By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Bar owner gets rich.
Meg Blake (Googie Withers) is a widow who owns a pub in a small desert town that has only 10 people living in it. She finds it hard to make ends meet until she hears about a nickel discovery in the outback and decides to be the first one to stake her claim to the land. Little does she know that corrupt executive Ed Benson (Alfred Sandor) fabricated the rumor of a nickel discovery simply so he could sell shares to gullible investors and Meg’s stake of land is actually worth nothing, but because Ed wants other people to also buy shares he pretends that Meg has already gotten rich through her investment and gives her $100,000 up front and parades her around the media while calling her the Nickel Queen. Meg laps up the publicity and spends her newfound fortune lavishly only to ultimately learn, once all her money is gone, that it was a hoax, which causes her and the other angry investors to go after Ed for revenge.
The story was inspired by the real-life event known as the Poseidon Bubble, which occurred in Australia in 1969, where shares in mining soared upon the discovery of a nickel deposit in September of that year only to quickly crash by early 1970 once it was found that the nickel was of a lower quality than initially thought causing many investors to loose a lot of money. Had the film stuck more to the true life event it might’ve had potential, but the way it gets played-out here is rather tepid.
It starts off alright and Withers, acting in front of the camera for the first time in 13 years, creates an engaging character who doesn’t back down to anyone and never hesitates to speak-her-mind. Unfortunately her tenacious personality does not get played-up enough. Once she becomes a media darling her wisecracks no longer have any zing and she falls into Ed’s trap too easily. During the second half her presence is rather minor as she becomes this naïve person who must depend on her old friend Harry (Ed Devereaux) to get her out of her jam and exposing the corrupt Ed instead of she being the one to do that on her own.
The supporting cast is equally wasted. Initially the hippie guru character of Claude (played by John Laws who was and still is a famous Australian radio personality) seemed interesting as his values and outlook on things, particularly his refusal to work, contrasted greatly with Meg’s making it seem like the two would be sharing some wildly over-the-top confrontations. Instead Claude takes an extreme pivot midway through by showing up as a clean-shaven man willing to sell-out for money and even ends up becoming Meg’s lover, but what’s the point of him starting out one way if he’s just going to end up being the polar opposite? The transition is not revealing or introspective and shows how the filmmakers, who were all over 50, had no understanding of the counter-culture movement at all.
Doreen Warburton, who plays Ed’s gluttonous wife, is equally problematic. The running joke of seeing her constantly stuffing her face with food gets pretty old, pretty fast to the point that it starts to get kind of disgusting to look at. Not having her utter a single word of dialogue is weird too making it seem like she’s not even human, but simply an unfunny and highly stereotyped caricature.
I liked how the first half was shot in an actual ghost town known as Broad Arrow and having the action take place in some of the town’s abandoned buildings gave the film an added visual flair, but this gets completely lost during the second-half when everything moves to the big city of Perth. The music is yet another issue as it sounds like something from the 40’s or 50’s and completely out-of-touch with the times. A lot of the cast is made up of hippies, so the soundtrack should’ve reflected more of their tastes.
Ultimately the film suffers from being too much of a family project. Writer/director John McCallum was star Googie’s husband and there’s even a part for their daughter Joanna McCallum, who plays Meg’s hippie daughter. While this may have been a fun project to work on from their perspective it offers little in the way that is satisfying to the viewer. The plot is poorly constructed and the wrap-up too tidy making it seem like material better suited for a TV-sitcom than the big screen.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: April 1, 1971
Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes
Director: John McCallum
Studio: British Empire Films Australia