If 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.