World movie posters of Australian director Charles Chauvel

by Andrew Blair

Charles Chauvel was a pioneer director of Australian films between the 1920s and 1950s. His films were shown locally and overseas.

I have been interested in Chauvel’s films for over 30 years, and have been researching how these films have been advertised around the world. Advertising in the early years of films was mostly achieved using movie posters. Movie posters came in different sizes – examples include large billboards that hang out the front of cinemas, one sheets (size 69cm × 104cm), day bills (size 33cm by 76cm), and lobby cards (28cm × 36cm). Special print houses were often employed to create the artistry of the movie posters, and it is interesting to see the diverse range of artistry used to promote Chauvel’s films around the world.  

Chauvel started his career in film production in Hollywood in the 1920s, and after a few years of film work travelled back to Australia to make films. The first two films were silent movies The Moth of Moonbi (1926) and Greenhide (1926). Unfortunately, these early films had few showings because talkies started to be released and were more popular.

Chauvel’s first talkie was In the Wake of the Bounty. The film re-enacts the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian in 1789 against the master of the Bounty, William Bligh, and depicts the fate of the mutineers on Tahiti and remote Pitcairn Island.

The film was released in early 1933 in Australia, with strong promotion and endorsement from education authorities. In 1935 M.G.M bought the form and re-edited it to form two travelogues, Pitcairn Island Today (1935) and Primitive Pitcairn (1935). They were used as promotional aids for the studio’s own production of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), directed by Frank Lloyd, with Clark Gable. Below is a movie book advertisement for the film.

Soon after In the Wake of the Bounty, Chauvel produced two films, Heritage (1935) and Uncivilised (1936). 

Uncivilised was an attempt by Chauvel to make a more obviously commercial film for the US, and was clearly influenced by Tarzan.

The film is about author Beatrice Lynn who is asked to go to the Outback and locate the legendary white man, Mara, who heads an Aboriginal tribe. Travelling by camel, she is abducted by an Afghan, Akbar Jhan and his group of Aboriginals who provide pituri, a narcotic, to Aboriginals. Akbar Jhan uses Beatrice to arouse Mara’s interest.

The film was released in 1936 through Universal, and released in the US in 1937, and was also played in the US several times through the 1940s. In the US it was known as Pituri makes them Uncivilized. Below is a movie poster that was published in the US in the 1940s. Its shows a simple but dramatic scene.

After Uncivilised, Chauvel made the film Forty Thousand Horsemen, based on the Australian Light Horsemen and their exploits in the deserts of Sinai in WW1. Chauvel had an affinity with the story because his uncle, Sir Harry Chauvel, had been the general in command of the WW1 desert campaign.

It was released in Australia in late1940, and in 1941, it was shown in countries such as US, UK, Singapore, Sweden and Belgium. It did particularly well in London and New York. It was later released in France in 1947. 

The different artwork for this movie varied greatly between countries, but largely retained the title. Below are a French, US and Belgium poster version. I love the work of this French poster version by French artist Jacques Bonneaud. Its captures well the romance and dramatic adventure of the film.

The Rats of Tobruk is another film that Charles Chauvel directed soon after Forty Thousand Horsemen. It was the only Australian feature film to be entirely funded and released during the second world war. It tells the story of how the Australians defeated the German army at Tobruk.

The film was released in Australia in 1944, and wasn’t released in England until 1949 and in the United States in 1951. Early box office response was encouraging but the movie was not as popular as Forty Thousand Horsemen.  

Here is the US, Belgium and UK versions poster of the film, trying to depict the dramatic nature of the film.

One of my favorite Chauvel films is the 1949 Sons of Matthew film about the pioneering O’Reillys family. The film had instant success in Australia, and was shown widely overseas – UK, US, Spain, Denmark, and the Czech Republic. In the UK the title was the same as in Australia, but in the US it was renamed The Rugged O’Riordans.

The artwork for this movie varied greatly between countries. Here is the artwork for the Australian, US, Spanish, Czech Republic and Italian versions.

Colour production came to Australia with the 1955 Charles Chauvel film Jedda. The film was the first to star two Aboriginal actors, Robert Tudawali and Ngarla Kunoth, in the leading roles.

At the time, it won more international attention than previous Australian films, during a time when Hollywood films were dominating the Australian cinema scene. The film was shown around the world in countries such as the US, UK, Spain and Denmark. The film was renamed in the US and UK to be Jedda the Uncivilized. 

Jedda had a tremendous impact on the viewing public, and the tragic ending amazed them. The film won praise at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955.

Here is the Australian poster daybill for Jedda, and US One Sheet and lobby title card.

It has been great to discover the many ways that Charles Chauvel’s films were promoted overseas. Posters are still being found in unusual places. The following Jedda poster was recently found under a kitchen floor lino. 

A comprehensive view of Australian Film Posters can be found at Andrew’s website 

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