Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Saturday, 22 June 2013

End Play (1975) (Umbrella Entertainment) (108 mins.)

Someone is killing female hitchhikers on a lonely stretch of road outside a small Australian town. Although the victims are all neatly stabbed below the breast bone, the murder weapon is unknown and the victims have so far been dumped on the police station tempts to taunt the local force. However, the latest victim (Delvene Delaney) is not left in the usual place and is instead dumped in a local cinema during an afternoon screening. Suspicion soon falls on two brothers, paraplegic Robert Gifford (George Mallaby) and his able-bodied brother Mark (John Waters, who is NOT the well-known film director) who has recently returned home from one of his frequent stints in the merchant navy. The brothers have a close relationship but, as suspicious Superintendent Cheadle (Ken Goodlet) begins his investigations, cracks start to appear as the persistent and diligent officer seemingly gets closer to the truth at the heart of the serial slayings...

Director Tim Burstall's 1975 Australian serial killer thriller, released in its native country on 1st January 1976, adapted from a novel by Russell Braddon (The Naked Island and The Year Of The Angry Rabbit, which was filmed as Night Of The Lepus) and which relocates the action from an English country house to an Antipodean setting, is a taut if rather overlong thriller that plays out mostly in broad daylight and predominantly in the Gifford's home; which lends the film a claustrophobic two-hander chamber piece feel for much of its running time.

Opening with a tense and atmospheric killing on a lonely road, Burstall winds the tension tight, aided by some fine performances from the two leads whose relationship remains the beating heart of the movie even as the plot bends over backwards to maintain the uncertainty as to the killer's identity (which, if truth be told, is not really that much of a mystery). And it's the brothers' often unlikely bond throughout the film that makes the film memorable as blood really is thicker than water in what is admittedly rather protracted, if tense, fare. The film even manages to excuse itself one or two plot contrivances or unresolved aspects (most notably, a bit of business with a letter that is only written to provide a necessary flashback and whose existence is never followed through in the narrative).

Overall, this is a worthwhile watch and a generally fine re-release package in a clean print and in its original aspect ratio (although the soundtrack is a bit iffy at times, particularly during the mournful and plaintive love theme sung over the opening credits). The film, which was seemingly Australian cinema's first foray into serial killer whodunit territory and a box-office hit in its native country, deserves to be better known and is highly recommended.

AFTERWORD: This standalone Australian DVD release is a more affordable and accessible release than its original inclusion as part of a long-deleted and almost impossible to find boxed set. I first saw the film several decades ago as part of a UK BBC2 TV season on Australian cinema back in the 1970s (Those were the days!) and was surprised how much of the film stuck in my mind over the years. Although British-born director Tim Burstall was better known as one of the pioneers of Australian cinema's 1970s breakout to global success through some often rough and ready sex comedies (e.g. Stork, Alvin Purple and Petersen), this films shows that he was no slouch in the thriller stakes and it's something of a pity that he never made much of a name for himself in this genre.

The special features on the disc include interviews with star John Waters, cinematographer Dan Copping and Burstall's son Dan, who was the camera operator (and whose inclusion is not mentioned on the DVD sleeve), as well as an effective and rather extended trailer and stills gallery backed by the theme song, with both of the latter elements revealing rather too much of the film's plot to be recommended viewing prior to watching the film itself.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review of a little known oz classic.