but otherwise seems complete)
The film was a domestic turkey, with a report in Cinema Papers, March, 1991, suggesting that the film grossed a little over $100,000.
The Film Victoria report on domestic box office recorded a humble $43,074, equivalent to $70, 211 in A$ 2009 terms.
Whatever the final low figure, the film lasted only a couple of weeks in cinemas before being pulled, and then quickly turning up on its primary home, the ABC, screening July 1991.
Elsewhere Rosanna Arquette’s name couldn’t overcome indifference to the film’s quality, and it became a tape and television item. In the United States, the clunky title was removed, and the film was re-branded with an almost as weak title, … Almost.
The film picked up two nominations at the 1990 AFI Awards:
Nominated, Best Original Music Score (Bruce Smeaton) (Phil Judd won for The Big Steal)
Nominated, Pacvest Group Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Rosanna Arquette) (Catherine McClements won for Weekend With Kate)
Bruce Smeaton was nominated in the Best Original Soundtrack/ Cast/ Show Album category of the 1991 ARIA Awards (other film nominations included Brian May for Bloodmoon, and Michael Askill and Nigel Westlake for the two FA docs, Road to Xanadu and The Genius That Was China). Jon English & David Mackay won for the rock musical Paris.
DOP Jeff Malouf’s CV claims an ACS award for his work on the film, and the ACS site lists this as a “Merit Award” in the national listings for 1990.
Unfortunately there has been only one general release into the digital domain, a US version which is truly dreadful.
It is beyond soft, and dark, and looks like the sort of pirated from VHS rip that is common in the United States when imported movies are treated as public domain (there are a few tape glitches in the print).
The way that the transfer cuts out the final investor credits (for the FFC and the ABC) and the copyright notice for Classic Films and the FFC suggests that acquiring the rights amounted to the cost of a VHS tape. In this context, it would seem fair for Australian viewers to pirate the pirate American copy.
It is possible to acquire from domestic collectors a copy of the original, now rare, Australian VHS release, and this is a possibility for anyone interested in acquiring a half-way decent copy, though such is the disinterest in the show, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would bother to make the effort.
Sadly, the film is a dud and a misfire in almost every way imaginable, though as usual, the actors shouldn’t be blamed and they do their best.
That’s not to say that Rosanna Arquette isn’t out of place. She is, and the movie compounds this by ignoring her accent and even saying that she doesn’t like to travel.
“I’ve never been to Greece,” she says, “I’ve never been anywhere”, as Jake undresses and climbs into her bubble bath, mourning that she’s never been to the Amazon or on a slow boat to China, or apparently even LA or New York. Presumably she just grew up in Australia and obtained her American accent by watching too many movies and reading too much Mills & Boon.
Bruce Spence is the sort of ‘odd couple’ quirky casting that worked for ‘Stork’ but seems silly here, while the fantasy figure of Hugo Weaving is resolutely unattractive. Wendy lacks imagination in inventing her phantom lover and Weavin's performance varies between leers and sneers. This isn’t Weaving’s fault, but it means that the result is an unattractive mis-matching of leads.
Whimsy is hard but it’s even harder when there’s no attempt to make the unicorn real. Is Wendy delusional? Has she imagined Jake? How then do her co-workers see her drive off in Jake’s convertible? They do see her get into the passenger side and the car drive off, don’t they? Are they delusional too?
After all their attempts at spying on Wendy, when they get to the end and see her blathering to herself in a restaurant rather than to her fictional lover, what’s not to say that they’re as barking mad as she is?
Why does Ronnie drive around with unsecured lolly jars in the back of his twee period truck? Didn’t he realise they’d smash? Just why does it look like the Sydney monorail rumbles past a set in the ABC's Frenchs Forest studio?
Why does Ronnie, having missed their tenth anniversary, not return to at least say hello before embarking on his mad quest to re-build a shop in the middle of nowhere? He lives in a ramshackle flat in inner Sydney, fails to turn up to his job, yet has the cash to finance his purchase and time off doing a fit out? He waits until his wife has gone barking mad and turns into the office thief before returning?
Would the boss accept the repayment of Wendy’s stolen thousand dollars and wave away court action with a smile?
What are we to make of the reveal that Wendy has been turning up in the darkness to a dark, deserted ballroom to fantasise about drinking champagne and dirty tango dancing with Jake? Wouldn’t someone have noticed this crazy woman cavorting about in the empty space? Should we warm to someone in the middle of a major nervous breakdown?
Even the wettest of Mills and Boon fantasies takes a little more care to construct a credible emotional and physical world.
Whimsy is hard but it’s even harder when there’s no attempt to make the unicorn real.
Can Ronnie fix everything that's gone wrong with Wendy's mind by staging a song and a dance routine in his repaired jukebox-laden milbar, sunk into a swamp and turned into a basement dive where Ronnie and Wendy make out like Bryan Brown serving cocktails?
And so on. There’s cheating, and then there’s just plain dirty cheating …a post-modernist given to reflexive interpretations might even suggest that the final scenes in the film are being dreamed by a totally delusional and insane, Wendy as she attempts rehabilitation while locked in an asylum.
Perhaps if the drama was remotely interesting, these questions - there are many more - wouldn’t arise, but they do. A lot of them could have been sorted out at scripting stage but never were. There was a lot of reflexive fun to be had, if the creative team had bothered, and not just a joke about the cad Jake being punched out and told by Ralph that he should have read the sequel.
Instead it’s clear the strategy was to cut the material down to a bare eighty minutes or so, and just get it over with as quickly as possible. The blithe assurance at the end that everything has been taken care of - when Wendy is clearly deeply disturbed, alone in a darkened hall, her mind teeming with weird romantic fantasies - is disconcerting to say the least ...
