Sons of Matthew

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sons of Matthew
Directed by Charles Chauvel
Produced by Charles Chauvel
Written by Charles Chauvel
Elsa Chauvel
Maxwell Dunn
Based on novels by Bernard O'Reilly
Starring Michael Pate
Ken Wayne
Tommy Burns
Narrated by Wilfred Thomas
Music by Henry Krips
Cinematography Carl Kaiser
Bert Nicholas
Greater Union Theatres
Distributed by Universal-International
Release dates
16 December 1949 (Australia)
26 January 1950 (UK)
5 January 1950 (USA)
Running time
107 min. (Australia)
97 min. (USA)
Country Australia
Language English
Budget ₤120,000[1] or £500,000[2]
Box office over £50,000 (Australia)[3]

Sons of Matthew is a 1949 Australian film directed by Charles Chauvel. The film was shot in 1947 on location in Queensland, Australia and the studio sequences in Sydney. Sons of Matthew took 18 months to complete, but it was a great success with Australian audiences when it finally opened in December 1949.

Sons of Matthew is a legendary film in the history of Australian cinema, partly because of the adverse conditions in which it was made. Maxwell Dunn wrote later in his book How they Made Sons of Matthew that, during filming, it was the wettest season in 80 years in Queensland. For UK and US release Universal-International cut the film by 30 minutes, added some American narration and renamed it The Rugged O'Riordans.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

Irishman Matthew O'Riordan and his English wife Jane raise a family of five sons and two daughters on their farm in the valley of Cullenbenbong in northern New South Wales. They battle drought, flood and fire. The wife of neighbour Angus McAllister dies and they help raise their daughter Cathy.

Years go by and the children grow up. Eldest brother Shane is inspired by his uncle Jack, who tells them about virgin rainforest on Lamington plateau in southern Queensland. They decide to move there and establish a farm. They are accompanied by Angus and Cathy McAllister. By this stage Cathy is engaged to the second son, Barney.

The O'Riordan brothers clear the land and start building a slab hut. Cathy realises she is in love with Shane and he falls for her. A huge storm his the farm and the brothers fight. Barney knocks out Shane, hurting his spine.

Shane recovers, Barney earns his forgiveness by working hard. Shane and Cathy are married.


  • Michael Pate as Shane O'Riordan
  • Ken Wayne as Barney O'Riordan
  • Tommy Burns as Luke O'Riordan
  • John Unicomb as Terry O'Riordan
  • John Ewart as Mickey O'Riordan
  • Wendy Gibb as Cathy McAllister[5]
  • John O'Malley as Matthew O'Riordan
  • Thelma Scott as Jane O'Riordan
  • Dorothy Alison as Rose O'Riordan
  • Diane Proctor as Mary O'Riordan
  • Tom Collins as young Shane
  • Max Lemon as young Barney
  • Rodney Fielder as young Luke
  • Doug Smith as young Terry
  • Jimmy White as young Mickey
  • Marion Dickson as young Rose
  • Baby Lawson as young Mary
  • John Fegan as Jack Farrington
  • Robert Nelson as Angus McAllister
  • Barbara Armstrong as young Cathy
  • Laurel Young as Bessie Benson
  • Nonnie Peifer as Molly Benson
  • Betty Orme as Selina Benson
  • John Fleeting as doctor
  • Carrie Moore as midwife
  • Alan Poolman as Dan McGregor


Chauvel had long wished to make a movie about the O'Reilly family, who had settled in the mountains in south east Queensland.[6] In the mid-1940s he bought the rights to two books O'Reilly had written about his family, Green Mountains (1940) and Cullenbenbong (1944) and announced plans to film them. Grant Taylor was mentioned as a possible star.[7]

Chauvel commissioned Maxwell Dunn and Gwen Meredith to write a script about the O'Reillys and Bernard O'Reilly's rescue of survivors from the crash of a Stinson aeroplane in 1937. (An event filmed in 1987 as The Riddle of the Stinson.)[8] James Bancks also worked on the script. Eventually Chauvel decided to make an original story of pioneers.

