Australian
Screen

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Harmony Row (1933)

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clip Tommy with an 's' education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

The Victoria Police recruiting sergeant (Marshall Crosby) tries to get Tommy Wallace (George Wallace) to give his name, place of birth, age and mother’s name. Each question is misunderstood by the simple Tommy, who has no idea how irritating he can be.

Curator’s notes

Wallace worked the film script up from routines he had done before on stage, and this one shows its origins, partly by how well worked out it is. Vaudevillians polished their acts with years on the road, but silent films had not been able to capture their verbal ingenuity. When sound films came in, many vaudeville acts found a place in the movies, however briefly. They had no choice, as cinema had helped to close down the vaudeville theatre chains.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows a comic scene in which the Victoria Police recruiting sergeant (Marshall Crosby) attempts to obtain accurate personal details from potential recruit Tommy Wallace (George Wallace) such as his name, age, place of birth and mother’s name. Tommy answers each question nonsensically, either misunderstanding the words or attempting to tell a story, while the sergeant tries to keep the answers on track.

Educational value points

  • The clip highlights the work of George Wallace (1895–1960), who was one of Australia’s most popular comics in vaudeville, film and radio from the mid-1920s until the mid-1950s. He was 3 years old when he made his first stage appearance, was doing acrobatic clog dancing at 20 and in 1919 teamed up with Jack 'Dinks’ Patterson as a comedy duo called Dinks and Onkus. He then became a solo performer, displaying great physical and verbal agility on the vaudeville circuits. He also wrote his own comic routines and composed the popular wartime song 'A brown slouch hat’. Wallace made seven films between 1931 and 1953 and from 1949 had a weekly radio show.
  • This scene has its origins in vaudeville routines based on word play that George Wallace adapted for the screen when films with sound began to be produced. Vaudeville was a popular form of entertainment in Australia from the 1880s to the 1960s. It consisted of a variety of separate performances and performers, including musicians, dancers, acrobats, comedians, magicians, one-act plays or scenes and sometimes even short films. In Australia the three main vaudeville tours were run by the Tivoli, Fullers and JC Williamson companies.
  • This scene derives its humour from Tommy’s literal reading of the sergeant’s questions and his misunderstanding of words, and pokes fun at the language of bureaucracy. Other Australian comic characters who have adopted a similar comic technique of inappropriately used words and sounds are Effie in the stage show Wogs out of Work (1988) and the television series Acropolis Now (1989), and both Kath and Kim in Kath and Kim (2002–).
  • Marshall Crosby (1882–1954), who played the Irish Victoria Police sergeant, had a long and varied acting career. He appeared on the Australian stage in musicals and vaudeville from 1907 to 1936, and had character parts in more than 15 films between 1932 and 1949 as well as appearing in radio serials from 1944, including the long-running Blue Hills. He was vice-president of the Actors and Announcers Equity Association in 1942 and president of the Association from 1945 to 1948, working to improve conditions for performers and to protect the jobs of Australian artists.
  • Frank Thring (1882–1936) was the director of Harmony Row and one of the entrepreneurs of the early Australian film industry. Thring began his film career as a projectionist at Kreitmayer’s Waxworks in Melbourne. He opened the Paramount Theatre in 1915, and became managing director of JC Williamson Films and then of Hoyts Theatres. In 1930, with the introduction in Australia of sound films, he started his production company, Efftee Films, which produced the first financially successful sound film in Australia, The Diggers (1931).
  • Australian films were very difficult to distribute and exhibit from 1913 on due to the restrictive block-booking practices of US and British film distributors. Block booking required exhibitors to take all or most of the overseas distributors’ output over a given period of usually 3, 6 or 12 months. The distributors were owned by the US and British companies that produced the films. Frank Thring, along with other producers, unsuccessfully lobbied the government to introduce a quota system that would ensure a percentage of films exhibited in Australia were Australian made. The issue of quotas, protectionism and free trade in the Australian film industry continues today.

This clip starts approximately 3 minutes into the feature.

