Newsfront (1978) 




Director:     Phillip Noyce. 

Starring:     Bill Hunter (Len Maguire), Wendy Hughes (Amy Mackenzie), Gerard Kennedy (Frank Maguire), Chris Haywood (Chris Hewitt), John Ewart (Charlie), Don Crosby (A.G. Marwood), Angela Punch McGregor (Fay), John Clayton (Cliff), John Dease (Ken), Bryan Brown (Geoff), Lorna Lesley (Ellie), Mark Holden (Len's new assistant), Drew Forsythe (Bruce), Tony Barry (Greasy), Alexander Archdale (Sir Charles).

The film won 8 AFI (Australian Film Institute) awards, including best picture.

follows two rivalries against the background of key political events of the 1950s in Australia



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

The newsreels report that Ben Chifley of the Australian Labor Party is the new prime minister of Australia. 

Leonard (known as Len) films scenes for the newsreel company Cinetone.  His company's chief competitor is Newsco.  When he takes his footage he has to get it to his company as fast as possible.  There the editor decides which footage is "out" and which footage is "in".  The editor asks "Where's the wide shot?  Your brother Frank would have taken a wide shot."  

Rabbits, an invasive species in Australia, have been declared public enemy number one.  The call is to stamp out the rabbit menace, hence the Australian rabbit catch.

April 1949.  Leonard gets married to Fay.  Frank comes into the bar where Leonard is hanging out and the two brothers talk.  He tells Len that he might leave the country.  He adds that he is just pissed-off in general.  Len asks what about your girlfriend Amy (who has been with Frank for more than six years), but Frank does not seem very concerned about her. 

The newsreel crews watch a newsreel that pays homage to newsreeler Damion Parer.  He was killed while filming a fight between the Australians and Japanese on New Guinea. 

November 1949.   Frank is going to go to the United States.  Len's wife Fay will soon have a baby.  Robert Gordon Mezies brings the Liberal Party - Country Party coalition to power in Australia and he becomes the new prime minister. 

Frank sails on the Arcadia.  Len, Amy and Geoff, the resident radical at Cinetone, are at the dock to wave good-bye to him.  Len learns that his firm's newsreel competitors are outperforming them.  A suggestion is made that Cinetone bill itself as the Australian Newsreel, dealing primarily with Australian news. 

The big topic of discussion is the Communist threat, as seen in Korea.  There is a lot of newsreel footage covering the communist menace.  Prime Minister Menzies seeks to abolish the Communist Party.  The courts rule this unconstitutional, so the government pushes for a constitutional amendment that will outlaw the Communist Party.  The newsreel announcer at Cinetone threatens to resign rather than be forced to read the line saying that the Australian government was trying to become a police state.  He says that he is concerned with being blacklisted like the Hollywood actors in the United States.  Geoff defends the police state comment, but eventually strikes the comment out of the script. 

Spring 1951.  Len's wife is pregnant again.  In a fight with his wife, he says that he does not believe the child is his.  He has to quickly backtrack on that comment.  His wife complains that half the time he is away from home on work trips.

Len and family have their child baptized at the catholic church.  The priest is pushing his anti-communist political stance to vote no in order to ban the Communist Party.  Len won't cooperate with the priests' goals.  For this he is referred to as a "fellow traveler".  Other parishioners complain that the communists are gaining control of all the unions in Australia.  His wife takes the side of the rabid anti-communists.   When the referendum results come in and the anti-communist side loses, Fay tells her husband:  "I hope you're satisfied."

Fay decides not to have any more children since she has quite a few already.  Since her catholic teachings tell her she cannot take precautions against getting pregnant, she decides to stop having sex with Len.  Obviously, Len is not too happy about this decision and he is soon packing his bags for a long trip. 

Winter 1953.  Edmund Hillary of New Zealand conquers Everest and the Aussies are very proud of his accomplishment. 

The head of Cinetone suddenly dies at work.  The whole work crew attends his funeral. 

Richard M. Nixon is welcomed to Australia.  He is the highest-ranking US government official ever to visit Australia.  Cinetone mistakenly keeps referring to Nixon as "Senator Nixon" rather than "Vice-President Nixon".  Amy points this out, but no one believes her or they just don't care. 

