Original classification rating: G.
This clip chosen to be G
A drunken Anglo-Australian (Keith Petersen) abuses an Italian migrant family on a Sydney ferry. Nino Culotta (Walter Chiari) watches in discomfort.
The scene is nicely balanced between slapstick comedy and harsh truth, laced with irony. Migrants in the 1950s and ’60s in Australia were often subjected to torrents of abuse such as these. Powell lets the scene run until it’s not remotely funny, even allowing compassion for the drunkard.
This clip shows a drunk man (Keith Peterson) on a ferry, verbally abusing a family of Italian passengers. He is watched by other passengers, including Nino Culotta (Walter Chiari). The drunk man staggers about, complaining about 'dagos’, and tells the Italians to get off the ferry. Nino speaks to the family in Italian, which surprises the drunk man, who then sits down beside Nino, perplexed. The drunk man claims he is a war veteran and prepares to physically attack the Italians, but ends up falling off the ferry himself. The clip ends as he is thrown a lifebuoy.
Educational value points
- The clip provides a vignette of common Australian attitudes of the time, as interpreted by British filmmaker Michael Powell, a keen observer of social mores. The drunk man voices attitudes towards migrants that were widely held in the 1950s and 60s.
- These attitudes illustrate one of the shifting waves of Australian racism in the second half of the 20th century, directed first towards post-Second World War European migrants and later towards South-East Asian immigrants and, more recently, towards migrants and refugees from Middle Eastern countries. Racism in Australia is based on a distrust and rejection of 'difference’.
- The character of the drunk man, who shows no respect for Italians’ rights to maintain the culture and language of their country of origin, could be read as illustrating the assimilationist policies of the Australian Government throughout the middle and second half of the 20th century. Under these policies migrants were expected to give up any customs that set them apart from mainstream Australian society. Migrants’ rights to maintain their own culture and language were only recognised in the 1970s, with the advent of multiculturalism. The debate about multiculturalism versus assimilation is a continuing one, however, and is often revived in the wake of specific racial tensions within the community.
- Although They’re a Weird Mob has been criticised for making Nino’s assimilation look too easy, the clip illustrates some of the difficulties faced by immigrants in seeking to be accepted into Australian society. Between the late 1940s and 2006, more than 6 million migrants from more than 200 countries came to Australia. In the 1960s, their arrival coincided with a surge of Australian nationalism as the idea of an Australian identity, as distinctly different from that of Britain, was beginning to be acknowledged.
- They’re a Weird Mob is an important Australian film and was based on the best-selling book by John O’Grady, published in 1957. It was a huge local hit, earning $2 million. The first Australian film to be made in 7 years, its success meant that the Australian Government was pressed to provide money for further film funding. They’re a Weird Mob is sometimes credited with reviving the Australian film industry.
- The film is an example of the work of famous British filmmaker Michael Powell (1905–90). During his career, Powell made more than 50 feature films, often in collaboration with writer Emeric Pressburger. The two films that Powell made in Australia, They’re a Weird Mob (1966) and The Age of Consent (1969) are seen as precursors to the hit Australian comedies of the late 20th century. Powell, one of the great filmmakers of the 20th century, is notable for his sharp wit and incisive social criticism, both of which are evident in They’re a Weird Mob. His most famous films include Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
- The clip showcases the work of Italian actor Walter Chiari in the role of Nino Culotta. Chiari was an experienced actor, having appeared in many Italian comedies as a suave leading man. His considerable charm and ingenuous receptivity to Australian life in this role are often presented as reasons for They’re a Weird Mob’s success.
On board a ferry a young woman and her parents are having an argument in Italian. A drunk man lurches near them, almost falling onto a middle-aged couple sitting nearby.
Drunk man Ah, why don’t you go back to your own bloody country? Bloody dagos. They come out here, take your job, think you own the joint. Why don’t you go back to your own bloody country?
Passengers look on, unimpressed by the man’s behaviour.
Young man Saturday night drunk.
Drunk man Trouble with this bloody country, it’s full of dagos. Don’t want to speak English. That’s all they do – yabber, yabber, yabber.
Middle-aged man Why do they allow these people on public transport? Come along (to his wife).
Drunk man What are you talking about? Nobody knows. Dago spies, the whole bloody lot of you. Mussolini! (inaudible) The Mafia!
The drunk chuckles to himself. He leans against Nino, who is sitting quietly, and slaps his shoulder in a friendly manner.
Drunk man The Vatican City! It’s full of Commos.
Nino moves seats so that the next time the drunk spins around and goes to lean on Nino he almost falls over. Nino smiles at the young Italian woman now sitting further along the same bench as him. She smiles back. The drunk lurches around, getting his foot caught in a chain. He manages to get his foot out.
Drunk man Bloody joint was never any good anyway.
He staggers over to Nino.
Drunk man Ah, there you are, son. I thought you’d left us. Give us a light for me pipe, mate.
The drunk approaches the Italian family, waving his arms.
Drunk man Get off the bloody ferry. It’s our ferry, not your ferry. The whole lot of you.
The Italian father rises, as if to confront the drunk. Nino speaks to the family in Italian, trying to defuse the situation. The young woman and her little sister smile. The drunk sits down next to Nino.
Drunk man Give us a light for me pipe, mate.
Nino hands some matches to the drunk. The father of the Italian family nods in approval.
Drunk man Parlez-vous Francais?
Nino Culotta No.
Drunk man Sprechen sie Deutsch?
Nino No. Er, return my matches, please.
The drunk throws the matches to Nino who catches them.
Nino Thank you.
Drunk man A man doesn’t know who’s what. Now he speaks English.
The drunk throws his hands up in bewilderment.
Drunk man A man’s country’s not his own anymore. I fought for this country, didn’t I? Now we gotta fight to keep it. Who’s left to fight? Only me. All the whole, bloody country and only me. Well, I’ll fight ‘em on my Pat Malone and I’ll start with this mob over here.
He staggers towards the Italian family.
Drunk man Chuck ‘em in the drink. I said chuck ‘em in the drink.
The deckhand unchains the railing in preparation for docking. The drunk, failing to notice this, lurches back towards the railing and launches himself off the ferry into the water.
Drunk man Whoa…
Deckhand Drunk overboard!
The deckhand tosses a lifebuoy to the man. Nino runs along the deck to see what is happening.
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