This is the sort of show which should be restored and put on to a streaming service, if only so that ABC executives and the creative team can be made to stand in a hall of shame and be made to watch it.
The trouble is that charging anyone for the chance to catch up on this film seems almost a crime. It has its interest - the cast tries hard in a lost cause, and Rosanna Arquette does her best as the fish out of water, but it’s almost as if it was designed to make shows like Luigis Ladies or Weekend with Kate look like top notch romcoms.
Of course this also makes it compelling viewing for Ozmovie cultists on a quest to discover the worst Australian movie ever made ...
(Note: the illustrative stills on this site have had their contrast tweaked to make actor identification easier. They remain extremely soft, though not as dark as the DVD release).
(a) Writer Suzanne Hawley:
The idea for the film came from writer Suzanne Hawley. She is listed at Australian Plays here:
Suzanne Hawley is an experienced writer, having written a feature film, many works for television, several plays and a novel. Her feature film Wendy Cracked A Walnut received two AFI nominations, and the miniseries Bodysurfer was the winner of the AFI for Best Screenplay in 1989 and a finalist in the 33rd Annual Film and Television Awards, New York. Suzanne’s miniseries Ring of Scorpio was also nominated for Best Miniseries at the AFI Awards.
Her TV credits include Headland, All Saints, Something In The Air, Heartbreak High and A Country Practice. Her play Mummy loves you Betty Ann Jewel has been performed in most Australian states and was published by Currency Press. Another play, Concrete Palaces, won a Sydney Theatre Company award.
Suzanne wrote the darkly humorous novel Alison Says (published by Random House March 2005), and is in the process of writing the screenplay adaptation of it for producer Daniel Scharf funded by Film Vic.
Hawley’s agent provided a variant short CV here:
A well-known film and television writer, Suzanne has also written plays, most recently her new play Wild Thing. Her other credits include A Night on the Tiles, Mummy Loves You Betty Anne Jewel (Griffin Theatre Company) Concrete Palaces (Sydney Theatre Company – Shorts at The Wharf) and Hitler Had a Mummy Too (La Mama, SWY Theatre Company Perth and Sailor’s Home Theatre Company). Concrete Palaces won the Sydney Theatre Company’s Best Short Play. Suzanne has an AFI for Best Screenplay for The Bodysurfer and was nominated for a Best Screenplay Miniseries for Ring Of Scorpio, and Best Feature Screenplay for Wendy Cracked A Walnut. Suzanne is currently adapting her novel Alison Says (Random House) as a television series. (Hawley's screenplay for Wendy wasn't nominated).
(b) Hawley on SBS:
Writer Suzanne Hawley appeared on the SBS Movie Show, Episode 20, aired 23rd September 1998, to discuss her inspiration for the film, and her interest in romance novels and fantasy. (This was online here until 2030).
Hawley started by saying that her mother sat with a cardboard box of Mills & Boon novels, “and reads one after another, and that fascinated me. I wondered about that and about romantic love. I think a lot of women today believe they’re not allowed to be romantic, you know there’s this sort of thing, you have to be tough, and terrific and be able to cope with everything, and I guess I was interested in ordinary people …in ordinary dreams and ordinary desires …I wasn’t really interested in a business woman or a … I just wanted to find out about the woman in the suburbs, the ordinary person … and their fantasies because they do have them… ”
Hawley thought that women would relate to Wendy and thought it rather strange that men didn’t accept that women fantasise …”and maybe women don’t talk about it to each other. It seems to me an accepted thing that men fantasise about this, that and the other thing, but women do have fantasies … I don’t think we perhaps talk about them … I think we talk about lots of things, but not that, that’s very sort of private ..."
Interviewer Margaret Pomeranz then asked Hawley about her also giving Wendy’s husband Ronnie a fantasy, which doesn’t work out well at the end, and she replied that the dreams were built on sand, and both needed to collapse, “for the two of them to unite and to come back into it together, but while they were individual fantasies, it seemed to me that … I didn’t want Ronnie to be a hero and sort of rush and save Wendy … I wanted them to sort of get there on their own …and I didn’t want him to say, ‘here’s a present, you know, now accept me because I’ve done this,’ so his dream had to break, you know, I think …" (she giggles as we see Ronnie knocking down the verandah post on his dream shack).
“I spoke to a lot of women and yes, they said ‘yes, we do have fantasies and ‘yes, we’d love to be you know, meet someone in a supermarket or you know, somewhere …tram stop, and they have this wonderful thing happen … of course if it did, in reality, it probably wouldn’t be as exciting …I think fantasies are more exciting in er you know fantasy … and once you put them into reality, then it loses its um excitement …” (smiles)
In the SBS interview, Hawley didn’t go into the source of the title, which was generally judged at the time to be mystifying and problematic and which was changed for the US to the almost equally problematic …Almost.
There is a reference in the film to the original title coming from a poem (Jake thinks it was Wendy Cracked an Almond before Wendy corrects him with "walnut"), and curiously the phrase turned up in a short poem submitted by Mervyn Broad of Koorda to the children’s pages of the Perth Sunday Times on 11th September 1932:
Wendy cracked a walnut,
Threw the shell away;
Crept a tiny pixie
Up to where it lay.
Just the boat I wanted!”
Wendy heard him say.
“Thank you, little Wendy,”
And he sailed away.
It is beyond fanciful to suggest that the film owes anything to young Mervyn Broad, but is noted here all the same, if only to emphasise how rare and arcane the title for the movie is …
This is the only mention of a poem containing the film's title on the full to overflowing internet.
While on cultural references featured in the film, the Aeroplane Jelly song which features a number of times in the film can be found at the ASO site here in an early 1938 radio version...
Rosanna Arquette is too well known to discuss in detail here. She has a reasonably detailed wiki here.
