Blood Money and other Australian crime films you’ve probably never heard of

MaloneIf you haven’t heard of the 1980 Australian film Bloody Money, don’t worry, you’d be in good company. Clocking in at just over 62 minutes, it’s an unpolished little gem of a heist film and almost completely unavailable.

John Flaus plays Pete Shields, an aging Sydney criminal who experiences an emotional epiphany after a diamond robbery he’s involved in goes violently wrong and his doctor informs him he’s got terminal cancer.

Shields returns to Melbourne, his hometown, where he has family, a little brother Brian (Aussie icon Bryan Brown), having trouble going straight, and Brian’s wife, Jeannie. There’s a lot of unfinished emotional business between them, including Shields’s affair with Jeannie years ago that may mean he is father of her and Brian’s daughter.

Pete also has unfinished criminal business with a gang run by Mister Curtis (Peter Stratford). To make sure his brother doesn’t fall back into their clutches, Pete takes Curtis’s gang apart man by man then kidnaps the crime boss’s daughter for a $50,000 ransom.

Blood Money has a definite Get Carter vibe, including the ending where Shields, having exchanged the daughter for the cash, is gunned in a remote quarry.

It’s not the greatest local crime film ever made, but Director John Ruane (who went on to do Death in Brunswick) gives it a grainy realism that draws the viewer in. It’s not afraid to align itself with classic hardboiled US narratives and, in doing so, feels surprisingly unselfconscious and fresh.

The real crime of this film is the trouble I had to go to see it. I can’t help but speculate that it if was a coming of age film shot in regional Australia, critics would be baying for it be restored and re-released. But an urban crime film with a hard-boiled sensibility? Forget it.

Unfortunately, it’s not the only hard to get local crime flick from the seventies and eighties. There several others worth listing, partly to give you a sense of some of the buried cinematic treasure out there, partly in hopes some reader might be able to point me in the direction of where copies might be found.

The Empty Beach (1985)

Based on the novel of the same name by writer Peter Corris, The Empty Beach features Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy, a tough PI working the mean streets of Sydney.

The movie opens with a wealthy criminally connected businessman called John Singer about to go for a pleasure cruise on the Harbour with his mistress. But they are greeted at the docks by some shady looking characters. No more is heard from him. It is surmised that he fell overboard that day and drowned.

Two years later Singer’s wife Marion (Belinda Gibbon) hires Hardy after she receives an anonymous note claiming her husband is still alive. Hardy’s investigation leads him to the newspaper reporter, Bruce Henneberry (Nick Tate), who reported on Singer’s disappearance.

Henneberry thinks something is not right, something that’s related to his latest investigative journalism piece. He also has all the dirt on the city’s corrupt political, business and criminal elite on tapes he’s stashed away. When Henneberry’s murdered, Hardy finds himself in a race with the police and Sydney’s underworld to track down tapes

Unlike Blood Money, The Empty Beach is well made and scripted and Brown is fantastic as Hardy. It’s one of the few local crime movies I can think of that can genuinely stake a claim to being a real noir.

Although relatively easily available on VHS tape, unless you’ve kept your old video player you still have to fork over for a DVD copy, which is what I did, and the quality is not great. Why a film this good hasn’t been restored and re-released is a complete mystery to me.

Goodbye Paradise (1983)

I watched ages ago and suspect the passing of the years and much of Surfers Paradise where it was shot, has imbued the film with qualities that probably don’t match up to the reality of the product.

Michael Stacey (Ray Barrett), a drunken former Assistant Police Commissioner fallen on hard times, is employed by an old friend to undertake the relatively simple task of finding his daughter who has gone missing amid the glitter of Surfers Paradise. Stacey’s mission takes him through the city’s corrupt underbelly, with diversions through a religious cult and several murders, and ends up with him unearthing the beginnings of a military coup.

Directed by Carl Schultz (better known for Careful He Might Hear You released the same year), it won 4 AFI awards, including Best Actor for Ray Barrett and Best Screenplay by Bob Ellis and Denny Lawrence.

The occasional VHS copy surfaces on Ebay for an exorbitant price. There’s also a copy at ACMI in Melbourne, but you have to go to a booth to watch it. That’s okay if you’re watching porn but no way to see a film.

