The Siege of Pinchgut Review

Sydney. Matt Kirk (Aldo Ray) is a prisoner intent on clearing his name. Together with fellow prisoners Bert (Victor Maddern) and Luke (Carlo Justini) and Matt's brother Johnny (Neil McCallum), he stages an escape on board a boat. When the boat runs aground on Pinchgut Island in the harbour, they take the keeper, Pat Fulton (Gerry Duggan), his wife (Barbara Mullen) and daughter Ann (Heather Sears). When a reprieve is refused, Matt and his colleagues threaten to use a cannon to blow up a ship in the harbour which is loaded with explosives.

The Siege of Pinchgut - released in the USA as Four Desperate Men - was the fourth and last film Ealing Studios shot on location in Australia, although interiors were filmed back in London.. It was also the last film of any kind made by that incarnation of the company. (In other words, not the present-day Ealing Studios which made the new St Trinian’s films.) Leslie Norman – Barry’s Dad – had directed The Shiralee in 1957, but the other Australian ventures had been the work of Harry Watt (The Overlanders and Eureka Stockade in 1948 and 1949 respectively) and he returned to make the present film.

Given the family-friendly parameters it was clearly working within – U certificate then, PG now: did Ealing ever make an X-certificate film? - The Siege of Pinchgut is a tight, moderately tough, well-made thriller, crisply shot in black and white by Gordon Dines, the sense of place afforded by the Sydney location shoot adding a lot to the film’s atmosphere. Having said this, Aussie accents are played well down, with just a few twangs here and there, presumably lest too much broad Strine upset international audiences.

Quentin Tarantino is a fan of this film – you can hear him refer to it in the extras on the Not Quite Hollywood DVD – and he named one of the major characters in Inglourious Basterds in tribute to the leading actor here. Imported American star Aldo Ray scores with his physical presence, though doesn’t really convey enough of the complexities of the character. Heather Sears gets second billing with an underwritten part. This film marked the film debut of Dublin-born Australian Gerry Duggan at the age of approximately forty-nine (his date of birth is unknown, but is reckoned to be around 1910), who went on to a distinguished later-life career as a character actor until his death in 1992. He was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer for this performance. (He lost to Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay.)

The Siege of Pinchgut is an end-of-era film, not just for Ealing Studios. By this time, film production Down Under was restricted to the odd foreign production, something that continued into the early part of the next decade, notably Fred Zinnemann’s The Sundowners. The local film industry didn’t really start to revive until the end of the next decade, something I’ve described in other reviews on this site.


The Siege of Pinchgut is released by Optimum on a single-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.

The transfer is in the ratio of 1.66:1, which I take to be correct. This is a very good transfer from a source that seems to be in excellent condition, with no obvious damage. Contrast seems just right and grain is natural and filmlike.

The soundtrack is the original mono, and is clear and well balanced. This being an Optimum disc of an English-language film, there are no subtitles for the hard of hearing provided. There is one extra though: the trailer, which is also in 1.66:1 anamorphic and runs 2:55.

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