an NFSA website

His Royal Highness (1932)


Tommy Dodds, an unemployed country boy in the city (George Wallace), gets a job as a stagehand in a Melbourne theatre. A rival hits him on the head and Tommy dreams he’s the long-lost heir to the throne of Betonia, a kingdom in Europe. He knights his mate Jim (John Dobbie) and makes him head of the army, teaches the ancient prime minister (Clem Milton) to rollerskate, and scandalises the court with his antics, until the rightful heir turns up.

Curator’s notes

This was substantially adapted from one of George Wallace’s stage revues, and it gives us a good idea of what they were like, especially in the sequence where he sings, dances and tells stories to the pit (clip one). Wallace was famous for his agility and his falls (usually onto his left ear), but this shows him as an accomplished (comic) tap dancer as well. This was his first film role and director Frank Thring changed little about his act. Wallace’s heavy stage make-up is still visible. The film was shot at Thring’s film studio inside His Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, where a lot of the budget was spent creating the elaborate interiors for the court of Betonia.

Wallace’s performance in the film is a kind of road map of comic techniques that would have been familiar to audiences from the now-ending vaudeville era. Note the tipsy delivery in clip two, which harks back to when Wallace was one half of ‘Dinks and Onkus’, two stage drunks, an act Wallace formed with Jack Patterson in 1919. Wallace also uses the country hayseed caricature that was familiar to audiences from silent films, but his character is in the city, and suffering the effects of the Depression. He is unemployed in the first scene and unable to afford threepence for a pie. The fantasy of becoming a king of some rich European kingdom was one his audience could identify with and enjoy. The routine in which he commands his footmen to play poker with him (clip three) deserves a place in the classics of Australian screen comedy.

This film premiered at the Regent Theatre, South Yarra, Melbourne on 26 August 1932. Its cinema release started three days later at the Hoyts De Luxe Theatre. The film was screened to English audiences as His Loyal Highness.