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Those Bitter Springs
By WILLIAM LATIMER
OUT at Eating's Pagewood
Studios last week I watched film director Ralph Smart working on some of the last of the studio takes.
Smart is the up and coming director whose "Bush Christmas" has enchanted millions of film goers all over the world. This pic- ture about Australian children won an international medal at Venice in 1947 for the best children's film of the year.
He was also associate producer, with Sir Michael Balcon of "The Overlanders," directed by Harry Watt. More recently, Smart was back in London directing "The Facts of Life," one of the four stories in the Somerset Maugham film "Quartet."
I thought this was a flawless production and was therefore most interested to watch him at work. It seemed to me he possessed an infinite capacity for taking great pains; without making himself such a pain in the neck that everybody would want to
SO "Bitter Springs" should be a
film that will draw people fo the box office and renew overseas interest in pictures produced here about Australian subjects.
By his background, Smart is singularly well equipped to make the best international use of the abundant film material we possess. When you ask him if he is an Eng- lishman or an Australian, he replies:
-"Well, I don't know quite. You see, my"grandfather was an Aus- tralian, and my father, H. C.
Smart, London representative of. an Australian advertising firm, is one. But my mother was English and I was born and educated there.
"I began my film work, as a scenario writer, in England, but I came out here before the war and later joined the R.A.A.F."
What is obvious, anyhow, is that his enthusiasm for Australian film subjects is based on his knowledge of what people outside this contin- ent like to see in films, coupled with first-hand experience of what people inside it are capable of giv- ing forth.
He is not bent on producing, simply a local picture, but a film with world appeal which will be unique because it is made in this unique land.
"Bitter Springs" is his own idea and his own script. He is exuberant about its prospects, and so is Eric Williams, Ealing's producer-in-chief
The story concerns the conflict
between early settlers and aborigines, but is not, as it could be, a savage tale of greed, cruelty and slaughter.
Smart has chosen for his inspira- tion the more unusual story of a group of settlers, who,' after some hair-raising brushes with the abos., decide to work in with them in- stead of killing them off.
The crisis develops when the settlers are given a land grant which includes spring waters, the "Bitter Springs," used as a sacred watering place by generations of aborigines for centuries past.
Chips Rafferty, as father of the King family, is the leader of the
settlers. But he can persuade only a few people, including his wife and daughter (Jean Blue and Nonnie Piper) to journey inland and begin the perilous job of settling the aboriginal-occupied virgin country.
Short of labour, he has to enlist anyone he can get so he picks up a down-and-out vaudevtllian and his son, and a Scot. These parts are played by Tommy Trinder, Nicky Yardley, and Gordon Jack-
IN this way Smart has conjured together the necessary elements for a film which should have nearly everything; thrills, comedy, ro- mance, and tragedy.
The bulk of the shooting has been done at Quorn in Warren's Gorge, from which outback spot, the "Bitter* Springs" company of about 35 people have only recently returned after spending two months longer than was intended because
of the rain.
The South Australian Govern- ment arranged for about 120 aborigines from the Ooldea Mis
sion, Western S.A., to go to Quorn to take part in the film.
"What wonderful actors they turned out to be," says Ralph Smart. . "Unlike civilised people they are quite unselfconscious, so when you ask them to play a role, they just do it as they would natur- ally, without any trouble at all."
"We had the chief rainmaker of the tribe with us and he was very happy. Not knowing that film companies are the world's greatest rainmakers when working on out- door location, he thought all the rain was due to his rituals."