We see the inside of a police station, and a sergeant trying to process a man.
Sergeant What’s your name?
Tommy Wallace Wallace.
Sergeant Wallace. What initials?
Tommy S.
Sergeant Samuel?
Tommy Tom.
Sergeant S for Tom?
Tommy Yeah.
Sergeant How do you get S for Tom?
Tommy I don’t know. I just don’t care, that’s what it is.
Sergeant Hmm. Well, it’s T. Thomas. T. How old are you?
Tommy 11?
Sergeant What?!
Tommy Uh — 33.
Sergeant 33. That’s alright. Where were you born?
Tommy In bed.
Sergeant And where was the bed?
Tommy Upstairs.
Sergeant And where was upstairs?
Tommy In our place. Upstairs in our place, you know.
Sergeant Well, where was your place?
Tommy Listen, you know…
Sergeant Go away. Stand there.
Tommy You know Henderson’s Pub?
Sergeant No, I don’t.
Tommy Well, our place was opposite there.
Sergeant Alright. Well, where was Henderson’s Pub?
Tommy That’s in the town where I was born.
Sergeant Well, where’s the town you were born?
Tommy Gundagyn.
Sergeant What?
Tommy Gundagyn.
Sergeant Gundagai?
Tommy Gundagai. I’ll never forget one day…
Sergeant Shut up!
Tommy Yeah. You won’t let anybody say much round here, will you, except you.
Sergeant Now then. Your next of kin.
Tommy Hey?
Sergeant Your next of kin.
Tommy Singlet.
Sergeant No, no, no, no! Your next of kin!
Tommy I thought you said 'What have you got next to your skin?’ I’ll never forget one day, we…
Sergeant Shut up. I don’t want to know what you’ve got on your body, I want to know who is your nearest relative.
Tommy Oh. Who’s me nearest relation?
Sergeant Exactly.
Tommy Mother and father, about the same distance.
Sergeant Well, are your mother and father both living?
Tommy Well, you can put me mother’s name down, anyhow.
Sergeant Alright. Your mother. Why your mother?
Tommy Well, her and the old man had a row last night and I don’t know how he got on. I’ll never forget one day they had a row and…
Sergeant Shut up. Keep quiet.
Tommy You never let anybody say anything except you.
Sergeant Shut up.
Tommy picks up the telephone on the desk.
Sergeant Put that down. What’s your mother’s name?
Tommy We called her Mum when we was kids, but then later on as we grew up to mans’ state, we called her Mother.
Sergeant I don’t want to know what you called your mother! I want to know what the — what did the butcher call your mother?
Tommy Oh, Jim Henderson?
Sergeant Mm’hm.
Tommy He had a dirty tongue, that fella.
Sergeant Alright, alright.
Tommy He had the dirtiest tongue in the neighbourhood, that fella.
Sergeant Well, what did he call your mother with his dirty tongue?
Tommy Well, one day she didn’t pay the bill. He said, ‘Look, your name more or…’
Sergeant Stop!
Tommy We don’t seem to be getting on too well.
Sergeant Will you be quiet. Now here, we’ll try it again. Now, when you wanted a letter for your mother, went up to the post office…
Tommy Jack Andrews.
Sergeant ... and you said what name? Jack Andrews.
Tommy He was the postmaster. Best footballer in the district too, he was.
Sergeant Keep quiet. You said, 'Mr Andrews …’
Tommy I said nothing of the kind. I said, ‘Good morning, Jack’ because he used to go with our Lil, me sister. I had to see them sitting on the gas box in front of our place, a couple of characters. You ever sit on a gas box, sarge?
Sergeant Shut up. When you said, ‘Jack, are there any letters for…’
Tommy ‘... for me mother.’ Because he knew me mother.
Sergeant Well, what did it have on the letter?
Tommy Oh, is that what you want to find out?
Sergeant That’s what I want to find out.
Tommy Oh. Why didn’t you say so?
Sergeant Right.
Tommy Now we’re set. It had on the letter, ‘If not paid within 14 days …’
Sergeant No, no, no! The outside of the letter.
Tommy Me mother’s name.
Sergeant And what’s your mother’s name?
Tommy Mrs S. Wallace.
Sergeant And why didn’t you say that before?
Tommy You never asked me.
Sergeant I did ask you!
Tommy You tell lies, mate.
Sergeant Now keep quiet! Jack Anderson and your sister. What they did — what do I want to know about your sister and Jack Anderson?
Tommy They got married.
Sergeant S. Wallace. Is it Sarah Wallace?
Tommy Florrie.

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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. All rights are reserved.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • Where permitted, you may embed materials for your personal or non-commercial educational use only.
  • 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.

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

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