Her arrival in Australia was seen as a somewhat eccentric choice, though it might also reflect the difficulty of finding lead roles for her screen style (a similar problem afflicted Judy Holliday). According to a puff piece in the Canberra Times on 30th August 1990, done in time for the film’s local release:
Rossan Arquette, who plays Wendy, fell in love with the script the moment she read it.
“I found the role very challenging because Wendy was so delicately balanced and was at the risk of toppling over emotionally at any point.
“I chose to do a picture purely on whether or not (I) like the script.
“I like to play with characters with some emotional depth, so that I can grown with the character.”
Bruce Spence, who plays Wendy’s partner Ronnie, is equally well known in Australia, having arrived on the scene with Stork, a movie that helped set the Australian revival in motion - though Spence’s name was frequently dropped off the film in the pirate releases for the film in the United States. Spence has a wiki here.
Jake, the third character in the triangle, was played by Hugo Weaving, who went on to fame via the Matrix trilogy and other films, where he often played a baddie. Weaving has a wiki here, and his own website here which at time of writing offered some wmv downloads from the film - though some weren’t working and Weaving elected not to include the bathroom scene where he sensuously pours champers over Wendy, sensuously caresses her with a sponge while noting how nubile Greek boys collected the sponge from the Mediterranean deep. Perhaps Weaving didn't want to remember that he drops his daks and gets into the bubble bath with her.
The remaining roles are played by solid Australian character actors, the most notable perhaps being Kerry Walker, an actor who was a Jim Sharman favourite and who took the lead in his version of Patrick White’s The Night the Prowler. Walker has a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, which is accompanied by a tidy short CV here.
The film was amongst the earliest examples in the post 10BA world of an ABC/FFC co-production, whereby federal government money and facilities from the broadcaster were joined with federal government money from its investment body. This sort of cash and facilities deal meant that the ABC could supply resources and staff - in this case, some of the key crew, art department and editing facilities and its Frenchs Forest studio, which contained production offices.
There were four low budget feature-length shows in the initial funding package. One, Day of the Dog, was a feature-length documentary about AFL football, another was Ray ‘Return Home’ Argall’s Eightball, which was never given a theatrical release and served as a telemovie, and Waiting, which made only $185,600 domestically, but which could be considered a hit up against the theatrical returns for Wendy.
The problem making feature films at this time with the ABC was that it had a long cultural aversion towards being involved in local Australian product. It was used to getting its feature film product from British sources, and the mindset within the organisation was resolutely set towards the small screen, especially when it came to local production.
As a result, Wendy Cracked a Walnut has many features, in terms of style and approach, that match television, and it’s unsurprising that it was produced by John Edwards, who would in due course focus successfully on producing a multiplicity of TV drama products. (In consequence there is an abundance of material online about Edwards and his many TV shows).
For pedants, the name of the restaurant featured in the story is spelled Antoinne's in the tail credits, but on the menu in the film it is spelled Antoines.
The ABC was a novice at theatrical distribution, as was the FFC and the release of Wendy Cracked a Walnut was a disaster, with disappointing, very negative reviews and abysmal box office.
Michael Shrimpton discussed the release of several films in the low budget ABC/FFC package at a conference reported by Filmnews in its October 1991 edition, and it was typical that rather than talking about the films as theatrical products, Shrimpton started by talking about how they had to fit into the broadcaster’s “overall program mix”:
… Michael Shrimpton for the ABC talked about the four low budget features that the ABC has supported recently, Wendy Cracked A Walnut, Waiting, Day of the Dog and Eightball. Films are chosen if they fit into the overall program mix and provide an acceptable risk, if the ABC feels that supporting the film is something it should do. The ABC was very disappointed that Waiting didn’t do better on theatrical release: “It had prints and ads budget of $80,000, the reviews were almost universally good, it got good press, had good ads, and the Academy gave it a couple of good weeks.”
When asked why, as an investor in the film, the ABC hadn’t insisted on more money being spent on advertising, he replied that as the minor investor, “we deferred to the major investor, the FFC.”
Jeannette McHugh asked whether the ABC would continue to invest in low budget features; he replied that although the commercial requirement for the ABC to be more hardnosed is a battle that rages within the organisation, he hoped that the ABC would always take the decision to be culturally adventurous, and continue to take risks. “More independent producers are tending to look at the ABC with interest for the sort of project they feel we will do, and do well.”
In the end, the ABC gave up on notions of acting like a Filmfour or some of the more adventurous equivalents to be found in the UK. This process was no doubt helped by other totally dire experiments in comedy, such as Dallas Doll, a 1993 Ann "Celia" Turner directed comedy about a female golfer, featuring another import, Sandra Bernhard, and financed by the FFC and the ABC ,with the BBC.
Instead the ABC settled for FFC facilities and cash deals directed to what it regarded as its core programming requirements, including high end miniseries, documentaries, children's series and telemovies.
The ABC's approach to features had always been a source of frustration for feature film producers from the earliest days to much later times.
The film also got tangled in the ongoing war between producers association SPAA (Screen Producers’ Association of Australia) and Actors’ Equity regarding the importation of foreign cast for key roles, and the impact that this might have in relation to selling films into the United States’ market and therefore the films’ profitability.
Unfortunately while Arquette had a name for cult films such as Desperately Seeking Susan, her name was unlikely to help at the mainstream box office, unless the film itself passed the test of indie credibility, a test which it failed.
