The Empty Beach

One local blog I’ve been following for a while now is Permission to Kill, run by my mate, David Foster. Its main focus is all things espionage fiction and film related, but David also covers of on a wide variety of pulp miscellany, including crime fiction and film.

I was particularly pleased to see a recent review on his site of the excellent but little known1985 Australian crime flick, The Empty Beach. Starring Bryan Brown, Ray Barrett, Nick Tate and Belinda Gibbin, The Empty Beach is based on the Peter Corris novel of the same name. David was nice enough to let me re-post his review, which appears below.

Bryan Brown IS Cliff Hardy. It is perfect casting. It’s a shame that this film wasn’t a hit, because I would have loved to see Brown play Hardy again and again. He could be doing it to this day, pumping out a tele-movie each year – and I would be first seated, ready and eager to watch it. But alas, not to be.

For those not familiar with the character of Cliff Hardy, private investigator, he is a creation of Peter Corris and first appeared in the novel The Dying Trade in 1980. Since then he has been releasing Cliff Hardy stories regularly – at least thirty of them – the last I am aware of, is Appeal Denied which was released in 2007. I am sure Corris has released a couple more since then. I realise I could quickly validate this with a quick Google search, but after the Christmas break I am a bit short of cash, and if I don’t know that they exist, then I won’t go hunting for them.

The story, which is set in Sydney, starts with a wealthy businessman (for that read black marketeer and poker machine king), John Singer, who is 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. That is the last that is heard from Singer. It is surmised that he fell overboard that day and drowned.

Two years later…
Cliff Hardy meets Mrs. Marion Singer (Belinda Gibbon), who wishes to employ him. She has received a note from an anonymous source, claiming that her husband is still alive – but not looking too well. She realises it might be a hoax, but wishes Hardy to look into the matter.

Hardy’s investigation leads him to a newspaper reporter, Bruce Henneberry (Nick Tate), who reported on Singer’s disappearance at the time. Henneberry thinks something fishy is going on, and it is related to his latest piece of investigative journalism. He also has all the dirt on the city’s corrupt politicians, businessmen and gangsters. He keeps this dirt all on a series of tapes that he has stashed away. But things turn messy when Hardy witnesses Henneberry’s murder, in the surf, at Bondi Beach. Then it becomes a race to track down Henneberry’s tapes, with Hardy, the police, and Sydney’s underworld all set on a collision course.

The Empty Beach is an old school detective movie, but set in Sydney in the 1980s, which means some of the music, fashion and haircuts have dated. But other than that it still holds up quite well. It is played lean, hard and fast with all the requisite plot convolution that a detective story like this should have.

At the time of writing, The Empty Beach remains sadly unavailable of DVD (or Blu-Ray), which I think is criminal, because the film, for movie-watchers who love the genre, is well worth watching.


9 Responses

  1. That’s not fair…post a good review of a movie I have not seen but would like to then tell me there’s no way for me to see it. It’s just cruel 🙁

  2. That’s one way of looking at it. The other is to consider it a challenge and try and find it by any means necessary. Given the easy availability of so many movies these days, I quite enjoy it when something is not available and I actually have to try and hunt a movie down. It makes me feel as though i have enjoyed it. The Empty Beach is a good example. It took me ages to track down a VHS copy and then to find a way I could watch it. Then I lent it to David, who did this review and who also had been keen to see it for a while. If you want I’d be happy to send it to you.

  3. Very kind offer Andrew, at this stage I can’t easily see how I would watch it – having recently discovered that no one I know owns a VHS player any more (about 4 months ago all the metro councils in Adelaide had a ‘free pick up of old electrical crap’ day and it seems the entire city took advantage of the opportunity to get rid of their VCRs – so let me first suss out if I can find a way of watching it and if I can I’ll let you know as I am definitely interested – I have something of a soft spot for Brian Brown as well as crime fiction and the 80’s – all three together sounds too good to be true

    • Yes, I know what you mean. In the end, I had to get the VHS tape copied onto a disk to watch it. Expensive but I am also a Bryan Brown tragic, so the cost was well worth it. The Empty Beach is a just a great little film. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but a good script, good casting and a great less is more aspect. I also enjoy the time capsule element of films like this, the chance to remember Bondi, where I spent a bit of time in the eighties. Now, if only I could track down copies of Goodbye Paradise (set on the Gold Coast) and Scobie Malone (Sydney in the seventies), I’d be laughing.

  4. oooooh a challenge – I will add these to my list to track down – think I’ve seen both but not for ages – and I will investigate options for copying of VHS tapes – you’re right – Bryan is worth a fair bit 🙂

  5. I think it is Corris’ best crime novel that I have read and the film leads into the Bryan Brown crim genre mark here in Australia that led to Two Hands and Dirty Deeds…and the stuff Dave Warner wrote. The Empty Beach is perhaps the most noirish of the lot as there is none of the over riding slickness that tends to rule the others. The Empty Beach is straightforward; cynical..and extremely evocative of the Sydney eastern burbs..

    I seem to recall watching one of Warner’s books that was filmed for TV with Brown but I cannot find a listing.Am I mistaken? But City of Light would make nonetheless a great film….

  6. Bernadette, I should that the two other films I mentioned are not Bryan Brown vehicles. Goodbye stars Ray Barrett and Scobie was played by Jack Thompson. But both are great films.

    Dave, To the best of my knowledge, none of Warner’s books have ever been filmed, but I’ll check it out. I am not sure that I think Empty Beach is the Corris best novel. I have a soft spot for The Dying Trade, but any one of the first dozen are excellent. I totally agree with you regarding the lack of slickness in the movie. It’s one of the things that I really like about it.

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