Chauvel's normal backer, Herc McIntyre of Universal Pictures, agreed to invest in the movie. He persuaded Norman Rydge of Greater Union to join him in partnership. The budget was originally announced as being ₤100,000.[9] The Queensland government contributed ₤3,000 to production costs.[10]

Casting took several months, with most of the actors being unknowns.[11] It was the first lead role for Michael Pate, Wendy Gibb and Ken Wayne. Boxer Tommy Burns was given an important support role.[12]


In March 1947 a unit of about 70 people set off for the main location near Beaudesert.[13] Filming coincided with near-constant rain – the first three months of shooting saw only three weeks of weather suitable for filming.[14] Locations sometimes had to be reached by pack horse and foot. A second unit under Carl Kayser was brought out to location to assist production.[1]

After six months on location, the unit moved to the studios of Cinesound Productions in Bondi. They filmed there for two months then returned to Queensland for a further five months. In March 1948 they returned to the Bondi studio and reshot several scenes. Shooting took eighteen months in total. Charles Chauvel then shot an alternative ending in the Blue Mountains. This ending was eventually discarded.

While Chauvel was filming in Sydney, his home was robbed.[15]


The movie had cost so much money it needed to be successful in Australia and overseas. The film was very popular at the local box office being seen by an estimated 750,000 Australians.[2]

The movie was cut for overseas release, with narration added and thirty minutes removed, including a scene where Wendy Gibb bathes nude.[16]

Overseas Release[edit]

Initial response in the UK and USA was poor, with the film being pulled from a cinema in New York after only a week.[17][18]

The New York Times called the film "a dismally disappointing effort, cut along the most crude and conventional lines".[19]

However after a slow start the film took off commercially in the UK, helped by a competition with a prize of a trip to Australia, which over half a million people entered.[20] Eventually the movie made a small profit. Overseas reviews were mixed.[21]

Ken G. Hall later blamed the difficulties involved in making this film on scaring off Norman Rydge from investing in feature film production, contributing to Hall's failure to make another feature after 1946.

Several of the cast attempted to forge careers overseas, including Michael Pate, Tommy Burns,[22] and Wendy Gibb.[23]


  1. ^ a b Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 209.
  2. ^ a b "AUSTRALIAN-and proud of it.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 19 May 1950. p. 9. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "THE RESEARCH BUREAU HOLDS AN AUTOPSY.". Sunday Mail (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 17 February 1952. p. 11. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Australian screen; curator's notes by Paul Byrnes
  5. ^ "Sydney Actress For "Sons Of Matthew" Film.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 5 February 1947. p. 4. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  6. ^ "CHAUVEL PLANS QUEENSLAND FILM.". The Courier-Mail (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 9 November 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "Questions.". The Mail (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 28 April 1945. p. 8. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "CHAUVEL MAKING NEW FILM.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 5 February 1946. p. 5. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "Australian's Books For Feature Film.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 16 October 1946. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Film's Nude Girl Fails To Shock.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 17 November 1949. p. 7. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  11. ^ "BOYS PLAY FAIR AT FILM TEST.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 5 February 1947. p. 4 Supplement: Playtime. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  12. ^ "BOXER RELEASED FOR FILM.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 14 February 1947. p. 10. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "Australian Film News... "SONS OF MATTHEW" ON LOCATION.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 10 April 1947. p. 10. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  14. ^ Paul Byrne, Curators Notes on Sons of Matthew at Australian Screen Online
  15. ^ "FILM MAN'S LOSS.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 5 February 1949. p. 1. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  16. ^ "U.S. CUTS IN FILM.". The West Australian (Perth: National Library of Australia). 10 November 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  17. ^ "Australian Film Fails In U.S.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 16 January 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  18. ^ "U.S. RECEPTION OF AUSTRALIAN FILM.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 7 January 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  19. ^ THE SCREEN IN REVIEW: 'Dream No More,' Story About Israel in Documentary-Type Picture, of Ambassador At the Park Avenue At the Palace By BOSLEY CROWTHER. New York Times 06 Jan 1950: 25.
  20. ^ "Gossip From The Studios.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 30 November 1950. p. 17. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  21. ^ "What London Says Of "Matthew".". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 28 January 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  22. ^ "Screen k.o. for Burns.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 6 July 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  23. ^ "Wendy was so shy.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 20 March 1951. p. 10. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  • Murray, Scott; (ed.) (1994). Australian Cinema. St.Leonards, NSW.: Allen & Unwin/AFC. pp. 30, 295. ISBN 1-86373-311-6. 

External links[edit]