Len gets a big job.  He and his assistant Chris will cover the Redex Round Australia Car Trials.  Len and Chris have to drive faster and farther than the contestants in order to get a good position from which to cover the race.  At night, Len and Chris go to a local dance in a very small town.  Chris dances with a young woman named Ellie Wilson.  They seem to like each other.  They get along so well that they have sex and Chris learns that this was the first time for Ellie.  Ellie sees Chris and Len off to continue their coverage of the race. 

Back at Cinetone, Geoff is heading to England.  Chris is told that someone wants to see him.  It turns out to be Ellie who is pregnant.  She hitchhiked 400 miles to see him.  Later, Len is the main speaker at the wedding reception of Chris and Ellie.  Len dances with Amy and later they kiss. 

February 1954.  Disastrous floods hit Maitland.  Chris rows medical supplies to the mayor.  On the back to catch up with Len, he runs into very rough white water, his boat sinks and he drowns.  Len and another newsreeler search for and find Chris's body. 

Spring 1956.  The American program Mickey Mouse Club is on television and draws a lot of interest.  Len covers some huge forest fires.  When Len turns his footage in, he learns that they are adding film from another source that shows more flame than smoke.  This makes Len very angry.  The addition is justified by referring to the fact that live television beats the newsreels by six full days. 

Len does not care for his new assistant.  He is of the younger hip generation of Elvis Presley, longer hair and putting in for overtime.  Len is glad to get back home.  He comes home to Amy, who tales him that Fay complained that he is late with the check.  At home, Amy does not appear too happy.  She lets the home phone ring and ring without answering it.  Len has to get out of bed to get the phone.  On the line is Frank.  He is now the vice-president of a movie company.  He tells his brother that he is coming to Sydney to shoot a film in Australia. 

Frank shows up with his cute personal assistant to see Len and Amy at a local bar.  Frank offers Len a good job, but Len is not sure that he really should take it. 

Len's wife is thinking about remarrying.  She says the man will be a good father to the kids.  Len doesn't like that idea.  The movie "And God Created Woman" starring Brigitte Bardot is playing in town. 

Len learns that Cinetone and Newsco are combining into one company.  Due to the competition with television, they have no choice but to combine their resources.  Len is going to hand in his resignation, but his boss tells him that he wants him to both shoot and direct the coverage of the Olympic Game in Melbourne.  Hearing the news of this opportunity, Len does not turn in his letter of resignation and takes the new assignment.

1956.  The Russians crush the Hungarian Rebellion.  Len and his assistant are there when the Olympic Hungary-Soviet Union water polo match turns into a real donnybrook.  Frank is so enthused about the footage that he tells Len that he knows an American producer who will give him $50,000 just for the extra footage Len took of the water polo match.  But always loyal to a fault, Len tells his brother to go get stuffed and heads for his workplace. 


Good movie.  The combining of newsreel footage (some real some reconstructed) with the story of the competitive brothers Len and Frank, who started out in the newsreel business, makes for an interesting movie.  It was interesting to see the the Australians conservatives got a little too carried away with their anti-communism almost as much as the US conservatives.  I was a little disappointed that the movie did not say if Amy and Frank ever got together again.  It looked to me like Amy was leaning toward leaving Len. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1941 (7 October) - 1945 (5 July)              --  John Curtin, PC (Australian Labor Party) (3 years, 8 months, 29 days)

1945 (6 July) - 1945 (13 July)                   --  Francis Michael Forde, PC  (Australian Labor Party)  (8 days)

1945 (13 July) - 1949 (19 December)       --  Joseph Benedict Chifley, PC (Australian Labor Party) (4 years, 5 months, 7 days)

1949 (19 December) - 1966 (26 January)  -- Robert Gordon Menzies (later Sir Robert), PC, KC  (Liberal Party of Australia) (16 years, 1 month, 8 days)

1966 (26 January) - 1967 (19 December)  --  Harold Edward Holt, PC, CH (Liberal Party of Australia) (1 year, 10 months, 23 days)

The golden age of the cinema newsreel in Australia covered the 1940s and 1950s. 



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