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After extensive restoration work on of the back catalogue of silver screen classics by legendary Australian filmmaker, Charles Chauvel, seven films are being released as individual DVD titles throughout 2014/15 under the banner, The Charles Chauvel Collection, each title including a special feature length documentary, The Big Picture, directed by John Doggett-Williams.

Umbrella Entertainment, with assistance from Ric Chauvel Carlsson (the grandson of Charles Chauvel) and the National Film and Sound Archive, has “worked tirelessly to restore and provide new transfers” for the entire Chauvel Collection: Forty Thousand Horsemen, The Rats of Tobruk (these two launch the collection, available on DVD from April 2, 2014), Heritage, Uncivilised, In the Wake of the Bounty, Sons of Matthew and Jedda. 

Umbrella has also produced a special feature length documentary The Big Picture – the films of Charles Chauvel, directed by John Doggett-Williams which is included on all the Chauvel Collection DVD titles. 

As part of the vital restoration process, Umbrella undertook audio repairs on the hiss, crackle, pops and distortion in the films. The meticulous editing process ensures that each cut of the film has been examined and if there is a bad film splice the frame is removed to create a clean cut. A crucial part of repairing the film damage was the extensive de-spotting of the films, along with video noise reduction and reel change repairs.

THE RATS OF TOBRUK (1944) – 70th Anniversary
The Rats of Tobruk is a powerful story of three soldiers brought together by the fortunes of war, set against the backdrop of the legendary defence of the North African city of Tobruk by Australian Infantry Forces during World War II. Intended to lift the morale of a war weary nation as the tide of victory was turning, the film is a heartfelt tribute to the Australian fighting spirit. 

Stars: Chips Rafferty (The Overlanders), Peter Finch (Network), Grant Taylor (On the Beach), George Wallace (Gone to the Dogs) and Joe Valli (The Flying Doctor). 

Astonishing restoration has made Rats of Tobruk totally accessible for modern audiences, showing the quality of Chauvel filmmaking in full. The clean image and sound make it entirely ageless, except perhaps for the musical style and some of the 1940s manner of speech in dialogue. But dramatically and cinematically, Rats is still magnificent, its action scenes as good as it gets.

The thin, young Peter Finch makes a lusty contribution in his leading man debut as the diarist and the occasional moments of humour and tenderness are welcome texture. Chips Rafferty and George Wallace are at their legendary peak and the technicals are seamless, including the black and white cinematography.

Stirring, sweeping and spectacular, Forty Thousand Horsemen dramatizes the exploits of the Australian Light Horse in Palestine during World War I. Following the adventures of Australian soldiers Red Gallagher (Grant Taylor, On the Beach), Jim (Chips Rafferty, The Overlanders) and Larry (Pat Twohill, The Avenger) the film culminates at the Battle of Beersheba a great cavalry charge led in real life by Charles Chauvel’s uncle, General Sir Harry Chauvel.

Famously, this is the film in which Chauvel directed the biggest military charge in cinema history … filmed on the sandhills of Sydney’s Cronulla with borrowed soldiers and horses from the army.

The Big Picture details in absorbing detail and with some drama the careers Charles and Elsa Chauvel – known as Australia’s most enduring and successful filmmakers, having made nine feature films between 1926 and 1955. The Chauvels were innovators and pioneers, constantly testing the boundaries of what was possible physically and financially. 

Featuring in depth interviews with Susanne Chauvel Carlsson, Ric Carlsson as well as fascinating archival material, including rare footage of Charles and Elsa Chauvel, Chips Rafferty and Michael Pate, The Big Picture – the films of Charles Chauvel is based on the biography/memoir The Life and Cinema of Charles Chauvel by Susanne Chauvel Carlsson, who died in 2013.

It’s the compleat Chauvel doco, edited with great sensitivity and drive, a thorough and compelling insight into Australian cinema history through one of its pioneering heroes. Actually, several of them.

Published May 15, 2014

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Charles Chauvel

Ric Chauvel Carlsson

Forty Thousand Horsemen

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