Scorpion Releasing gives the special edition treatment to their DVD of Australian autobiographical "coming of age" drama CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HERE YOU.
Depression-era Australia: Seven year old PS (Nicholas Gledhill, DEAD TO THE WORLD) never knew his mother Sinden who died shortly after his birth (she named him PS as the "postscript to her ridiculous life") or his estranged father who supposedly works as a gold miner somewhere far off. He has lived his entire life with his aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin, THE MATRIX RELOADED) and uncle George (Peter Whitford, DEAD END DRIVE-IN) in a modest home in a Sydney suburb with visits from vivacious Aunt Vere (Geraldine Turner, SUMMERFIELD) and dotty Aunt Agnes (Isabelle Anderson, THE WINDS OF JARRAH). Lila is unsettled when she receives a letter from younger sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes, MY BRILLIANT CAREER) – who went off to live with wealthy Cousin Ettie (Colleen Clifford, THE COCA-COLA KID) in England at a young age – notifying them of her return. Appointed co-guardian of PS by his father – reportedly while drunk – Vanessa returns with Cousin Ettie with plans to civilize her nephew. Lila reluctantly agrees to share custody with PS staying with Vanessa during the week at the glamorous estate she has leased as the arrangement will allow PS to attend a private day school. Poor PS finds himself no more able to fit in at school (partially because of his strange name but also because of his bastard status) than in his aunt's home where he is subjected to piano, dance, and riding lessons as well as increasingly unsettling signs of Vanessa's mental instability including possible sexual abuse ("Oh, hold me Logan. Hold me"). Little does Lila or PS realize that Vanessa has been in contact with the boy's father Logan (John Hargreaves, LONG WEEKEND) and plotting to gain full custody of PS. Logan has a change of heart when he sees how unhappy the boy is and tells him of Vanessa's plan to take him back to England with her. The boy's refusal to return to Vanessa's after a weekend with Lila and George leads to a court battle with ugliness from both sides (including the surfacing of long-standing resentments between the sisters). When Vanessa is determined better-equipped to look after the boy's interests and literally snatched from Lila by Vanessa's private detective (Michael Long, SQUIZZY TAYLOR), PS turns (or mimics) Vanessa's own psychological game-playing against her.
Based on the autobiographical novel of Sumner Locke Elliot (1917-1991), an Australian-born author who penned a number of plays in Australia before immigrating to the United States in 1955 where he wrote prolifically for the popular live television drama programs, CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU (1963) was his first novel and was followed by ten others as well as several short stories. The film is told from PS' perspective – sometimes literally with the camera fading from an objective angle to the child's low angle POV (sometimes diffused, most of the time viewed through some foreground frame like the slats of a fence as he spies adult conversations) – the story almost has the feel of Gothic novel – or at least the Aussie equivalent of a Southern Gothic – with all too human characters seeming grotesque or even monstrous from PS' perspective, the figurative specter of Sinden looming over all, the not-exactly-ancestral estate, and of course we're told not to take anything crazy Aunt Agnes says seriously but late in the film she does make some compelling points about how Lila's fear of Vanessa might have shaped how PS feels about her (Vere also suggests that both Lila and Vanessa in their adoration of Sinden will make PS grow to hate his mother's memory). Vanessa's motives are not so clear-cut, least of all to herself, making her a more pitiable character than a true villain (as PS himself realizes after humiliating her in a thoroughly cruel manner that is nevertheless understandable given the boy's age and just how truly messed up state of their relationship). The resolution, which depends on a twist of fate (and some awkward opticals), is not fully satisfying but it was perhaps necessary for Elliot to take some dramatic license as the true version would seem even more arbitrary (and he seems to have reconciled his feelings for his aunt, leading to a somewhat underwhelming final scene between Vanessa and PS).
