Skippy the Bush Kangaroo: The Intruders Review

Skippy – the subtitle The Bush Kangaroo was added overseas – began in 1966. For details of how it began, I refer you to my review of Volume 1 of Fabulous Films’s five compilations of episodes from the first series. (I reviewed Volume 2 as well, though review copies of later volumes were not forthcoming. There is also a five-disc box set containing all thirty-nine episodes of Series One.) Helped by the farsighted decision to make the series on colour 16mm film, at a time when everyone apart from the USA was broadcasting in black and white, the show was a great success and remains Australian television’s most exported programme to this day. A second series, also of thirty-nine episodes followed. Then there was a third, of just thirteen episodes, without original cast members Tony Bonner (as Jerry King) and Liza Goddard (as Clarissa “Clancy” Merrick). After three years, it was time to call it a day.

However, the producers of Skippy were not finished yet. The result was a full-length feature film, shot in 35mm, called The Intruders. (Pedantic note: the Skippy the Bush Kangaroo logo appears on screen, then the text “The Intruders”. On the principle that a film is called what appears on screen, that is how I have headed this review.) Bonner and Goddard returned in their roles, as did the rest of the cast of Ed Devereaux (Matt Hammond) and his screen sons Ken James (Mark Hammond) and Garry Pankhurst (Sonny Hammond). And not to forget the several kangaroos who played Skippy. The plot involves a group of deep-sea divers applying to Head Ranger Matt for a licence to dive for abalone. A routine request, and permission is given. However, the men have a much more sinister agenda – gold smuggling.

In 1969, there were very few films being made in Australia. Michael Powell had made They’re a Weird Mob three years earlier, and by doing so had united most of the key personnel of the Skippy TV series. That had been a co-production, as were Wake in Fright (aka Outback) and Walkabout, which were then in preparation. Of the others, most were small-budget features, often shot in 16mm, or low-budget American films shot in Australia for the cheap locations, most of which have since vanished into obscurity. Meanwhile, Tim Burstall had made a black-and-white arthouse film, Two Thousand Weeks, in 1968 to critical hostility and public indifference: very rarely shown now, it marks the beginning of the Australian Film Revival of the following decade. (Needless to say, apart from Weird Mob and Walkabout, none of these films are on DVD as I write this.) So, a colour 35mm production – that could potentially be sold worldwide – was big news.

Unfortunately I can’t be all that enthusiastic about The Intruders. Apart from the jump in picture quality, there’s nothing in this film that distinguishes it from its small-screen origins. In fact, cut into three, it could fit quite seamlessly into a run of the TV series. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that has been done somewhere in the world where Skippy is still playing. The series is undoubtedly a product of gentler times, with obvious moral lessons for the children watching, but within its parameters it’s well and sincerely made. In The Intruders, blandness sets in, not least in Lee Robinson’s direction, and over an hour and a half things do begin to drag. On the plus side, the five regulars have their performances off pat. Jeanie Drynan turns up in a supporting role, looking very young, especially when you next consider that her next film (after a lot of TV work in between) was Don’s Party seven years later. Peter Menzies’s camerawork is certainly easy on the eye. But the theme song is awful. How many rhymes are there for “abalone”?

The Intruders is presented on a dual-layered disc encoded for all regions. The film was shot open-matte, no doubt to protect for its inevitable TV showings. It is presented in 4:3 on this DVD. However, given that this is a late-60s cinema release, it would have been shown theatrically in a wider ratio which, judging by the headroom in each shot, is quite likely to be 1.85:1. As for the print itself, there’s noticeable scratching at the beginning and end but otherwise it seems in good condition. The colour is late 60s vintage, which can look very heightened and oversaturated by today’s standards – some skin tones are positively orange.

The soundtrack is the original mono, and is clear enough. The lack of subtitles is a deficit though. There’s also no scene-selection menu, although there are ten chapters.

If you already have the TV series DVDs, then the extras on The Intruders become less attractive as both of them appear in Volume 1. First is “The Long Way Home” (24:19) which is the first episode of the TV series as broadcast., and features Frank Thring as occasional villain Dr Alexander Stark. The other extra is “Skippy’s Playground at Waratah Headquarters” (24:18), a black and white film that’s seen much better days. “Hostess Bobbie” (Roberta Paterson in a very 60s beehive haircut and miniskirt) shows a group of children round Skippy’s home, including lots of wildlife. This is clearly aimed at much younger children, preschoolers no doubt, and twenty-four minutes of this is likely to try the patience of anyone much older. It also seems quite amateurish by today’s standards.

There are people reading this who grew up on Skippy, and its continuing appeal to children is not in doubt. Best to stick to the TV series though.

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