Starring: Walter Chiari; Clare Dunne; Ed Devereaux
Director: Michael Powell
Distributor: Roadshow Entertainment
In fabulous technicolour widescreen panorama, an ocean liner cruises into Sydney Harbour. It’s 1966 and the Opera House is still under construction as the ship berths in Circular Quay carrying onboard one Nino Culotta, a dapper Italian sports editor variously described as a ‘Dago’, an ‘I-tie’ and a ‘Drongo’ by the locals he soon encounters onshore. The only person who treats Nino with any degree of civility is Graham Kennedy who stops to ask directions to TCN Channel 9. His enquiry is rudely intercepted by a passer-by who recognises him from his television show and directs him on to Cape York. ‘You’re a weird mob up here,’ Kennedy returns, ‘you don’t appreciate art’.
So begins Nino’s journey towards understanding Sydney’s particular style of hospitality and its peculiar vernacular. Walter Chiari, who acted with Gina Lollobrigida and Marcello Mastroianni in his native Italy is charming in the leading role, rolling with the punches on his very steep learning curve to assimilation. Before too long he’s sinking schooners with the blokes at the Marble Bar (tragically now demolished), dating a posh Sheila (pin-up ‘60s gal Clare Dunne) and earning a crust digging trenches in the red brick heaven that once was suburban Greenacre. Communist imagery runs through these scenes as Nino breaks the rock hard earth with his mattock in slow motion with cutaway shots of red boxer shorts flapping on a nearby hills hoist, while the ones at Bondi Beach are pure Utopia complete with surf life-savers in full throttle rescue mode.
Based on the best selling novel by John O’Grady and directed by Michael Powell (The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus), this dinky di nostalgia trip shows Sydney and indeed Australia at its best and worst. There’s a devastating scene in which a drunk abuses a party of sophisticated Italians onboard a harbour ferry but the criticism is tempered with affection and ultimately a wedding proposal by Nino, which is duly run by the father of the bride, the legendary Chips Rafferty.