Scobie Malone (1975)

As far was I’m concerned, this is the grand daddy of lost Australian crime films. Based on the novel Helga’s Web by local author Jon Cleary, it features his fictional detective Scobie Malone, played by Jack Thompson.

Malone is a Sydney homicide detective investigating the murder of a high-class prostitute. In the course of his inquires, Malone uncovers she had links to a high level politician, a film director and an infamous crime boss known as Mister Sin (Noel Ferrier – remember him?).

It was one of several films made based on Cleary’s work and the second featuring the character of Malone. The first, The High Commissioner, made in 1968, starred Rod Taylor as Malone and Christopher Plummer as the Australian High Commissioner in England caught up in unsavoury dealings.

Cleary reported hated the later film, especially the way his character was transformed into a womanizing rogue cop. Scobie Malone completely bombed at the box office, despite Thompson having recently been in Petersen (1974) and the wonderful Sunday Too Far Away (1975).

It’s almost as if this has been completely erased from Australia’s collective cultural memory bank. Very little has been written about it and I’ve never been able to get even near to unearthing a copy.

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21 Responses

  1. If anyone can spearhead a successful campaign to see these gems restored/remastered/re-released it’s you.

  2. Dave Whish-Wilson

    Thanks for the tip re Money Mover’s Andrew – watched it last night, terrific. Must still have a bit of a following – had to wait for 2 dvd rentals to be returned in different shops (less it means you have have a bit of a following here.) Will keep an eye out for Scobie Malone and Bloody Money…

  3. maybe some info that would help track it down can be found in the credits?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9Gz7QmrDDE

    • Dave,
      So glad you tracked down Money Movers. It’s a great heist story and I love the seventies feel of the film, the culture, the way they speak and act, all those wonderful Australian characters actors. It’s a pity it’s not better known.
      Andrew

  4. Here it is!

    Scobie Malone re-titled as “Murder at the Opera House”…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWcRKRNpeZA

    • TH,
      Ahhh, different title, so that’s why I’ve never found it on UTube. I’ll have to check it out. I knew if I put it out there readers would come up with some good leads. Good tip re checking the source of UTube upload. I’ll follow that up. Thanks for stopping by.
      Andrew

  5. There appears to be a good quality version of Scobie Malone out there… if you watch the second disk (special features / extended interviews) – of the Australian DVD of Not Quite Hollywood, Jack Thompson talks about Scobie Malone, and some gorgeous wide screen clips are shown.

    So a print is out there… but something must be delaying its release (rights or a music clearance ???)

    And I would assume (?) that Umbrella would have looked to acquire it for their Ozploitation series.

  6. David,
    I have no doubt a reasonable quality version of Malone exists, it’s just a matter of getting my hands on it. Did you see the comments above re parts of the movie being put on UTube under the title of ‘Murder at the Opera House’? It’s not great quality, but beggars can’t be chooses. I’ll check out the extended interviews on Not Quite Hollywood for more info.
    Andrew

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  8. Andrew,
    Thanks so much for this, I’ll look forward to watching it.
    Andrew

  9. Cool stuff… but just a point of correction. “Blood Money” was directed by Chris Fitchett… who coincidentally, is currently making his return to directing with the supernatural thriller, “The Fear of Darkness” filming on the Gold Coast in March 2014.

  10. Hi Andrew,how could i get a copy of Blood Money i was one of the actors,but never got to see it.Would be great to see my handy work of almost forty years ago . Regards Kerry.

    • Kerry,
      I am not sure where you are based. I know that the media library at Australian Centre For the Moving Image has a VHS copy. That’s how I saw it. I am pretty sure that if you check the holdings of the National Film and Screen Archive, they were have a copy, too. There is, as far as I am aware, not DVD version in existence.

      Good luck.

      Andrew

  11. great stuff mate. well done. heard of some…tracking the rest down. I had the honour of working with Chris Fitchett and John Flaus, so I know of Blood Money. Don’t ask me why I don’t know of Scobie! thank you.

  12. scobies on dvd probably know by now umbrella legends , again

  13. Annie van lammeren

    Just came across an orginal film poster for blood money in my fathers shed while cleaning it. As its coming up to fathers day l plan to frame it and present it to my father who is now 84 and his name is JOHN FLAUS . And lm sure he has a copy or two of blood money amongst his 10’s of 1000’s of old vhs ….

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