Retro Review:  They’re A Weird Mob

Directed by Michael Powell
Written by Emeric Pressburger and John O’Grady
Starring Walter Chiari, Chips Rafferty, Claire Dunne and Ed Deveraux

Written by Gavin Bond

Somewhere nestled between the dearth of Australian Post war filmmaking during the 1950’s and 60’s and the much celebrated 70’s resurgence, sits this curious but highly influential Aussie spoof.

Now just recently re-released on VOD through Umbrella entertainment, this good natured Australian-English co-production was not only responsible for coaxing locals back to the cinema but helped convince politicians John Gorton and Gough Whitlam to fund domestic filmmaking in the late 60’s.

As a result, They’re a Weird Mob is absolutely essential viewing for Aussie film buffs and historians. 

Based on the popular 1957 comic novel by author John O’Grady (under the pseudonym “Nino Culotta”), They’re a Weird Mob” marks the penultimate collaboration between seminal British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Powell and Pressburger ,directed and produced respectively, a string of critically acclaimed classics throughout the 1940’s and 50s, that included  A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes that were notable for their gorgeous visuals and ambitious themes.

After the release of their controversial  1960 thriller Peeping Tom, (now a cult classic) ,the distinguished duo of auteurs found themselves somewhat floundering and subsequently headed downunder in 1965 ,to adapt the aforementioned quirky comedy of errors and cultural satire, to the big screen.

This came about after Powell had read the novel on an international flight and then convinced American screen legend Gregory Peck, who had bought the rights while filming On The Beach in 1959 after co-star Fred Astaire introduced it to him, to relinquish his ownership.

The film follows the adventures of Italian immigrant and aspiring journalist Nino Culotta (Walter Chiari) who arrives in Australia only to find there is no promised job there for him.

The naive and hapless protagonist is then forced to work as a labourer on a building site where he is introduced to Aussie rituals such as drinking and gambling while trying to decipher the perplexing colloquial language.

Nino then falls for the construction company bosses’ daughter Kay (Claire Dunne) and uses all of his Italian charm to try and woo her.

The main appeal of this obviously dated but endearing examination of the migrant experience in Australia is the ocker and decidedly un-PC dialogue, the on screen appearances of Aussie thesps the likes of Chips Rafferty ,John Mellion and Ed Devereaux and the iconic backdrops of Bondi Beach and The Marble Bar.

The ultimate triumph of this slight but energetic comedy, that was savaged by film critics in its day,  is its obvious affection for its subject, and not unlike 1997’s The Castle  ,forced Aussie audiences  to laugh at themselves and their odd suburbanite ways and customs.

Despite its budgetary and technical shortcomings, They’re a Weird Mob went on to break domestic box office records and was one of the films responsible for heralding the 70’s Australian film industry revival.

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