Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bush Christmas

Over the weekend, TCM showed a movie that's nominally a Christmas film, but really only is set around Christmas: Bush Christmas.

As the movie's opening narration tells us, the movie is set in an out-of-the-way portion of the Australian outback around Christmastime, just after the school has let out for the Christmas holiday, which, being in Australia, is in the middle of summer. Three siblings and their two companions are heading home to the ranch their farmer works, getting on their horses to go home since this being the middle of nowhere in the 1940s, school buses would have been unheard of. There's Helen, the oldest of the bunch; her younger brothers John and "Snow", named for the color of his hair; Michael, a boy who was evacuated here from the UK because of the war; and Neza, the Aboriginal son of the ranch owner's best ranch hand. Although they're supposed to head straight home, one of them gets the idea to take a little detour, and it's on this detour that they meet Long Bill (Chips Rafferty). They don't realize it, but he's a horse thief, which is a big deal in these parts considering the way everybody relies on horses. He gives them some money to keep quiet about having met him, and this gets them in big trouble.

They face even bigger trouble when they wake up th enext morning and discover that that Lucy is missing. Lucy is dad's prized mare, and the kids know just who did it. And they also know that they let on about Lucy, so they feel terribly guilty about what they've done. They try to rectify the situation by telling Dad and the police about the guy they met, but the police don't quite believe their theory about where the horse thieves might have gone. Well, if none of the adults are going to believe them, then the kids are just going to have to find the bad guys by themselves. They say that they're going to go camping for a couple of days -- something the presumably would have been considered completley normal in 1940s Australia, but would make any parent in today's era of helicopter parenting blanch. Kids doing this stuff independently?

The kids are actually legitimately fairly independent and resourceful, although they would have been better served with a few more days' worth of rations, being reduced to hunting snakes to eat, which of course turns one of the kids' stomachs. Not Neza, though; he's vital to the mission as he knows the ways of the outback and can track and hunt with any adult. As for those horse thieves, they get the distinct impression that somebody might be chasing them, especially after they find Helen's hat. And if they didn't think the kids were just lost, they really know something's up when they wake up to discover the kids have ambushed their camp and freed the horses and taken their boots! Still, the penalty for horse thievery must be so severe that the thieves march on, eventually making their way to a ghost mining camp for a climactic scene.

Bush Christmas is a good movie for both children and adults. In many ways, you could think of it as a children's movie because the kids are the most important part of the cast, and because the themes are so simple. But these children seem realistic. They have some smarts but aren't so brilliant that they can't be outwitted at a key point by the horse thieves, who themselves are suitably good villians. More importantly, the kids aren't irritating like a lot of Hollywood child actors can be. Sure, you know there's eventually going to be a happy ending, even if the opening narration didn't imply it. But Bush Christmas is a winner in any case, and a good movie for any time of the year, not just Christmas.

Bush Christmas has received a DVD release, although I wonder from the Amazon entry whether it's out of print as they claim to have only a couple of copies left. The TCM Shop says they have it in stock, although I wonder whether they've confused the 1947 Bush Christmas with a 1983 remake which introduced a young Nicole Kidman to the world.

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