We ARE here for your entertainment! Film review no.3

Film Review Series by Lance Sinclair.

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This week State Library’s film buff, Lance Sinclair, reviews Always Another Dawn, an Australian war drama that celebrates the Royal Australian Navy’s contribution to the allied victory in WW2. The film opened at Sydney’s Embassy Theatre in September 1948 and is the first of three features produced by the McCreadie brothers and directed by Tom McCreadie. It is based on New Zealand-born war widow Zelma Roberts’ novel of the same name. Roberts adapted the novel to screen and wrote the screen play for McCreadie’s second feature film Into the Straight (1949).

Although not a commercial success, the film launched Australian screen icon Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell’s career in his first lead role. To lend the film authenticity, scenes were shot at Flinders Naval Depot HMAS Cerberus in Western Port Bay Victoria and during exercises on board the Tribal Class destroyer HMAS Bataan.

Image from film Always Another Dawn, directed by Tom McCreadie, produced by McCreadie Brothers, streamed on Kanopy database

Always Another Dawn

“The history of the officers and men of the Royal Australian Navy through the war years will, for the most part, never be known, yet they won for themselves honour in a service known for its traditions of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty. Now, in the aftermath of war, we may lose sight of many things – including our debt to the past – yet because of that heritage of faith and courage, surely we need never doubt that the day will dawn when we will be able to boast of a worthwhile and lasting peace.” - opening credits text from Always Another Dawn.

Made only a few years after the final days of the greatest war, Always Another Dawn functions not quite as active war propaganda, but as the beginning of understanding a new world, that seemed at the time to have perhaps outlived the spectre of global conflict, and was blinking it’s eyes at a future just saved and what it might hold.

Our hero is Terry Regen, a young man living on the sprawling Green Acres ranch, somewhere in central Australia. Terry’s deceased father, who perished at sea in World War 1, looms over the household he shares with his endlessly doting mother. When he receives the call to report for service, Terry is filled with the pride and self-actualization of having a war that he can call his own. And it’s through his unquestioning, clear sighted drive to fulfil his father’s legacy that this movie reveals itself as an elegiac meditation on the rippling effects of war, both generationally and on a more intimate, immediate storytelling level. “Your father would have been proud of you.” his mother tells him, with a mixture of resignation and joy that will set the tone for this odd piece of storytelling.

A film like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, made at the height of WW2 in 1944 (and utilising actual combat footage in its construct), presents a vengeful Western force revelling in the mechanics of righteous brutality. It is made to stoke fires in its viewing audience. Always Another Dawn acknowledges those impulses, but at a greater reserve. It’s a significantly more contemplative piece than many of its contemporaries, for the most part it glosses over its “action” scenes is rapid montage, preferring to spend it’s time looking at the mechanics of real life going on in the shadow of a grander spectacle.

It’s been said that it’s impossible to make a war film that doesn’t glorify war itself – that the cinematic nature of conflict, combined with the dramatic elements needed to make a movie work can’t help but present war as appealing. Although rare efforts such as Das Boot and Elem Klimov’s Come And See (1985) have disproved the idea, Always Another Dawn is a product of its time, and although it acts as memorial to loss, it functions just as well as a rousing adventure and a celebration of the fraternity of military service. Nominated for Officer class after showing exemplary gusto in his training, Terry refuses the call and instead opts for life in the heart of combat. “I just feel I’m part of it all, just like my dad was before me and still is,” he explains to his cynical bunkmate Bunny, “All the things I think and feel, he must’ve felt sometime. It gives me a queer feeling I can’t explain. I feel as if I have someone backing me up just when I’ll need it.”

Through warfare, Terry reaches a kind of spiritual transcendence, a living connection to the past, the future and the afterlife. The joy that bursts across his face when his assignment to the HMAS Dauntless, and its voyage into the inferno, is announced is something close to a religious awakening.

The film certainly shows it’s age at times – it’s stereotypical supporting cast and Terry’s magically charmed home life on the sprawling Green Acres estate, the young girl Patricia who has seemingly been promised to him as a reward for his service (and who is completely excised from the story once her function is performed during a brief shore leave sequence) – but it’s arrogance for us as viewers to see everything through a contemporary lens and assume we are currently at peak storytelling capacity or social awareness. Movies act as a document of when they were made, be it in conscious thematic or story choice, or the smaller details of location and behaviour that map our vision of how we live.

Speaking of which, this is a grand looking film, as the sun beaten plains of Australia open to the profound vistas of the ocean.  The handheld documentary quality in its portrayal of naval base life and the still jolting climactic sea battle are filmed with a steady eye and edited with graceful fluidity, all served by the excellent National Film & Sound Archive restoration of the materials.

When Terry’s death comes in the closing act, it’s chaotic, frightening and without the grandeur that we’ve seen in the presentation of his life. He is taken abruptly, barely registering to the viewer as the Dauntless succumbs to the grasp of the sea. The extended epilogue, in which the rootless Bunny makes his pilgrimage to Green Acres, confronting loss and legacy show where the true heart of this film lies, in the rewards that accompany a life lived as part of a greater ideal. Whether that reward is equal to its cost is ultimately known only by the dead.

Further reading

  • In The Vernacular: A Generation of Australian Culture and Controversy / Stuart. Cunningham ; Saint Lucia : University of Queensland Press ; 2009 (ebook)
  • Film Landscapes: Cinema, Environment and Visual Culture / Jonathan. Rayner ; Graham Harper ; Newcastle-upon-Tyne : Cambridge Scholars Publishing ; 2013. (ebook)
  • Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-Going, Exhibition and Reception / Karina Aveyard and Albert Moran (ebook)
  • "Australian Cinema - Searching for a National Identity" / Hutcheson, Tearlach. Antipodes, vol. 10, no. 1, 1996, pp. 39–42. JSTOR (article)
  • "The Breaking of the Drought: Australian Feature Films, 1946-1974" / Molloy, B. Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 2, 1993, pp. 83-89. (article)
  • A return to arms; Cover Story / Houston, Melinda. [Melbourne, Vic] 16 Apr 2006: 4. (article)

Join Lance on Tuesday 28 April at 4pm for a Q&A session on State Library of Queensland’s Facebook page.

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I'm loving your reviews Lance! Great read.

This initiative with Lance's film knowledge is a wonderful offering by SLQ. Thankyou. Great for film buffs and students, alike. #LibraryFromHome #LearningFromHome

Very much enjoyed this review