The Sentimental Bloke: The two-up school

The Sentimental Bloke: The two-up school
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Bill (Arthur Tauchert) and his 'cobber’ Ginger Mick (Gilbert Emery) go to the illicit 'two-up’ school after several hours of drinking. The police raid the game, chasing the players all over the neighbourhood. Mick hides in a horse feed barrel, but Bill is arrested after a 'stoush’ with a policeman. Summary by Paul Byrnes.

The details of this scene would have been much more familiar to audiences in 1920, including the 'dandified’ clothes worn by Ginger Mick, which clearly identify him as a member of a 'push’, or gang of ruffians (especially the high-waisted pants and the fancy scarf). They would have recognised the man outside the 'two-up’ game as the 'cockatoo’, or look-out. The scene is played for rich comedy but it also establishes that 'the Kid’ is no angel – he puts the boot in to the policeman the first chance he gets.

The Sentimental Bloke synopsis

Bill, AKA 'The Kid’ (Arthur Tauchert), a larrikin from the Sydney dockside suburb of Woolloomooloo, gets a six-month sentence when he’s caught in a two-up game. After he’s released, he falls for Doreen (Lottie Lyell), an upright young woman who works in a pickle factory. She makes him renounce drinking, gambling and running with the local 'push’ (or gang). They marry and although he’s not yet fully reformed, the love of a good woman helps him to find a future.

The Sentimental Bloke Curator's notes

The Sentimental Bloke is regarded by many as the greatest silent film that Australia has produced. It was very popular when released in 1920 – partly because the book of verse by CJ Dennis was well-loved – but the film was largely forgotten by the 1930s, after 'talkies’ took over. Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell had been a successful acting duo since 1909, when she was 19 and he was 31. He had married in 1900, but his Catholic wife refused to grant a divorce, so Longford and Lyell could never solemnise their relationship the way that Arthur Tauchert, as 'The Kid’, does in this film. Nevertheless from 1911 until her early death in 1925 from tuberculosis, they lived and worked together on a series of acclaimed and controversial films, that were generally very successful.

The Bloke, as it’s affectionately known, is remarkable for the naturalism of its acting and the humour with which it portrays a working class milieu. Dennis’s poem is set in Melbourne, but Longford and Lyell relocated it to Sydney’s Woolloomooloo, which had a well-deserved reputation as a tough, inner-city neighbourhood. The violent gangs (or 'pushes’) had largely disappeared by the time it was made, and Australia was just emerging from the First World War. The Kid is 'saved’ from his life as a wastrel by the love of a good woman, a suitably reformist message – but most of the fun in the film concerns sin, in its many forms.

The book, published in 1915, is set pre-War, and that may be part of what made it popular with postwar audiences: it showed the city as a colourful pageant, full of unlikely characters, horse-drawn carts (not cars), and plentiful diversion in the form of pubs and 'two-up’ schools. The reality, in cities like Sydney and Melbourne in 1920, with thousands of maimed soldiers returning to grim prospects, was very different.

Part of what makes The Bloke so enduring is that Longford and Lyell (who collaborated on all aspects of the film) have real affection for the milieu and characters they depict. Arthur Higgins’ cinematography has an almost documentary feel in some scenes, such as the wedding reception. Film acting in 1919 was usually much more gestured than it is here. Arthur Tauchert, a former labourer himself, was performing in suburban vaudeville theatres when he was cast. His performance as Bill, the sentimental tough guy, grounds the whole film in reality. He can hardly believe his luck in finding Doreen. The possibility that he might lose her is kept very real throughout, because he’s very human, and succumbs easily to temptation. Even with its reformist message, the film never seems preachy. Rather, it had a strongly optimistic tone, a sense of hope – which may have been another reason for its success. 

Notes by Paul Byrnes

Additional curator's notes

The Sentimental Bloke has, from the time of its release, been regarded as the supreme achievement of Australia’s silent era of film production. It was better reviewed and better received than any other pre-1930 Australian feature film. The vividness of its characterisation, heartfelt and sympathetic storytelling, its mixture of comedy with realistic backgrounds, and its Australian box office success played a major role in defining Australian national character on screen.

After the rediscovery of a sole surviving 35mm print of The Sentimental Bloke in the early 1950s, the film reached new audiences for another 50 years via 16mm prints loaned Australia-wide by government film libraries. During this time, all but one reel of the 35mm print was lost after the film had been copied, in 1954, to 35mm black-and-white duplicate negative. As a consequence the 16mm black-and-white copies of the film that most people saw during this time were visually inferior to The Sentimental Bloke’s original, needle-sharp, colour-tinted viewing experience.

In 1992–93 the film was restored to 35mm prints by accessing the 35mm duplicate negative created in 1954, and screened to some acclaim at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival (in Italy) and in subsequent touring screenings.

Between the years 2000 and 2004, with sponsorship from Atlab Laboratories and Kodak Australasia, the NFSA newly restored The Sentimental Bloke again on 35mm using a duplicate of the film’s original negative that had recently been found in the vaults of George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Good quality scenes from this negative, representing a version that had been condensed and re-titled for the US market in the 1920s, were combined with more complete scenes that had survived in the NFSA’s 1950s-era duplicate negative. This reconstruction of The Sentimental Bloke, colour-tinted as the original had been and with new music accompaniment by Jen Anderson and the Larrikins, was voted Best Film at the 2004 Sydney Film Festival. The restoration subsequently toured Australia and overseas, frequently with Jen Anderson and team playing live to the screen.

