Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Alvin Purple (1973)

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clip A completely animal nature education content clip 1, 3

Original classification rating: R. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

In court, Dr Sort (Penne Hackforth-Jones) describes Alvin’s condition – satyromania – 'the male equivalent of nymphomania’. Alvin and girlfriend (Elli Maclure) argue with a disgusted taxi diver (Peter Cummins). Dr Sort’s lawyer (Jon Finlayson) questions Alvin about his exploits, to the amusement of the judge (Noel Ferrier) and the public gallery. The trial becomes a farce.

Curator’s notes

The film’s anti-censorship theme gets started with a scene showing that none of the people concerned takes the charges seriously. In effect the film mounts its own defense in the court scenes – suggesting it is only 'giving the public what it wants’.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Alvin Purple’s psychiatrist, Liz Sort (Penne Hackforth-Jones) being questioned in court about Alvin’s purported sexual addiction. It then cuts to Alvin (Graeme Blundell) and his girlfriend travelling in a taxi, with a driver who expresses his disgust for Alvin’s lecherous behaviour. They get out of the taxi in protest. Alvin is next seen taking the stand in court and being questioned about his work as a 'sex therapist’, and the courtroom then devolves into a farce as laughter erupts over a series of double entendres.

Educational value points

  • Alvin Purple was Australia’s most successful film at the time of its release. Between 1973 and 1977 Alvin Purple took more than $4 million at the box office and, over the next decade, it achieved cult status. The character Alvin, through the film and the ensuing television series, became an Australian cultural icon and the name 'Alvin Purple’ was synonymous with a sexually vigorous male. The television series Alvin Purple (1976) similarly used sex and nudity for comic effect. Other television programs in this immensely popular and sensational genre included No. 96 (1972–77) and The Box (1974–77).
  • The sexual language and content of the film is indicative of changes to censorship laws at the time it was made. In 1971 new classifications had been created, including an over-18 category that could contain more explicitly sexual material than ever before.
  • The clip demonstrates how the narrative and humour of Alvin Purple depend on stereotypes. Penne Hackforth-Jones’s character, Dr Liz Sort, is depicted as a humourless and vindictive feminist stereotype while the taxi driver is a one-eyed judgemental 'wowser’, all too keen to tell his passengers what he thinks.
  • The clip suggests the recurring theme of female sexual predators in the film. This reversal of traditional masculine and feminine roles, with the female as sexual predator and the male as prey, is central to Alvin Purple.
  • Feminism was emerging as a key political movement in Australia in the 1970s and supporters of radical feminism, who saw women’s oppression as the cause of many of society’s problems, were becoming more vocal. Role reversal in Alvin Purple provides fanciful wish fulfilment for men, with willing rather than increasingly politically engaged women. The film’s attitude to sexual politics of the 1970s can be seen as both promoting and trivialising the ideas of the women’s rights movement.
  • The character of Dr Liz Sort, presented as a confident, manipulative professional, may be seen as a caricature of an Australian feminist of the 1970s. At this time feminists were working towards basic principles such as equal pay for equal work. Ironically, the film may also be seen as liberating for women, in that they are portrayed as free to pursue their sexual desires without censure.
  • The work of well-known Australian actors Graeme Blundell and Penne Hackforth-Jones is showcased in the clip. Through his role as Alvin Purple in both the film and subsequent television series, Blundell became one of the most popular actors of the period while Hackforth-Jones has since acted in a wide range of film and television roles.
  • Alvin Purple belongs to a particular genre of Australian cinema, the 'ocker’ film. Australian cinema of the last three decades of the 20th century is often defined by a dichotomy between the 'ocker’ film and the 'arthouse’ film. The former relies on contemporary urban stereotypes easily recognised by a local audience. It is crude and lively and offers Australians the chance to laugh at themselves and in particular at representatives of the establishment, such as the court (in the clip, no one takes Alvin’s case seriously). Other more recent films in this genre include The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and Muriel’s Wedding (1994).

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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