The stunning Hughes – who sadly passed away this March – makes sympathetic a character who wants to be loved but is capable of giving everything but love (physical or otherwise) in return while the late Hargreaves is a true standout as a character thoroughly charming and sincere yet sadly, pathetically incapable of being a father. Eight-year-old Gledhill gives an impressively disciplined performance, and is well-supported by a cast who are called upon to either be one-dimensional or schizophrenically changeable to suit the child's naïve perspective. The film is beautifully shot by Peter Weir regular John Seale (DEAD POET'S SOCIETY) – thoroughly caressing period settings, set dressing, costumes, and Hughes with his camera – with a rich orchestral score by Ray Cook (REBEL). Hungarian-born director Carl Schultz started his directing career on Australian television in the seventies, and his sole Hollywood feature would be the Demi Moore occult film THE SEVENTH SIGN but he would also direct the Harrison Ford bookending segments for THE YOUNG ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES series before returning to Australian television in the nineties. The film swept the Australian Film Institute with awards for Best Film, Best Director (Schultz), Best Actress in a Lead Role (Hughes), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hargreaves), Best Adapted Screenplay (Michael Jenkins, who had previously adapted Elliot's WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE for Australian television), production design (John Stoddart, THE MOSQUITO COAST), costumes (Bruce Finlayson, A CRY IN THE DARK), and cinematography, as well as acting nominations for Gledhill and Nevins, score, sound, and editing (DEAD CALM's Richard Francis-Bruce).
Released theatrically on panned-and-scanned videotape by Twentieth Century Fox, CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU arrived on DVD first stateside via Image Entertainment in 2001 in a barebones, single-layer, interlaced anamorphic widescreen followed by a 2-disc Australian import a little later in the decade with almost two hours of extras. Scorpion's dual-layer, progressive, anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen DVD is has different framing with the Scorpion revealing more on the top and left of the frame while the Image revealed more on the bottom and right. The softness at the edges of the frame and the bowing distortion on some straight lines is an effect of the older Panavision lenses used in seventies and early eighties Australian productions. The Scorpion – presumably the same as master as the Umbrella disc – is brighter but almost to the point of washing out detail in some shots (including some blown out sky backgrounds where clouds were visible in the older transfer), and it generally looks a bit more "digital" than the Image transfer, although both exhibit edge enhancement (the Scorpion encode is only slightly smaller since it shares space with two hours of extras on the dual-layer disc). I'd give the edge to the Scorpion because it's progressive and has great extras, and it's too fantastic of a film to pass on because the image isn't perfect. The Dolby Digital 2.0 rendering of the Dolby Stereo track is clean, strategically using the surround field for the more fantastic passages, the crowd and city scenes, and the grander sections of Cook's score.
Scorpion has licensed the extras from the Australian set starting with the featurette "A Child's Journey from the Page to the Screen" (74:03), a detailed retrospective featurette including the participation of producer Jill Robb (THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…), Hughes, a grown-up Gledhill, as well as excerpts from a 1985 interview with Elliot conducted in New York for Australian television. Robb had met Elliot while she was producing the TV adaptation of his novel WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE and he expressed his wish to see CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU adapted into a film. Robb used to work for Michael Powell (BLACK NARCISSUS) whose producing partner Joshua Logan had the rights to the novel in perpetuity (and had at one point been planning an adaptation with Vivian Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor). Logan was dying in hospital at the time and Elliot pressed him to sell the rights to him. Robb, Hughes, and Gledhill not only recall the shoot but offer up their interpretations of the complex character of Vanessa as well as PS' emotional and psychological transformation, as well as casting PS (Gledhill was actually the first child actor they saw) and his working relationship with director Schultz and with the other cast. Throughout the featurette's twenty encoded chapters, the trio go on to discuss their impressions of each of the other characters and the actors who played them (including Hargreaves netting a supporting actor award with eight minutes of screentime), as well as the Depression-era setting and period Australian attitudes, director Schultz's respect for the source novel, the film's release and reception (and how its overseas distribution in some territories was thwarted by legal battles).
Also included is the aforementioned 1985 interview with Sumner Locke Elliot (34:27) in its full form. Elliot discusses the autobiographical events behind the film (his mother had been a writer before him, the judge recommended Elliot attend boarding school to get away from all of his aunts, and the real equivalent of nutty Aunt Agnes ended up a Christian Scientist in Boston) as well as the dramatic license he exercised (as far as he knew, his aunt was not in love with his father and he never actually met him), as well as how he gravitated from acting to writing (and how writing for the state prepared him for writing for live television more so than writers who graduated from radio), and his extensive creative process. It's an invaluable extra not only in relation to the film and novel, but also as a more candid look at a writer's working methods than you would get with more contemporary scribes. The disc also carries over the Australian disc's a photo gallery (5:29). While there must have been a trailer for the film, it is not included here (the trailer Umbrella Entertainment has up on their YouTube channel is actually the introductory montage of clips to the retrospective featurette), but the disc does include trailers for the Australian films for PICTURE SHOW MAN, THE LAST DAYS OF CHEZ NOUS, WINTER OF OUR DREAMS, and SHAME. (Eric Cotenas)
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