' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Bush Christmas (1947)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: Bush Christmas (1947)

In the Australian outback of 1947, four children – three siblings and their English friend who has come to stay with them – are dismissed from school for Christmas. They link up with their aborigine pal and take a detour up to a high ridge where they encounter a couple rascals who, unbeknownst to them, are wanted horse thieves. Thus, when one of the kids makes mention of their father’s prized mare, the horse thieves make a mental note, turn up in the dead of night and abscond with it.

This is problematic because that prized mare was needed for the family to make their annual trip to the city for the holiday. No mare, no trip. The father and the authorities light out after the thieves but it is the band of kids, all five of them, who of their own foolish but brave accord track the thieves deep into the bush, intent on reclaiming the stolen animal and settling the score.

“Bush Christmas”, written, directed, produced, Shyamalan-style, by Ralph Stanley, is one of the more straightforward movies you will find, a beeline of adventure, bravery and polite comedy. Character is not really the issue here, which is not to suggest these kids do not have character but that the film frames them very much as a group, all for one and one for all. Helen (Helen Grieve) is the oldest and, thus, theoretically in charge, but this is clearly a mutual effort with each child contributing to this daring case of espionage in his or her own way. And the narrative rarely allows forays into each gang member’s respective personality, focusing universally on the task at hand, success, failure and suspense.

And for as much as it feels like an adventure book for youths, underscored by the narrator who steps in now and again to fill in the blanks and provide context, this is not entirely a story of innocence. The kids are out to retrieve their beloved Mare and tattle on the bad guys, sure, but they also try to TAKE OUT the bad guys with boulders. And the bad guys might be laconic but they are also carrying rifles and seem less than concerned with the age bracket of their tormentors. It’s not there is a palpable sense of extreme dread or danger throughout - we know how stories like this must end - but just slightly more sinister underpinnings than you normally find in fare for the whole family.

An American holiday movie of the past involves a young Macaulay Caulkin “Home Alone” and forced to defend it and hearth against a couple of bozo thieves. Since he is on his own, however, this underscores an individualist's attitude, whereas "Bush Christmas" goes to show how we so often get by with a little help from our friends.

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