SPAA and Equity traded blows around this in the March 1991 issue of Cinema Papers. Equity led with this:
SPAA is running the line that, unless their members are given an unfettered right to cast from the ranks of the international acting community, they will be unable to deliver ‘profitable’ films. Their argument assumes that there is some magic formula which will guarantee box-office success. Why then have a large number of films produced over the past decade which used foreign performers died at the box office? Why then have so many of these productions failed to secure a release? They have failed to explain why, for example, The Delinquents, which cast the young U.S. performer Charlie Schlatter to ensure that the production “opened in the U.S.”, did not open in the U.S.
They have failed to comment on why Wendy Cracked a Walnut, starring Rosanna Arquette, closed after a very short run, grossing little over $100,000 in Australia. Greg Bright, a respected analyst of the Australian industry, believes that films using all-Australian casts have a better chance of returning their budgets than those which used American leads. This comment is based on his analysis of the performance of the 400 films made in Australia in the last 12 years. (Encore, 15 November 1990) The fact is that the reasons for the commercial success of a production are complex. What is clear, however, from the experience of the Australian film industry is that the use of foreign performers will not necessarily guarantee boxoffice success. Indeed, there may well be an argument that inappropriate foreign casting may jeopardize both artistic and box-office success.
Actors Equity points to two films with overseas artists, The Delinquents and Wendy Cracked a Walnut, and states that SPAA has failed to comment why they were unsuccessful.
SPAA: Neither film was made by any SPAA member and who knows why they were not successful? There are probably a number of factors. In any event, both were successful in raising the requisite budget in order to be shot at all. Equity’s statement that “the reasons for the commercial success of a production are complex” also applies in analysing why films are not successful, commercially or otherwise. Moreover, many films without foreign elements are also unsuccessful.
As usual, more heat than light was produced, and the question as to why two federally financed government bodies - the FFC and the ABC - felt the need to dress a film that turned out to be a turkey with a US name, who could nothing to prevent the turkey being a flop.
5. Director Michael Pattinson:
Michael Pattinson has an eponymous website here.
Curiously his biography doesn’t mention Wendy Cracked a Walnut, as can be seen in this excerpt which tracks his career up to the time he left to work in the United States in the 1990s:
Michael Pattinson has directed 7 feature films, 11 movies for television and approximately 250 hours of television drama. Best known in Australia for the award winning films, Ground Zero and Moving Out, Pattinson lived in Los Angeles for 9 years where he directed film and television drama for most of the US studios and networks.
He returned to Australia in 2001 and has since directed 40 television and movie projects, based at the Gold Coast’s Warner Roadshow Studios for producers Coote Hayes, Newline Pictures, Alliance Atlantis, Paramount, MGM, Telescene, BBC and Disney. In 2002, Pattinson directed the cult series ‘ Farscape’ for the US Sci Fi Network and in 2005, the multi award winning childrens’ series. ‘Mortified’. In 2006, he directed segments for the BBC comedy series, ‘Comedy Shuffle’. He is presently based in Melbourne where he has been directing one hour TV series ‘Rush’ and ‘City Homicide’. He is presently developing the feature film comedy ‘Lilibet’ .
Pattinson completed his secondary school education in 1974 and enrolled at the original Swinburne College School of Film & Television where he graduated in 1977 with a Diploma of Art. His graduate film, 'The Importance Of Keeping Perfectly Still' starring Frank Thring was a landmark student production and was picked up by United Artists and played internationally with Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and also Sean Connery’s The Great Train Robbery. He began his professional career directing television commercials for Zoetrope Productions and was hired as a trainee director at Reg Grundy Productions and went on to direct many episodes of popular TV series of the time like ‘The Young Doctors’ and ‘Prisoner’
In 1982, Pattinson and Jane Ballantyne formed Pattinson Ballantyne Productions. He directed and co-produced his first feature film; ‘Moving Out’, written by Jan Sardi and introducing actor Vince Colosimo. ‘Moving Out’ won the Best Film Award from the Film Critics Circle and Pattinson was also nominated Best Director by the AFI. The film played for 27 weeks in Australian cinemas and was distributed in 65 countries.
Pattinson’s directing career was launched and offers of movie projects from home and abroad began to flow - although he was not to leave Australia for another 10 years. In this time he produced and directed many Australian movies including ‘Secrets’ starring Noah Taylor & Dannii Minogue. Secrets featured original songs of The Beatles which Pattinson secured in a landmark deal with Apple and EMI Music. In 1986, he formed Victorian International Pictures with partners Jan Sardi, Mac Gudgeon, Jon Stephens and Bruce Myles and he produced and directed the multi award winning thriller, ‘Ground Zero’ starring Colin Friels, Jack Thompson & Donald Pleasance. ‘Ground Zero’ was nominated for 9 AFI awards including Best Film and Best Director for Pattinson and Myles. Ground Zero was a finalist in the prestigious Berlinale, Berlin Film Festival in 1987. Pattinson went on to develop a broad base of industry contacts throughout the world. He is a regular attendee of international festivals and events such as Cannes, Venice & AFM and continues to conduct business, participating in creative forums and engaging in the process of pitching, producing and selling motion pictures.
In 1995, Pattinson directed 'The Last Bullet' starring Koji Tamaki and Jason Donovan which was the first high definition full length movie made in the world in conjunction with Sony, NHK Japan and the Nine Network Australia. The Last Bullet won first prize in the Amsterdam International Film Festival and also first prize in the Tokyo High Vision Awards...
Follow the link for the rest of the CV. Pattinson also has a wiki here but at time of writing it was a stub.
6. DOP Jeff Malouf:
DOP Jeff Malouf, ACS was a regular at the ABC at the time of the production. A 2009 If magazine report on a documentary about the murder of a nun, Tibet: Murder in the Snow, contained this short bio for him here :
A multi-award winning cameraman, including the prestigious ACS Milli Award for Australian Cinematographer of the Year, Jeff is an experienced & highly respected film maker with a long list of drama & documentary credits in both cinema & television. Documentaries include: RACE THROUGH TIME, THE LAST MAN HANGED (ACS Award), & YOU HAVE NO SECRETS. TV DRAMAS INCLUDE: MURDER CALL (Multi ACS Awards), FARSCAPE, & BODYSURFER (Golden Tripod Award.) FEATURES INCLUDE: BLACKFELLAS, A CHANGE OF HEART, & WENDY CRACKED A WALNUT (ACS Award.)
