Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

Australia/USA 1949
Directed by
Charles Chauvel
107 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Sons Of Matthew

Charles Chauvel’s story of a pioneering Australian farming family is rooted in his own experience growing up on the land. 

Irishman Matthew O’Riordan (John O’Malley) and his English wife, Jane (Thelma Scott), battle the elements to establish a small farm at Deep Creek in northern New South Wales. They raise five boys and two girls along with the only daughter, Cathie McAllister (played as a baby by Charmian Young), of a neighbour  whose wife has died. The boys grow up and it comes time for them to go out into the world so they head to south-east Queensland with Cathie (now played by Wendy Gibb) where there is land to be had for hard workers. The eldest, Shane (Michael Pate) is a strong leader but tensions come to a head because he is unable to repress his love for Cathie who is expected to marry the second son, Barney (Ken Wayne), who is somewhat of a rustic playboy. The brothers fight and Shane is injured but a repentant Barney works doubly hard to ensure the success of the O’Riordan clan.

Whilst the film is a homage to the brave settlers who opened up south-east Queensland to farming in the mid-to-late 19th century (the scenes of hewing down the rainforest look a little environmentally naive today), stylistically the film is evidently indebted to Hollywood outdoor adventure models (funding came in part from the Australian division of Universal Studios). Although the  O’Riordan’s struggles are distinctly Australian  - a combination of drought, flood, fire and impenetrable forests - the narrative form in which they are couched is very much that of their American equivalents, particularly the films of John Ford , not least of which is the feud between two brothers over a pretty lass who, rather oddly, accompanies the five O’Riordan boys as they stake their claim to the virgin forests (perhaps an unintended metaphor for Cathie's sexual status.

With much location photography (the bush dwellings all look authentic and the film's climax, set amongst a fierce storm is a particularly effective combining of the natural elements with the human drama) the film was an arduous project that eventually cost around £120,000 – more than twice the budget of other films being made at the time  - and took 18 months to complete.

It  was a box office success in Australia but for its American and UK release, Universal cut 30 minutes, added some American narration and renamed it The Rugged O’Riordans. It the US but fared better in the UK probably because tickets came with a chance to win a free trip to Australia.

FYI: The film provided early roles for Michael Pate and John Ewart who became staples of Australian film and television in the 1960s and '70s.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst