Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lovers and Luggers - in search of a pearl for a girl

Back in the seventies, the ABC had a series replaying Australian films from the industry's heyday prior to the Second World War. This was, I think, the only period in which the Australian film industry occupied a key local box office position. I would love to see the series repeated, although it maybe that our images of ourselves have shifted so much that the films would no longer resonate. If so, that's a pity.

One of the films I most enjoyed was Lovers and Luggers. Made for Cinesound  in 1937 by Ken Hall, the film tag read "Epic pearling adventure romance in glorious sun-splashed tropical settings of Thursday Island!", while the plot is described in these terms "A concert pianist, as concert pianists are wont to do, goes pearl diving in the South Seas to find a giant pearl for his girlfriend. He does, and that's when all the trouble begins."

The film is a romp sitting squarely in the middle of a number of past streams

As I remember it, the opening scenes show what used to be called a lounge lizard from the effete London focused side of the Empire clearly in need of redemption, thus playing to both Australian's images of themselves and of themselves in comparison to the English.

Then we have the tropic Pacific location, appealing to resonances of the Pacific as an exotic location and source of wealth. Then, too, we have pearls. By the time the film was made the pearl industry with its romance but also its horrors and dangers was in sharp decline. Still, it retained its fascination.

Pearls have gripped human imagination for thousands of years. They were worn in civilised Middle East and Asian societies as early as 3500 BCE and continued to grow in popularity during Roman times when pearl fever reached its peak. A pearl earring reportedly paid for one Roman general's political campaigns. Cleopatra dissolved a pearl in wine and drank it to prove her love to Marc Antonius.

When my daughter turned eighteen several thousand years later, her chosen present was a string of pearls. Her grandmother loved pearls too. For my part, as a gauche youth, I found those sophisticated country girls with their twin sets and pearls quite terrifying. It would be years before I realised that I was as nervous as them.

The book on which Lovers and Luggers was based was written by Gurney Slade, pen name of the English writer Stephen Bartlett, and was set in Broome where Bartlett had actually dived for pearls. Hall changed the location to Thursday Island because it made filming easier. As an aside, I found that some scenes were actually filmed at Port Stephens, so I have to add it to my growing list of films with New England connections.

Needless to say, pianist Daubeney Carshott (Lloyd Hughes) falls in love with and is redeemed by Lorna Quidley ( Shirley Ann Richards), the daughter of the boisterous Captain Quidley. It’s all very melodramatic, but rather fun. 

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