We celebrate the 70th anniversary of Charles Kingsford Smith biopic 'Smithy'

BY BETH TAYLOR

Ken G Hall’s film about the life of aviator Charles Kingsford Smith turns 70 this year.

With Ron Randell in the title role of Smithy, there are two other notable stars of the film: The Southern Cross, Kingsford Smith’s plane, and former Prime Minister the Right Honourable William Morris (Billy) Hughes (1862-1952), playing himself.

In the clip below we see Smithy talking with Billy Hughes. In 1919 a £10,000 prize (equivalent to three quarters of a million dollars today) for the first Australian to fly a British plane from England to Australia was announced and Hughes, as prime minister, insisted on interviewing all the prospective candidates.

Twenty seven years later Hughes, now in his mid-80s, was able to reprise his interview with the real Smithy, and does so with great relish.

Smithy excerpt (Australia, 1946). Directed by Ken G Hall. Produced by Cinesound Productions for Columbia Pictures Corporation. NFSA title 7600.
 

In the script (written by Alec Coppel and John Chandler), Hughes was required to switch off his hearing aid while Kingsford Smith is protesting his decision. Hughes did not want his deafness revealed and asked for that to be removed from the script.

Director, Ken G Hall, talking with Billy Hughes on the set of 'Smithy'

Director, Ken G Hall, talking with Billy Hughes on the set of 'Smithy'

This meant that director of photography George Heath had to film Hughes only from his left side to conceal his hearing aid.

Hughes, whose forthrightness and charm is evident in this clip, was the longest-serving member of Australian Parliament. He was serving as the member for Bradfield when he died in 1952 aged 90.

Known for features including On Our Selection (Australia, 1932) and The Silence of Dean Maitland (Australia, 1934), this was Ken G Hall’s last full-length feature. Hall, who led Cinesound Productions from 1931-56 and brought home Australia’s first Academy Award for Kokoda Front Line! (Australia, 1942), went on to concentrate on documentaries, and in 1957 became the Chief Executive of TCN 9.

The film was a major success at the Australian box office. In the US it was released as Pacific Adventure.

Pacific Adventure and Adventura sul Pacifico lobby cards

Lobby cards were displayed in cinemas to entice moviegoers. The monotone lobby cards for Pacific Adventure and tri-tone fotobuste (Italian lobby cards) for Avventura sul Pacifico below show scenes from the movie in sequence. They also show how differently a film can be marketed in two different territories.

Made right after the Second World War the producers were keen to market the film in the United States as a romantic adventure so the pictures chosen for the lobby cards highlight the romantic storyline, exotic locations and Smithy’s swashbuckling bravery. The tag line on one of the cards overtly reads ‘Not a war picture!’. The Italian photobustas take a different tack, highlighting the domestic drama and romance angles of the film.

Lobby cards for Smithy are also known to exist for the UK release (where it was called Southern Cross).