Overlanders, The (Australia-UK, 1946) *** 1/2
Directed and written by Harry Watt. Produced by Michael Balcon. Photography, Osmond Borradaile. Editing, Inman Hunter. Music, John Ireland. Cast: Chips Rafferty, John Nugent Hayward, Daphne Campbell, et al. 91 minutes. B & W.
"The Ealing Studios present their first Australian film." For that matter, this was also the first and only Australian film widely known abroad, until the New Australian Cinema exploded on the scene in the 1970s.
The star of this film, a very tall string bean named Chips Rafferty, was also the only Australian actor with some sort of foreign reputation. "The Overlanders" recreates a historical event. In 1942, fearing a Japanese invasion, the Australians were evacuating materials from the North, an area "with 5,000 whites and one million head of cattle." They "overlanded" thousands of cattle to safer areas in the largest and longest drove in history.
In the movie, rugged Rafferty (interestingly enough called McAlpine, the name of one the New Australian Cinema's master cinematographers,) convinced that bullocks are more important than bullets, organizes the first such drove, from Western Australia through the Northern Territory to Queensland and the sea, 1,500 miles or "from London to Moscow."
With some hardy companions, and at an average speed of 8-10 miles a day, a "mob" of 968 cattle eventually makes it, through dangers and near-disasters, and with minimal losses. The picture was made by one of the master British documentarists, who gave it such an authentic feel and look that it cannot help but stress, by comparison, the fictional aspect of cattle drives in American westerns. There are no hokey events, no Hollywoodish dramatics in this admirably straightforward work. The casual calm of its Australian men and women is impressive. Shot in gorgeous black and white with talent and against photogenic landscapes, much of the esthetic effect of layers of dust or mist will get obscured on the small screen until high definition TV comes along.