Dad Rudd Leo McKern Mother Rudd Joan Sutherland Dave Geoffrey Rush Dan David Field Joe Noah Taylor Kate Essie Davis Sarah Celia Ireland
Dad Rudd Leo McKern Mother Rudd Joan Sutherland Dave Geoffrey Rush Dan David Field Joe Noah Taylor Kate Essie Davis Sarah Celia IrelandWith: Ray Barrett, Barry Otto, Nicholas Eadie, Murray Bartlett, Cathy Campbell, Pat Bishop, Robert Menzies, Peter Whitford, Bruce Venables, John Gaden , Peter Carmody, Paul Blackwell, Vic Rooney, Frank Whitten. Overflowing with nostalgia and earthy, specifically Australian, humor, the awkwardly titled “Dad and Dave on Our Selection,” despite a fitful narrative line, is a generally delightful period comedy. An impeccable cast, which includes celebrated operatic soprano Joan Sutherland in her first film role, will help this Icon production do good biz in Australia, but international chances are more questionable for this quintessentially Aussie entertainment. Fests would be the obvious route to garner word of mouth. Icon topper Mel Gibson appeared in one of the many stage productions of “On Our Selection” in the early ’80s before becoming an international superstar, so it’s not surprising he backed Anthony Buckley’s handsome pic as Icon’s first non- Yank effort. The “On Our Selection” story is almost as old as Australian cinema itself. Around the turn of the century, Steele Rudd, alias Arthur Hoey Davis, wrote a series of popular articles about his family, who lived and worked on a small “selection” (or farm) in rural Queensland, and later published four hugely successful books about the Rudds. Distinguished pioneer filmmaker Raymond Longford directed “On Our Selection” in 1920, to great success, and in 1932 there was a talkie remake, directed by Ken G. Hall, which spawned three sequels. In 1979, George Whaley, one of Australia’s top stage directors, adapted the original stories into a popular and longrunning stage success. Now Whaley, making his film debut, has brought the colorful Dad Rudd and his family back to the bigscreen. Whaley has opted to dramatize several of the anecdotal tales but hasn’t attached them to a strong storyline. A more linear structure would have given the film a firmer sense of direction, especially in the early scenes. Yarn picks up momentum in the second half, when Dad Rudd is persuaded to run against the hateful J.P. Riley in an election for a seat in the Queensland State Parliament. Pic opens with a charming sepiatoned credit sequence depicting the Rudds — Dad, Mother and five grown children — arriving at their parched “selection.” Worn down by poor harvest, drought, depressed prices and sheer hard work, the life of the selector was a hard one; Rudd’s stories explore the funny side of this backbreaking existence. Pic is by no means a laugh riot, but is suffused with an archaic Aussie wit, and comic slang rarely if ever used today. Some incidents are more amusing than others, but overall this is consistently chucklesome fare. Vet Australian actor Leo McKern gives Dad Rudd all the earthiness, vulgarity and forcefulness the role needs: It’s a robust, larger-than-life performance. Sutherland complements him perfectly as Mother Rudd, a placid figure usually surrounded by noisy mayhem but a tower of strength who keeps the family together. Despite the title, eldest son Dave (Geoffrey Rush) is probably the least developed of the five Rudd offspring (in the Ken Hall films, Dave occupied center stage). Rush is a fine comic, but has little to do. More effective are David Field as the raffish Dan, who turns horse thief but remains likable, and Noah Taylor as Joe, the youngest, who gets involved in several broadly comic scenes. As the two daughters, Essie Davis, as the winsome Kate, and Celia Ireland, as the plain-jane Sarah, seize all their opportunities. A huge, and consistently fine, supporting cast includes several standouts, notably Barry Otto as selfimportant squatter Riley, Nicholas Eadie as his haughty son, Murray Bartlett as the fellow who’s in love with Kate, Cathy Campbell as the woman Dave eventually marries, Pat Bishop as her suffragette mother, Peter Whitford as a duplicitous bank manager, Ray Barrett as an Irish selector and Robert Menzies as a deranged stranger who attaches himself to the Rudds. Martin McGrath’s burnished photography beautifully evokes the dusty, drought-stricken landscape, and production designer Herbert Pinter has done a first-rate job in evoking the ramshackle homes of these impoverished farmers. Peter Best has provided a handful of catchy songs as well as a rich score. Producer and film historian Buckley ends this good-looking production with a title dedicating the film to “our centenary of cinema.” It is, indeed, a worthy addition to Australia’s cinema heritage.