The Man from Down Under

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The Man from Down Under
The Man from Down Under.jpg
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Produced by Orville O. Dull
Robert Z. Leonard
Written by Wells Root
Tom Seller
Story by Mary Kelly
Bogart Rogers
Starring Charles Laughton
Binnie Barnes
Richard Carlson
Donna Reed
Music by David Snell
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Edited by George White
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • August 4, 1943 (1943-08-04)
Running time
103 mins.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $954,000[1]
Box office $1,070,000[1]

The Man from Down Under is an American 1943 drama film starring Charles Laughton as a man who raises two war orphans.


After the end of World War I, Australian soldier Jocko Wilson (Charles Laughton) admires the spirit of a destitute Belgian orphan who fights a larger boy. He feeds the child, whom he names "Nipper", and the boy's younger sister Mary. When he receives orders to go home, he gets his friend Ginger Gaffney (Clyde Cook) to smuggle the pair aboard their ship. Then, realizing he knows nothing about raising children, he proposes to his singer girlfriend Aggie Dawlins (Binnie Barnes). She accepts. However, he gets drunk and is nearly arrested; in the confusion, he forgets and sails home without her.

An ex-boxer, Jocko buys a tavern and trains the boy to fight, while Mary is sent off to a boarding school. The adult Nipper (Richard Carlson) gets to fight the boxing champion of the British Empire for the title. Jocko takes all bets, even after Ginger warns him he cannot cover them all if Nipper loses. Mary (Donna Reed) graduates and returns home.

In the title fight, Nipper is holding his own until he is sent crashing out of the ring. When he gets back in, he realizes he has injured his shoulder and cannot use one arm. Nevertheless, knowing Jocko's financial peril, Nipper knocks out the champion. Afterward, the doctor informs Jocko privately that Nipper may never be able to fight again, but Jocko keeps this from his boy.

With his profits, Jocko buys an isolated hotel in Northern Australia, where Nipper recuperates. Local priest Father Ploycarp (Arthur Shields) believes he can heal Nipper's shoulder. The hotel remains empty, leaving Jocko in dire financial trouble once again. One day, a guest finally shows up. To Jocko's surprise, it is Aggie, now a rich widow. She lends him money, not only to pay his creditors, but also to lose gambling with her. Finally, in desperation, Jocko wagers his hotel against all he owes her on a game of craps. He loses, and Aggie gets her revenge for being left at the altar.

When Nipper sees his reporter friend "Dusty" Rhodes (Stephen McNally), who had covered his fight, go off with Mary to ask her to marry him, he becomes furious and beats the man up. Only then does he realize that his feelings for Mary go far beyond a brother's affections. He decides to leave without explanation, causing a rupture with Jocko, who had set up a match against the world champion after seeing that Nipper's shoulder has healed.

Then World War II breaks out. To Jocko's shame, Ginger is accepted but he is not when they go to re-enlist in the army. He pretends to Mary and Aggie that he is an officer, but actually takes a construction job to help the war effort. By chance, he is in the neighborhood when the hotel is attacked by Japanese bombers. He races to the place and encounters Nipper, now a soldier, who has had the same idea. They find the establishment under the control of the crew of a bomber that had crashed nearby. They kill all the Japanese airmen and rescue Aggie, Mary, and the children being sheltered there.

Aggie has some unexpected good news for Nipper. Mary's description of a recurring nightmare of the day her parents were killed (with Nipper absent from her dream) had set Aggie to investigating. Confirmation had finally arrived from Belgium. Nipper and Mary are not siblings after all; she had merely been adopted by Nipper's parents. Now there is nothing to stand in the way of the couple's happiness.



The film was based on a story by Mark Kelly and Bogart Rogers which was originally bought by MGM in May 1942 as a vehicle for Wallace Beery.[2][3]

Eventually the movie was assigned to Charles Laughton, with Robert Leonard to direct.[4] Binnie Barnes and Gracie Fields were discussed for the female lead[5] – eventually the filmmakers went with Barnes. MGM contractee Donna Reed was given the female lead.

The cast featured an Australian actor, Clyde Cook; it was the first time he'd played an Australian on screen.[6]



The film's depiction of Australia was criticised in the Australian press.[7][8]

Box Office[edit]

According to MGM records the film made $555,000 in North America and $515,000 overseas, making a loss of $246,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ ""THE MAN FROM DOWN UNDER".". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 28 May 1942. p. 3. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  3. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Wallace Beery in Metro Film to Play Australian Veteran of First World War 2 PICTURES OPEN TODAY ' Take a Letter, Darling' Due at Paramount -- 'Vanishing Virginian' at Criterion By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) 27 May 1942: 27.
  4. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Laughton to Appear in 'Man From Down Under' -- Joan Davis Signed by RKO SOVIET FILM HELD OVER ' Mashenka' in Second Week at Stanley -- 'Prisoner of Japan' Aids Red Cross Tonight By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) 27 Nov 1942: 27.
  5. ^ Looking at Hollywood Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) 13 Jan 1943: 18.
  6. ^ DRAMA AND FILM: George Sanders Okays Three Cinema Stories Movie Players Form Group to Give One-Acters and Full-Length Plays Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 25 Feb 1943: A12.
  7. ^ "NEW FILMS.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 26 June 1944. p. 4. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  8. ^ "HOLLYWOOD FILM ON AUSTRALIA.". The Advertiser (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 23 August 1943. p. 4. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 

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