In 2008 the NFSA began work on what would become a box set – two DVDs containing the film (complete with Jen Anderson’s score, now recorded), and extra materials, a monograph on the film, a reprint of the film’s original script, and a novelty flip-book with images from the film – for the domestic market release of the 2004 restored version of The Sentimental Bloke. This box set, produced by the NFSA in association with Madman Entertainment, was publicly launched by the NFSA’s chair and its Senior Curator, Moving Image, at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, on Tuesday 12 May 2009.

Additional notes by Graham Shirley

Education Notes

This clip shows Bill (Arthur Tauchert), the 'sentimental bloke’ of the film’s title, and his friend Ginger Mick (Gilbert Emery) at an illegal two-up game at the back of premises in inner-city Sydney. A police raid disperses the game after a plain-clothes police officer tricks the 'cockatoo’ (lookout) keeping watch in the laneway outside. Pursued by police, men flee, some over fences and rooftops. After a long chase Ginger Mick hides in a horse feed barrel, but Bill is apprehended after a 'stoush’ with a police officer. The clip is silent and black and white, and includes four intertitles.

Educational value points

  • A classic of Australian cinema, The Sentimental Bloke broke all box-office records in Australia when it was released in 1919, with people queuing along city blocks to see it. The film tells the love story of Bill, a larrikin, and 'his girl’, Doreen (Lottie Lyell). Following his arrest at the two-up game, Bill decides to reform his ways. He meets Doreen and after some trials, including a rift caused by the appearance of a sophisticated rival, Bill forsakes his drinking mate, Ginger Mick, marries Doreen and becomes a good husband and provider.
  • The Sentimental Bloke is based on the verse narrative The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by CJ Dennis. First published in 1915, the book sold more than 60,000 copies in the following 18 months. It was printed in pocket editions for sale to Australian soldiers and there is plenty of evidence that it was widely read by soldiers who liked to think they were larrikins at heart. Arguably, the popularity of the film, coming so soon after the First World War, was due to the success of the book.
  • The Sentimental Bloke was shot on location, mainly in the working-class Sydney suburbs of Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst. Raymond Longford, who directed the film, moved the location of Dennis’s story from inner-city Melbourne to inner-city Sydney, an environment he knew well, having been raised in Darlinghurst. The authenticity and specificity of the locations, which were also an important feature of the book, and the film’s candid depiction of slum neighbourhoods, reflected a world that was recognisable to contemporary audiences.
  • Dialect was a distinguishing feature of Dennis’s verse and The Sentimental Bloke featured dialect in the intertitles. Dennis’s story was simply and humorously told in verse that used colourful language. This language owed as much to the London stage as it did to the Melbourne larrikin and could as easily be spoken as read silently. In this clip the intertitle 'Jist ’eadin ’em, an’ doin’ in me gilt’ refers to Bill losing money (gilt) when he bets on heads (just heading them) in the two-up game.
  • In this clip Bill plays two-up, an Australian gambling game that was illegal at the time. In two-up, two coins are placed tails up on a flat board called a 'kip’ or 'paddle’, the ringer (who is in charge of the two-up ring) calls 'come in spinner’, and the spinner (player with the coins) tosses the coins. Bets are made on whether the coins will land on heads or tails. During this period a 'cockatoo’ was stationed to look out for the police when the game was being played. Two-up, which may have originated on the gold fields in the 1850s, was played by members of the Australian armed forces in both World Wars and can be played legally today on Anzac Day and in casinos.
  • Raymond Longford directed The Sentimental Bloke in collaboration with his partner, Lottie Lyell. Pioneer filmmakers, Longford and Lyell had the most creative partnership of the early years of Australian cinema, and The Sentimental Bloke is recognised as their masterpiece. Lyell, who was a leading silent screen actor, played the part of Bill’s love, Doreen, but also cowrote the screenplay, selected the intertitles and assisted with locations, editing and art direction. Longford and Lyell made about 25 films together, but only five survive.
  • Longford cast actors, such as Arthur Tauchert, who looked 'ordinary’ rather than like 'movie stars’. Tauchert, a vaudeville performer and former labourer, and Lyell embodied the types they represented, and this may have contributed to the film’s appeal. This casting decision may have been part of the reason the film did not secure US distribution. Longford directed his actors to be natural and to tone down the exaggerated acting style used in silent film in the absence of speech. The actors prepared by immersing themselves in working-class culture and speaking slang all day.
  • The Sentimental Bloke was produced during the pioneering years of Australian cinema. After film was successfully projected to an audience in Paris in 1895, Australians were quick to adopt the new medium. Between 1906 and 1912 Australia produced more feature-length films than Britain or the USA. However, in the 1920s US and British distributors signed exclusive deals with Australian cinemas. This limited screening possibilities for Australian films, and sent the Australian film industry into a decline that lasted until the 1970s.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Southern Cross Feature Film Company
Raymond Longford
Raymond Longford
Lottie Lyell, Raymond Longford
CJ Dennis
William Coulter, CJ Dennis, Gilbert Emery, Helen Fergus, Charles Keegan, Lottie Lyell, Margaret Reid, Stanley Robinson, Arthur Tauchert, Harry Young

This is a silent clip with intertitles.

Intertitle: The ‘Two Up’ School
Two men, Bill and Ginger, enter an illicit two-up school. A lookout stands watch outside, on the footpath.

Intertitle: Jist ‘eadin ‘em, an’ doin’ in me gilt.
Inside, a large group of men are standing around playing two-up. Outside on the footpath, two men talk and then fight. Inside, the games continue.

Intertitle: The Raid.
Police arrive to break up the tussle on the footpath between the lookout and a plain-clothes police officer. The men inside the two-up school hurriedly disperse in all directions. The fighting continues. A chase ensues, including over rooftops and fences. Mick hides in a horsefeed barrel.

Intertitle: Pinched.
A struggling Bill is captured by two police officers, who begin dragging him away.