7. Synopsis, with cast details and spoilers:
The film begins with Wendy (Rosanna Arquette) and Ronnie (Bruce Spence) doing a passionate dance in a dimly lit nightclub of the exotic Spanish or Casbalanca kind … while we hear Wendy in voice over reading from a Mills and Boon style romance novel:
Wendy (V/O): Oh she had danced with them all at one time or another (Wendy starts by dancing with a very large man) … the Pride of Erin, the Parma waltz, the Fox trot … they all had their charm, their little ways …but the tango was different …there was only one man alive who could dance the Tango …the mere thought of him made her blood race, the temperature soar, the way he touched her, the way he moved …the feel of his body against hers …(as Wendy pours a glass of champagne) ... he’s gone, sailed to Abyssinia this morning … he had wanted time, he said …Time? Time for what? Why were men so indecisive? Wasn’t it clear that the two of them were made for each other? Who was this? (there’s the shadow of a cigarette-smoking figure on the bar wall) …she’d recognize that shadow anywhere …Manuel (it’s Ronnie in period Bogie hat and clothes) … Monica could not believe her eyes …he’d come back (Ronnie picks up Wendy and throws her about in a wild dance as the crowd applauds) Their eyes met, his mouth parted to ask the one question she’d waited to hear: ‘What does the dicky bird say Wendy?”
Wendy (startled, puzzled): "What?"
Cut to Wendy in her run down apartment, the Sydney monorail rumbling outside, reading the romance novel, as she wields a steam ironer and Ronnie asks her again about the dicky bird.
Wendy checks the dicky bird, and says it’s going to be hot again.
Ronnie moans about Arnold having air conditioning in his van, while Wendy forlornly recalls the dancing when they met and wonders if they could go dancing that night for the anniversary.
But the oblivious unromantic Ronnie gets ready for his work as a travelling lolly salesman …
While Wendy broods about the way they talked for hours and the plans they had, Ronnie is still thinking about his feud with Arnold, who’s muscling in on his territory.
When Ronnie starts to talk about giving her the surprise of her life, Wendy foolish gets down to her slip and hops into bed, only to be disappointed by Ronnie saying she needs to get dressed, she’ll be late for work.
Ronnie hits the road in his Mr Jolly’s van, leaving Wendy to read more from her romance novel, and then catch the crowded bus, where she keeps reading.
Ronnie arrives at a road side stop but when he tries to sell his lollies to cheerful Marjorie (Jan Adele), he discovers he’s been gazumped by Arnold, the fancy pants in the air-conditioned panel van …
Ronnie drives on to Lizard Gully, home of vexatious kookaburras, who mock the way his van has turned into a teeming pile of steam …
Ronnie walks past a derelict shop front to arrive at a garage where hicks Mrs Taggart (Betty Lucas) and her son Sonny Taggart (David Hoey) rule the roost.
The cunning pair shake down Ronnie for fifty bucks for a canvas bag of water - Ronnie discovers that price includes a deposit for the bag.
Meanwhile, Wendy has made it in to the office, where she works in the accounts department of Comfort Shoes.
Tartishly-dressed Deidre Dobson (Kerry Walker) arrives to clock on, complaining that men see her as a sex object.
Deidre asks Wendy what Ronnie gave her for their tenth anniversary, and Cynthia (Desireé Smith) speculates that maybe he was going to buy her the milk bar they’ve dreamed about, but Deidre cruelly jokes that he’s a ‘gunna’ - “gunna do this, gunna do that (giggles) shoulda joined the army!”
English-accented Elsie (Doreen Warburton) tells Wendy to pay no attention) to her. Ronnie’s okay.
Deidre says everything points to Ronnie having lost interest, but then the boss Mr Leveredge (Douglas Hedge) arrives, reprimanding Deidre for idle chatter and talking of docking her pay.
Deidre keeps stirring up trouble, while her co-workers tell her to leave Wendy alone. Deidre doubles down by betting a week’s overtime that Ronnie doesn’t call by four.
The bet’s on, but Wendy is off in her own world, back reading her romance novel, featuring sweat glistening on naked breasts.
Back in the bush, Ronnie discovers his deposit was a dollar - water’s scarce, says Sonny - and then as he realises he’s forgotten his wedding anniversary, his troubles are compounded by his van having a flat tyre.
Ronnie tries to phone the office, but Deidre intercepts the call and tells him Wendy is tied up and can’t come to the phone. Ronnie asks for Deidre to pass on a message - that he loves her and will make up for everything when he gets back - but Deidre just sees it as a chance to collect on her bet. And then she offers a double or nothing bet about whether Ronnie will make it home that night.
Cut to Wendy doing supermarket shopping as she keeps reading from her romance novel. She bumps trolleys with a stranger, as a supermarket demonstrator (Gillian Hyde) pitches sausages and salami to the shoppers.
As Wendy’s hand reaches out for a packet of Aeroplane Jelly, the stranger Jake (Hugo Weaving) reaches out and grabs the same packet, as he begins singing the Aeroplane Jelly song …using the mike he’s stolen from the demonstrator. Other shoppers join in and applaud …as Wendy asks how much it is, whatever he’s selling …
Jake explains he’s not selling anything, he sings when he feels like it … doesn't she?
