Scorpion Releasing goes down under for a handful of its July DVD releases, including THE JACKI WEAVER collection in which both films feature far too little of the award-winning actress.
CADDIE – based on the self-titled autobiography – is actually the story of "Caddie" Marsh (A TOWN LIKE ALICE's Helen Morse, who picked up an AFI best actress award here) whose wealthy husband (voice actor Phillip Hinton) callously abandons her for another woman. Against the wishes of her husband and mother-in-law, the former hotel waitress takes the children Ann (played first by Deborah Kounnas and later in the film by Marianne Howard) and Terry (played by Hinton's real sons Sean and Simon) with her and sets about finding work to support them. She moves from one seedy boarding house to another until she is offered a job as a trainee barmaid, which initially offends her sensibilities until she learns she can make more money in tips than she could as a fancy waitress. She learns the drinks as well as how to respectably but profitably comport herself with customers – both the working class males and the butch females in the neighboring "salon" – from more experienced Josie (Weaver). She catches the eye of bookie Ted (Jack Thompson, BREAKER MORANT) but is resistant to his overtures but eventually relents, only to discover how much of a cad he really is. At a party, she meets Greek immigrant Peter (Takis Emmanuel, ZORBA THE GREEK) who admires her strength and persistence. He loves her children and they are happy for a time, even though both are having trouble procuring divorces from their spouses (his overseas). When his father dies, Peter has to go back home but promises to return. In the meantime, the depression hits and Caddie finds herself out of a job and scrounging to take care of the children, having to swallow her pride and maneuver her way through the welfare system and also finds herself involved in some illegal dealings.
Produced the year after "International Women's Year" but partially funded by its National Advisory Committee, CADDIE isn't quite as elegant as Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (which also featured Morse and Weaver, as well as Seale and costume designer Judith Dorsman behind the camera) or Gillian Armstrong's MY BRILLIANT CAREER as far as Australian period pieces goes, but it's a definite showcase for Morse, who won an AFI award for best actress, although turns by Weaver, Melissa Jaffer (THE CARS THAT EAT PEOPLE), and Drew Forsythe (STONE) – as one of a pair of meat dealer siblings who come to Caddie's aid when she falls ill – justly earned supporting actor awards (a tie in the case of the two women). CADDIE is prettily-photographed by Peter James (DRIVING MISS DAISY) – whose camera operator was future Hollywood cinematographer John Seale (DEAD POET'S SOCIETY) – and designed (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME's Graham "Grace" Walker served as assistant art director). Director Donald Crombie largely reigns in filmmaking flourishes and lets the actors take center stage (apart from some soft-focused shots during Caddie's happier moments with Peter). The ending is optimistic but closes short of a resolution, with a text screen summing up the resolution. Like many Australian directors of the period, Crombie started out in documentary filmmaking, directed a handful of features during the cinema boom of the late seventies to late eighties before being consigned to television.
Weaver – probably best-known stateside for her Academy Award-nominated turns in the Australian export ANIMAL KINGDOM and the more recent Oscar-bait SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – did not have much screen time in CADDIE, but she may have even less in SQUIZZY TAYLOR as Dolly, the moll of the titular small-time (in height as well) gangster (David Atkins, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME) working under bookie Henry Stokes (Cul Cullen, THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER). Known by his cronies and the authorities alike for letting others do the dirty work (apart from slashing a few faces), Squizzy yearns to be a bigshot. When Taylor's moll Dolly (Weaver) is gang-raped by rival "Snowy" Cutmore (Steve Bisley, MAD MAX), Stokes is reluctant to help him get even, so he recruits two drunk friends on a hit-and-run/molatov cocktail bombing of the rival gang's bar. The attack has the police worrying about a possible gang war, and they get one when naïve reporter Reg Harvey (Robert Hughes, WINTER OF OUR DREAMS) – who has approached Taylor about getting him into a "two up game" for a story he is doing on "the working man's pleasure" – prints a remark inadvertently made by Taylor.
To keep the peace, Detective Brophy (Alan Cassell, BREAKER MORANT) uses blackmail to get Stokes to leave town believing that he can better handle Taylor taking over in Stokes' absence; however, Taylor realizes the power of the press and uses Harvey to build up his own perceived reputation. When Brophy's more principled colleague Piggott (Michael Long, DEAD CALM) tries to bust Taylor for bootlegging, Taylor absconds on bail with his new mistress Ida (TV actress Kim Lewis). Needling the police through letters and stories published by Harvey in the newspaper, Taylor becomes a celebrity with the public bolstered by sitings in public (as well as a starring role alongside his mistress in the now lost silent film RIDING TO WIN which was banned in Victoria for "representing two persons who figured recently in Criminal Court proceedings" but was eventually shown in other territories). During this time, Brophy also utilizes Taylor to intimidate witnesses and fix juries to solve a major case, also allowing him and Ida to return to public life. When Taylor becomes implicated in a murder committed by an associate, however, he burns his bridges with the police and the press to get off, dismissing his "newspaper hero" image and leaving himself vulnerable to rivals who no longer see him as formidable.
SQUIZZY TAYLOR did not do well theatrically in Australia, and that's believable because it's pretty dull. Part of this may have to do with unfamiliarity with the Melbourne gangster's story – much of which as seen here is uncertain due to his personal spin and that of the newspapers – and one wonders about just how many of the events covered might have been fresh in the local public conscience (a little internet research shows that the script does indeed cover major events in Taylor's life, but the casual viewer might not understand the significance of them). The direction of Kevin James Dobson (THE VIRGIN OF JUAREZ) is also to blame in that love scenes, gunplay, a gang rape, and other action unfold in the same manner as the various "time passes" montages under the period scoring of Bruce Smeaton (A CRY IN THE DARK) with very little sense of drama. The film is more successful in the few scenes where it becomes apparent that, in addition to Taylor's own manipulation of the media, that he is also a pawn in the rivalry between streetwise Brophy and Piggott. Lewis' Ida has more screentime than Weaver, although she is only slightly less superfluous. Atkins, a choreographer and dancer, gets to dance under the ending credits in a fanciful segment (considering that his character is dead at this point).
CADDIE comes to American DVD in a progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that adequately renders the period Australian photography – somewhat gritty with muted colors, diffusion, and occasional star filters – while the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track cleanly renders the scoring of Patrick Flynn (MAD DOG MORGAN) and the dialogue. SQUIZZY TAYLOR is presented in a progressive though non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that is otherwise problem free (as is the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track). There are no extras for either film, but the disc does include trailers for some of Scorpion's other upcoming Australian releases PICTURE SHOW MAN, Gillian Armstrong's THE LAST DAYS OF CHEZ NOUS, and WINTER OF OUR DREAMS (with Judy Davis and Bryan Brown), as well as a trailer for the British thriller PAPER MASK. Parties suitably impressed by these two Aussie efforts may want to seek out the separate import editions as CADDIE includes an audio commentary and vintage making-of featurette (the specs for the Aussie disc of SQUIZZY TAYLOR say it's anamorphic, but they may be inaccurate given the master supplied to Scorpion). (Eric Cotenas)
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