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With: Tommy Lewis, Freddy Reynolds, Ray Barrett, Jack Thompson, Angela Punch McGregor, Steve Dodds, Peter Carroll, Ruth Cracknell, Don Crosby, Elizabeth Alexander, Peter Sumner, Tim Robertson, Ray Meagher, Brian Anderson, Jane Harders, Bryan Brown, Michael Carman
Written by: Fred Schepisi, based on a novel by Thomas Keneally
Directed by: Fred Schepisi
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 120
Date: 21/06/1978

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Odd Man Outback

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This legendary Australian film has been unavailable on video for far too long, and in late 2008 this problem finally has been corrected. Writer/director Fred Schepisi brings us the story of Jimmie (Tommy Lewis), a young half-caste Aboriginal man who has had religious training and now seeks his way in the legitimate world, looking for jobs and hoping to marry someday. He finds work as a fence maker, but finds that his employers are all too eager to cheat him. And he finds his wife, but only when the daughter of his white boss gets pregnant and claims that Jimmie is the father; the white baby eventually proves that he's not, but he sticks with the marriage anyway. Finally, Jimmie has had enough and goes on a killing spree, making all the whites pay for the way they treated him (he becomes something of a folk hero).

The film was based on a novel by Thomas Keneally (who also wrote Schindler's List), which was in turn based on a true story that took place sometime around the turn of the century. Schepisi directs with an immediate energy and crisp cutting that reminded me of films like The Harder They Come (1972). At the time, the material caused great discomfort in its native Australia, and though the film was well received elsewhere in the world, it was a flop at home.

Schepisi later directed such excellent Hollywood films as Roxanne (1987), The Russia House (1990), Six Degrees of Separation (1993) as well as the British film Last Orders (2001). Many subsequent films eventually dealt with the same material, such as Baz Luhrmann's new Australia, without the repercussions.

I previously saw this film on an Australian two-disc special edition DVD from Umbrella Entertainment, which came with a commentary track by Schepisi, as well as various interviews with the cast and crew, stills, a trailer and a featurette. In 2019, Kino Lorber released an essential new two-disc Blu-ray set for America, including both the 117-minute international version and the 122-minute Australian version. Disc one includes interviews with Schepisi, director of photography Ian Baker, and star Tommy Lewis as well as a trailer. Disc two (the longer version) includes a commentary track by Schepisi, as well as a brief introduction by the director. A liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic Peter Tonguette.

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