He reaches out and lowers her glasses, saying she has the most beautiful eyes…
Jake wonders if they’ve met before and says he used to know a little poem, Wendy Cracked an Almond, but Wendy tells him it was Wendy Cracked a Walnut …
Wendy tries to go, but Jake fixes her trolley wheels, explaining it’s a knack.
An agitated Wendy gets back in the bus, and begins to sing the Aeroplane Jelly song, swinging off the bus …
… while back in the bush, it’s dark and Ronnie is still dealing with Sonny, who warns him about city fellers in a hurry having a coronary and Mrs Taggart announcing that tea’s up.
In her flat, Wendy is waltzing about having another fantasy and lighting candles, as Ronnie tries to drive back in a fierce storm, saying she’ll never forgive him and mourning all his broken promises. He’s really screwed this one up.
Lightning strikes a tree, blocking Ronnie’s path, shattering his glass lolly jars. Ronnie shouts at God, saying he knows he’s pathetic and asking what God wants from him. “Strike me down now, put me out of my misery,” as a lightning bolt lands beside him, and then more bolts drive him towards the derelict shop.
Ronnie stumbles inside the abandoned milkbar, as uplifting music plays and he has a vision.
Back at the flat, Wendy forlornly blows out the candles on her 10th anniversary cake, and reads a sad passage from her romance novel - there had been no mention of marriage and he’d caught the night train …
Next day, and Wendy is off through the rain to her office, while Ronnie takes the ‘for sale’ sign down and walks off with a determined ‘okay’
In the office, her fellow workers are devastated from a teary Wendy to hear that Ronnie didn’t come for dinner last night, while Deidre counts her winnings.
Then Ronnie calls in …
“Well sugar pop I have had one hell of a time … I’m in this place called Lizard Gully and you’re not gunna believe what I’ve been through …a whole lot of crazy things have been happening …it all started when me radiator overheated (Cynthia listening in, starts telling Ronnie’s story and then Ronnie returns to continue)… but that’s only the half of it. Sugar pop, sugar pop, I’ve just done something, something I’ve always wanted to do, but been too scared … you see there comes a time in a man’s life when something happens …and when an opportunity comes along, well an opportunity came my way and I took it …I’m not coming home until I see this thing through …I’ve gotta finish what I started sugar pop and then I’m gunna surprise ya … you’ve just gotta believe I’m doing the right thing sugar pop, I want you to trust me now… sugar pop?”
Cynthia (still listening in): “He’s off his rocker!”
Deidre: “He’s got some floozie shacked up out in the sticks.”
Ronnie: “Gotta go now, can’t waste time …”
A despondent Wendy recites more lines from her romance novel, then misses the bus in the rain.
The bus backs up … Jake is the driver.
A teary Wendy becomes aware he’s whistling the Aeroplane Jelly tune. She demands he stop the bus and let her off, though Jake says it’s raining cats and dogs.
Jake comes back to console her, saying she looks like she needs a friend. A tearful Wendy confesses Ronnie might be having an affair, and Jake says if she was his wife, he wouldn’t look at another woman.
Jake proposes an outing, but when she declines, takes her home. Wendy thanks him for being so nice, and then he says in case she changes her mind about the outing, he’ll drop by work …
Meanwhile Ronnie has started working on the wreck, saying it’s not going to beat him, despite ominous noises from the swamp surrounding the wreck.
In the office, Deidre is boasting about being groped by Derek while knicker-less, as the boss arrives with more work …
Deidre opens Wendy’s computer as a flower man arrives with a bunch of flowers and a card saying “things to do, places to go …”
Cynthia and Elsie admire the flowers and Deidre gets another bet going - she reckons Wendy has a lover …
Elsie goes double or nothing …
Wendy arrives to see the flowers and read the card …and Deidre asks her who’s Jake?
Down below Jake stands next to his convertible begging and imploring. When her boss tells Wendy that she’ll have to stay back to make up for lost time, Wendy heads off, saying there are places to go and things to do …she tells Elsie she’s going to spend the day with Jake, it’s nicer than being there.
The office women peer through the blinds and see Elsie get into the passenger side door of Jake’s car.
Deidre reckons it’s time to divvy up, but Elsie says it could be platonic.
Deidre thinks a bit and heads off to the supermarket in search of a Jake, while Wendy and Jake do a tour of the Art Gallery of NSW …
As Wendy recites more romance novel lines, Jake shows Wendy a painting featuring nude women. He asks her how it makes her feel, then points out the way the artist has used the dark background to accentuate the nakedness of the women …the gentle brush strokes on the curve of the breasts …and a translucent skin tone that’s almost like porcelain …with just a gentle dab of pink on the nipples …
Wendy thinks she shouldn’t have come, as the romance novel lines crank up a notch …
Cut to the Botanic Gardens’ restaurant, where Jake and Wendy are sipping champagne and he’s urging her to try everything - otherwise, how else will she know anything?
A wandering violinist turns up, and Wendy breathes deeply and sips more champagne …as she gets sentimental about Ronnie and the way he did mad crazy things and made her laugh …but now he’s got a lot on his mind.
She asks Jake if he’s ever been married, but he says it was nearly, a long time ago … they drifted apart.
Wendy recites more lines from her romance novel, as Jake says she has the most beautiful hands.
Back in the bush, with Ronnie sawing away, Mrs Taggart and Sonny turn up with the repaired van, and check out the work in progress, Ronnie’s surprise ...
When Mrs Taggart asks him about his wife, he says she’s wonderful, warm and sweet …Sonny jokes that he’s a better man than him, leaving a woman like that all alone in the big city, and mum talks of all that temptation … but Ronnie gets back to work.
