Hunt Angels (2006)
Rupert Kathner has been derided as merely a footnote in the history of Australian film. Yet over the course of fifteen years between the late 1930’s and early 1950’s, he did manage to make five feature films at a time when the odds were truly stacked against him. Granted, the film’s theatrical releases usually lasted little more than a week and two of them are listed amongst the worst films ever made in Australia, but he did manage to get all of them (but one) onto the big silver screen. For this achievement, and for his Australia Today newsreels, filmmaker Alec Morgan has produced this hybrid docudrama celebrating his efforts with fellow maverick Alma Brooks. Whether he is deserving of such notoriety remains unanswered.
“Rupert Kathner couldn’t lie straight in his own bed”, one of many talking heads exclaims. “He was that crooked!” Certainly our introduction to him does nothing to dissuade us of this assessment. After featuring in an array of mug shots follows his arrest for passing bad cheques, Kathner leaves Adelaide for the Hollywood of the South Pacific, sunny Sydney. Unable to land an investor, or angel, for his comedic romp Falling for Fame, Kathner decides to take on the newsreel duopoly enjoyed by Movietone and Cinesound. The proceeds from The Pyjama Girl Murder Case help Kathner and Brooks produce such cinematic duds as Wings of Destiny, The Glenrowan Affair and... that's about it.
Though identified by its lead character as a documentary, Hunt Angels is more than that. Case in point, the film has a lead character! Ben Mendelsohn portrays Kathner as a confidence man who has little conviction in the product he is selling. He may spruik his belief in an Australian film industry but churns out product that’s detrimental to the cause. Filmed in black and white, Mendelsohn and his co-star Victoria Hill often perform against a background of archival photos contemporary to the period. The distinctive look this gives the film runs counter to the clunky imposition of interviewees appearing in split-screen.
Most of these interviews feature actors portraying associates of Kathner. Though this allows Hunt Angels to put some flesh on the bones of its slight story, the conceit is undone by the artificiality of these performances.
as Rupert Kathner
as Alma Brooks
as Raymond Longford
Robert Bruning as Stanley Mount Julie Herbert and Niki Owen as Gwen Oatley
Despite the assertion that Kathner never made a movie that wasn’t screened, his 1938 adventure film Below the Surface was not released theatrically.
Raymond Longford did not portray a German spy in Wings of Destiny. He had a small role as Peters, an old bushman who rescues the heroes when they become stranded in the Australian outback. He did however portray a German spy in the 1933 film Diggers in Blighty.
Apart from the one scene apparently recreated from Wings of Destiny, biopic includes original clips from The Pyjama Girl Murder Case, Wings of Destiny and The Glenrowan Affair.