Smash Palace

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Smash Palace
Smash Palace.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Donaldson
Produced byRoger Donaldson
Larry Parr
Written byRoger Donaldson
Peter Hansard
Bruno Lawrence
StarringBruno Lawrence
Anna Maria Monticelli
Greer Robson
Keith Aberdein
Desmond Kelly
Music bySharon O'Neill
CinematographyGraeme Cowley
Edited byMichael J. Horton
Release date
May 1981 (Cannes Film Festival)
Running time
108 minutes
Box officeNZ $600,000 (New Zealand)[1]

Smash Palace is a New Zealand feature film that premiered at Cannes in May 1981 and was released theatrically in April 1982. The film chronicles a former race car driver (played by Bruno Lawrence) who inadvertently contributes to the end of his marriage, then kidnaps his daughter (Greer Robson). Lawrence's character runs a carwrecking yard in an isolated area of New Zealand's North Island.

Smash Palace was the second feature directed by Roger Donaldson. Critical acclaim in the United States won him interest from Hollywood, and the chance to direct the first of a number of films financed outside of New Zealand, The Bounty.

The soundtrack was composed and performed by New Zealand-born singer Sharon O'Neill. Smash Palace has an R16 rating.


The film centers on the "Smash Palace" car wrecking yard on the North Island Volcanic Plateau, where former racing driver Al Shaw (Lawrence) lives with his unhappy French wife Jacqui (Jemison) and daughter Georgie (Robson).

Jacqui begins a relationship with Al's best friend, local police officer Ray Foley (Aberdein). After a violent argument she leaves Al, taking Georgie with her. Al kidnaps Georgie and takes her into hiding, but shortly afterwards Georgie falls ill and the police catch up with Al when he tries to rob a pharmacy at gunpoint. Al ends up cornered in Smash Palace with Georgie as his hostage, but agrees to hand her over to Jacqui in exchange for Ray.



The film was funded by the New Zealand Film Commission. When Donaldson first applied for funding, he was turned down. On a second attempt he was once again denied funding, until veteran film maker John O’Shea pointed out that Donaldson’s earlier work Sleeping Dogs had been the reason the commission was founded.[2]

One of the conditions of the film’s eventual funding by the NZFC was that it be completed in time to screen at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. This forced a tight schedule on the production team, giving only four months between the commencement of the shoot and the film’s premiere.[3]

Release and reception[edit]

Although the film was completely New Zealand financed and shot, the film was first released in the USA. The expectation was that by initially releasing in the US the film would gain positive reviews from international critics, thus encouraging local audiences, prone to a dismissal of Kiwi product as amateurish, to go and see the film. The strategy worked, with the film proving hugely successful in New Zealand.[4]

The film won much acclaim for the performance of Bruno Lawrence, one of New Zealand's best-known actors. It was successful in its home land, and received positive reviews in the United States; Veteran critic Pauline Kael described it as "amazingly accomplished". Roger Ebert called it one of the best films of 1981, "so emotionally wise and observant that we learn from it why people sometimes make the front pages with guns in their hands and try to explain that it's all because of love". The New York Times picked it as one of its ten best movies of the year.[5]

At the 1982 Manila Film Festival, Bruno Lawrence received an award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Al Shaw.


Much of the film was shot on location at car dismantling business Horopito Motors, which has existed on the same site since the 1940s, in the former town of Horopito near Ohakune (39°20′41″S 175°22′43″E / 39.34474°S 175.37872°E / -39.34474; 175.37872). A scene from road movie Goodbye Pork Pie was also shot in the same location.[6]. More recently the finale of Hunt for the Wilderpeople was shot at the same site, referencing both the above films. [7]


A soundtrack was released in 1982, featuring five songs by New Zealand singer songwriter Sharon O'Neill. It won Best Film Soundtrack/Cast Recording/Compilation at the 1983 New Zealand Music Awards.


  1. ^ Mike Nicolaidi, "New Zealand", Cinema Papers, March 1986 p8
  2. ^ Booth, Roger. Bruno: The Bruno Lawrence Story. Canterbury University Press, 1999, p. 203
  3. ^ "Smash Palace". NZ On Screen. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  4. ^ McDouall, Hamish. 100 Essential New Zealand Films. Awa Press, 2009, p. 178-180.
  5. ^ Martin, Helen and Sam Edwards. New Zealand Film: 1912-1996. Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 78.
  6. ^ "Car Yard a slice of New Zealand film history". Stuff (Fairfax Media). 10 August 2015.
  7. ^ "Hunt for the Wilderpeople and those classic NZ film references". NZ Herald. 30 April 2016.

External links[edit]