In the city, Jake and Wendy are walking past a Sydney harbour view, and Jake intuits that she likes to dance … the Palma waltz, the fox trot, the tango. It begins to rain and they dance together crazily …and kiss passionately …
The sodden pair return to the CBD, and Jake notices Wendy is trembling. She needs to get out of the wet clothes. She thanks Jake for a lovely day, and he asks about Antoines that night … he’ll be there at table 7 …
In the kitchen, Wendy recites more romance novel lines …
Then the door bell rings. It’s Pierre Dalmonte (Barry Jenkins) from Dalmonte’s Salon and he’s there to give Wendy a makeover and make her look fabulous. He brings out assorted frocks.
Dissolve to a large ballroom full of dancing, whirling couples …
Jake is there, smoking a cigarillo as a dolled-up Wendy arrives …
He tells her she looks beautiful, and then produces a single rose … with a note “all my love”.
Jake pops the champagne, and they drink a toast “to us” …then they take to the dance floor …
Dance over, Jake says she’s pretty wonderful, and they begin a passionate tango …
In the middle of it, Wendy says she can’t and runs off …
Wendy hails a taxi leaving Jake behind …
The phone’s ringing in Wendy’s apartment when she arrives, but there’s no one on the other end ..
Wendy stares at herself in the mirror and clutches the rose between her teeth, then she’s in the bathroom in a bubble bath, humming Camptown races …
Jake pushes the door open, champagne in hand. He offers her a top up, and pours the champagne all over her. She smiles and opens her mouth, as outside the office woman spy on Wendy and try to work out what’s happening.
The blind draws closed, as inside Jake says it’s hot in there. Picking up a sponge, he begins to sensuously bathe Wendy, explaining that young Greek boys get the sponges by diving for them right down to the bottom of the sea … as his hand plunges down to the bottom of her back …
She sensuously arches herself, as she complains she’s never been to Greece, she’s never been anywhere …
“Never ridden bareback to the pyramids, or plunged deep into the heart of the Amazon, or taken a long slow boat to China?” asks Jake as he undresses, unzips his trousers, drops them and Wendy gazes in awe at his thing.
Jake slides into the bath, saying he’ll get the tickets in the morning …
The phone rings, Jake says it could be Ronnie, but Wendy ignores it as his hand slides closer to her and she sinks into the water …
While the cat’s away the mouse will play, says Mrs Taggart, but as he puts down the phone, Ronnie tells her that life’s not like that
Back in the office a late-working Deidre discovers a thousand dollar red line mistake in Wendy’s accounts for the Comfort Shoes factory, and Mr Leveredge arrives to check on it …
Someone has had their hand in the till, he says, and Mrs Wendy Walters has a lot of explaining to do …
Meanwhile, out in the streets, her co-workers spot Wendy and ask her about the makeover, as she says she’s sick and can’t go back to work …
At the office, the women learn of the theft, and blame Deidre …but she says she just wanted a chance, she didn’t know Wendy had been fiddling the books …
Elsie says she’s a selfish bitch … couldn’t she see Wendy was in trouble?
Deidre says Wendy’s her friend, and Elsie demands she prove it, by giving the money Wendy took back, by way of the money she’s made gambling … and they’ll kick in with the rest, or, Elsie says ominously, they’ll have Deidre’s guts for garters.
Elsie says they’re going off after Wendy.
Meanwhile, Wendy’s in the car with Jake, who notes she looks a little flustered.
Jake shows her their tickets, and Jake asks what she’s going to tell Ronnie, saying that she’ll have to tell him she doesn’t love him anymore, that she’s going away with Jake, simple as that.
Wendy starts reciting more romance novels lines about calling the wedding off …
Suddenly Jake’s car swerves to avoid a double decker bus carrying the Beechworth Opera Company …
They plunge into boxes of fruit and vegetables as the bus driver (Danny Nash) emerges to complain that Jake was all over the road like a dog’s hind leg.
A man Ralph (William McInnes) emerges to quiet things down, while one of the passengers, Miss Hound (Jennifer Hagan) leans out to urge them to have a punch up …
An attractive woman, Caroline (Susan Lyons), ear rings sparkling unnaturally, arrives to ask what’s going on, and looks across to see Jake …who turns out to be the Randy that Wendy has been reading about in her romance novel …
Caroline introduces Randy to her fiancé Ralph, as Wendy recites more romance novel lines.
Caroline and Randy get close, as Miss Hound says things are getting interesting, and Wendy asks Jake about “Randy” and he dismisses it as a nickname …
Wendy says Caroline’s beautiful, and they drive off to a harbourside car park.
Jake explains there’s a couple of things he has to do back at the office, trip pending, and suggests she go in and order for them …just think of the fun they’re going to have together, it’ll be great …
Cut to Ronnie in the bush, kookaburra perched on ‘for sale’ sign, talking to himself about all the fun they’re going to have, the two of them, it’s going to be great …
Ronnie rehearses a speech about going dancing and sitting and talking and the way he used to tell her about the things he was gunna do … and now he’s got something to show her and she’s going to love it …
Ronnie drives off, as Jake finally arrives in the restaurant …
Complaining of the heat, he takes off his coat, and Wendy notices something on his collar.
Jake hastily says he had a craving for sandwich, it’s beetroot, should come out in the wash.
When the waiter (Charles Little) arrives and asks Wendy what she’ll be having, she says lipstick.
Jake orders waffles bacon and eggs, and Wendy repeats the order to the waiter.
The waiter asks if it’ll be for the two of them, and Wendy confirms it, ordering a pot of coffee, as Jake says there’s a slight problem, they might have to delay their trip for a couple of days, trouble at the office, the books not balancing. Nothing to be concerned about, it’s just a small matter of one thousand dollars or so …
Wendy looks guilty, as Jake clucks that they think it’s one of the employees that’s been with the company for years … "It just goes to show you can’t trust anyone these days …”
We see in wide shot taht Wendy is alone at the table in the restaurant, watched by the women from the office, as everyone else in the restaurant watches the charade of her pouring coffee for Jake …
In the car, Wendy sits in the back, a diamond jewel glittering, as she asks Jake to take her dancing. What does he think? What does she think? he asks, saying he’ll call her.
