Retro Review: End Play

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Directed by Tim Burstall
Written by Tim Burstall and Russell Braddon
Starring George Mallaby, John Waters, Ken Goodlet, Delvene Delaney, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell and Belinda Giblin

Written by Gavin Bond

Pioneering English born Australian filmmaker Tim Burstall is often overlooked when discussing heroes of the 1970’s Australian film resurgence.

While the likes of Bruce Beresford, Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong and George Miller all came to prominence in this decade and then went on to achieve considerable international success, Burstall was the first director to kickstart the local film industry.

His string of unashamedly raw and bawdy 1970’s Aussie romps (Stork, Alvin Purple, Petersen) struck a chord with domestic audiences and proved to be surprise box office hits.

His foray into the mystery genre in 1976 with End Play may not have been as financially successful as its predecessors but it still stands as one of his most restrained and accomplished pieces of filmmaking.

This twisty slow burn murder mystery marked the 6th film of Burstall’s prolific Melbourne-based Australian production house Hexagon Productions and was certainly a more serious and less exploitative flick than the sexually themed previous quintet of movies that included provocative drive-in favourites, Alvin Rides Again, Australia After Dark and The Love Epidemic.

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Based on the 1972 novel (that was actually set in England) by Australian scribe Russell Braddon, this undeniably stagy thriller stars George Mallaby as an embittered wheelchair bound paraplegic who resides in an isolated rural stately home just outside the town of Kyneton in Victoria.

The arrival home of his smarmy stepbrother (John Water’s feature film debut) coincides with the discovery of a murdered hitchhiker (a striking but brief appearance by 70’s sex symbol Delvene Delaney) and suspicion falls on the two reclusive brothers.

The film then follows both the police investigation and the delicious battle of wits between the two protagonists as they seemingly go about trying to incriminate each other.

To divulge anymore of the plot would spoil one’s viewing of this nifty unheralded Hitchcockian whodunnit that has plenty of red herrings and a snappy screenplay that was adapted by Burstall himself.

The main appeal of this intriguing two-hander is George Mallaby’s charismatic and suitably mischievous lead performance as the cynical but witty bachelor who delivers his lines, and cheeky banter with his co-star John Waters, with relish and enthusiasm.

Although the majority of proceedings take place inside the retro styled country mansion (shot inside Channel O studios in Melbourne) Robin Copping’s lush and inventive cinematography more than compensates for the film’s obvious cinematic limitations.

Throw in an evocative score by Peter Best (Bliss, Crocodile Dundee) and a climactic archery “shoot-out” scene, and you have a genuinely haunting and delightfully old-fashioned suspense flick, that despite it’s intentionally plodding pacing, is sure to please the legions of mystery devotees.

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