Wendy races into her bedroom and begins to pack.
Ronnie’s van arrives, as Jake’s car leaves …
Wendy arrives at the dance …
Disapproving dancers look at her … and Jake is there with Caroline …
Wendy approaches and Jake tells her not to make a scene. “You know it was never meant to be…”
Miss Hound is dancing with an aviator (Frederick Miragliotta). She explains Wendy would have to be divorced and that would never do, while the aviator says “not in our stories. Our heroes never marry ’soiled’ women …”
A pirate dancer (Robert Price) and his partner (Toni Moran) tick Wendy off for cheating on her husband and breaking all the rules. Disgusting and disgraceful, say the chorus of dancers, as Miss Hound notes she stole money, “no redemption for that …”
Caroline chips in, saying Wendy did it all for Randy, what does that make him? Miss Hound retorts he’s a man and handsome to boot, “they always get away with it …”
Jake says he’s sorry, what more can he say, “you should have read to the end of the book.”
Jake’s eye gives an unholy glint, as back in the apartment, Ronnie walks around looking lost, then sees the card and realises …
At the dance Jake says they’re playing our song, and he and Caroline begin to tango …
Suddenly Ralph’s fist juts out and knocks Jake to the floor. “Should have read the sequel my friend. Already sold half a million copies.”
As Jake feels his bloodied jaw, Caroline tells Ralph she’s been so blind …
They hold each other, as Jake asks Wendy to help him up …
And then Elsie’s voice intrudes on the fantasy scene, asking Wendy what she’s doing …
Wendy turns to see Elsie, and Jake tells Wendy not to listen to her, she wouldn’t know shit from clay. “Help me up.”
Cynthia pleads for Wendy to come with them, everything’s going to be okay. Jake reminds her she came there for him.
“I have to go now,” Wendy says, as Jake asks her what she’s going to do now? Go back to Ronnie? He’ll make her happy? “He has no romance in his soul.”
Cynthia says Ronnie’s on his way … and he loves her.
Jake prompts her, and Wendy shouts that Ronnie’s having an affair with another woman.
Elsie says she doesn’t really believe that …
Jake: “Just think Wendy, with me you can do anything, go anywhere, be who you like … that’s my girl, I knew you’d make the right decision …”
Wendy starts pouring champagne over Ronnie, and we cut wide to see that she’s in a darkened, empty theatre, pouring champagne on to the floor, as her three office worker friends watch her …
The fantasy revealed and over, Wendy sobs, asking “what have I been doing? I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”
Elsie comes up to reassure her with a hug, saying everything’s been taken care of …
Ronnie arrives in his van, and races into the empty, dark ballroom … as Elsie explains it was just the strain.
Ronnie races in wanting to pulverise his rival, and berating Wendy saying he trusted her, then turned his back for five minutes and look what happens …
He’s off busting his bloody guts for both of them and she’s off with some fancy man.
They fight, Wendy saying she’s expected to keep the home fires burning while he’s been off with some floozie, no dinners, no flowers, they don’t talk anymore.
Ronnie: “I would if you’d get your bloody head out of those goddam books!”
Wendy: “I needed you, and you weren’t there.”
More fighting, and Ronnie asks if that’s it, and they just throw it all away. Wendy says he threw it away, not her.
Ronnie starts walking away, but then realises, and turns to look at the sobbing Wendy.
He remembers she’s standing where he first saw her …the time when he made his way over and asked for a dance.
Wendy says they haven’t danced for years.
Ronnie says they were good together, and walks off …then realises he's really cocked up, he's really screwed up …
He races back into the darkened auditorium, and grabs Wendy by the hand, saying he wants her to come for a drive in the country one last time …
Cynthia emerges from the shadows to ask about their chances, and Elsie offers five to one. Cynthia takes the bet …
Fade up from black, as Ronnie switches on lights to reveal the fully restored milkbar of his and Wendy’s dreams, with party balloons and a large sign reading “Wendy I love you Ronnie.”
Wendy’s impressed - he really did it, “like everything we’ve always dreamed …so romantic...”
They look at each other, and Ronnie puts on a platter in the jukebox, as they hug …
Suddenly a rumbling begins to shake the building …
They run outside, taking the kookaburra with them ..
The milkbar begins to fall apart with a smashing and a crashing, and we see the Wendy’s sign on the front of the building begin to sink.
The swamp devours the building and a rain tank falls over on it, as the power fails, leaving only the Wendy’s light flashing.
Wendy says he did it, that’s the main thing, and the sign transforms into flashing light above another sign pointing to a “Dungeon”.
Down in the new basement Wendy’s, an in-crowd leaves their cars and pour in to dance, as Wendy shakes cocktails and recites more lines …
“The night was hot, hot and steamy …jungle hot …”
The kookaburra watches as the dicky bird puts its nose to a platter in the jukebox, as Ronnie comes up to Wendy behind the bar and says “our song sugar pop!”
They head out on to the dance floor, and dance a wild dance. Wendy blows Jake a farewell kiss and we hear Jake in V/O:
“And so Ron and Wendy lived happily ever after. And what of me? Did Wendy ever think of me again? Every now and then …every now and then ...”, as Jake leaves, dragging Deidre behind him …
The dance ends with Ronnie putting Wendy on the bar and spreading her legs. He tumbles between her legs, and they hug and look up together to the ceiling (and the camera), as the image freezes and end titles roll ...