The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie
Genre: Feature-length comedy
Synopsis: The misadventures of a true-blue
Aussie bloke in Pommy-land.
Production Company: Longford Productions
THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE was based on satirical comic strip "The Wonderful World of Barry McKenzie", drawn by New Zealand artist Nicholas Garland and written by Humphries for Private Eye magazine in the 60s by. Humphries' story of the Ocker innocent abroad gave him and Beresford a chance to lampoon both the Australians and the British in the broadest and bawdiest 'Carry On' style -- but always with a laconic Aussie twist.
Aussie critics (typified by National Times' windbag P.P. McGuinness) were appalled by its gauche ockerism and they panned it. Audiences adored it and it was a runaway success, becoming the most successful and popular all-Australian film ever made up to that time. In many senses it was the first truly Australian feature film for decades, even though most of the action takes place in London. It makes an interesting counterpart to THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB, filmed in Australia with a mostly Australian cast, but made by a British director and starring an Italian actor. In the 1980 book The New Australian Cinema producer Phillip Adams remarked on the casting, saying that that few local actors had ever played a broad Australian role or could "do" the ocker accent. Australian imitations, he said, were reserved for comedians. 'Serious' performers affected a mid-Atlantic drawl (or a BBC English accent).
If you accept its limitations, and understand the time and context in which it was made, you'll find that the movie is for the most part hilarious. Crocker's outrageous performance has never been bettered -- he is perfect for the part, and Humphries too does a star turn, playing four parts, including Barry's aunty Edna Everage (pre-damehood), "Hoot", the English jesus-freak hippie musician, and "Dr Delamphrey" (a role he reprised in the sequel).
The plot is simple -- young Barry, chaperoned by his Aunty Edna, must travel to London in order to collect an inheritance. Arriving in Blighty, he meets up with his old mate Curly and proceeds through a series of misadventures at the hands of assorted "Pommy bastards", charming numerous Pommy sheilas along the way.
The dialogue is resolutely Ocker throughout, with plenty of (mild) swearing, sexual jokes galore, loads of gratuitous sex, nudity, toilet and body humour. A great example is the classic exchange between Barry and Blanche (Julie Covington) where he indicates that he needs to use the toilet by running through every Aussie slang term for urination every devised, to the complete bewilderment of his English hosts.
There are also some cute visual jokes, like the digs at British hygiene with a running sight gag about a typhoid epidemic, and the cute advertisement for "High Camp" cigarettes on the tube station. Pop-culture buffs will also notice one brief scene that features an original poster for London OZ magazine on a wall in the background.
The supporting roles are filled by a "Who's Who" of well-known (or soon-to-be-known) Aussie and British performers. The late, great Dennis Price does a fine cameo as the pervy Mr Gort, with the wonderful Avice Landon (in her last film role) as his snooty wife. Returning the favour for Humphries' cameo in Bedazzled, Peter Cook is cast as Dominic, the TV producer. There are appearances by many other prominent British performers, including:
As well as being the big-screen debut for Edna Eveage, the film is also noteworthy as the first feature scored by distinguished Australian film composer Peter Best, who went on to work on some of the most important Australian films of the last 30 years including LIBIDO, PETERSEN, THE PICTURE SHOW MAN, BLISS, CROCODILE DUNDEE, HIGH TIDE and MURIEL'S WEDDING and the brilliant ABC TV production BLUE MURDER.
The success of the film in Australia led to a less successful sequel, BARRY MCKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN, in 1974.
The pivotal influence of Bazza on Australian film culture is undeniable, and it is clearly the direct ancestor of films like OZ, CROCODILE DUNDEE and STRICTLY BALLROOM. And of course Stefan Elliott payed tribute to it by titling his breakthrough feature "THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT".
"...became a record-breaking commercial success."
"Occasionally funny, defiantly crude and tasteless, but poorly produced..."
"Not all comedy is subtle and restrained, which is why the antics of
crude, vulgar, lovable Barry McKenzie had audiences around the world shocked
and in hysterics over his trip to the 'home' country."
"Broad, gross comedy, overlong, and a bit much for American audiences."
Review by Sandra Hall (The Bulletin, 1972)
The all-female pipe band is already skirling in the theatre foyer below. This feast of Everageana, the official Australian world premiere of The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, is away.
Barry Crocker, Bazza in the flesh, arrives next, not in the brewer's dray as planned - because Clydesdales are a touch unsteady on their hooves in wet weather - but in a black velvet dinner jacket accessorised with green lapels, matching side stripes down the trousers and cuffs as wide as bandages. He also looks as if he's wearing a surfboard for shoulder pads. But it's all Bazza, whose chin and build got him the part.
Inside, an unidentified housewife is hoovering onstage to an orchestral version of the film's theme song. And in the audience, all the mock Bazza's recruited for the occasion from Melbourne universities best jockstrap circles shout selected crudities.
The Creator ('Everything that comes out of my mouth up there belongs to Barry Humphries', Barry Crocker says of him later in a full-throated tribute) puts things right with a few words, and everything hushes with the first frame - Sydney Harbour filmed with the matt brightness of a tourist bureau travel short. The precredit sequence gets Bazza and Auntie Edna into their Qantas jet, and there's just time for them to stop off at Honkers for a decko at their colour problem before the first collision with the Poms at Heathrow. And from then on, it's one-note humour all the way.
The faces of the Tories, trendies, lesos, poofters, four-be-twos and just plain Pommy bastards that give the heroic one so much trouble during the next couple of hours are true to Nicholas Garland's original version in Private Eye, but the sentiments are closer to being updated Dad'n'Dave. Bazza has lost his awfulness, with time and the transfer, and become over-fond folklore.
Barry Crocker plays him as a walking accident. The deadpan feeling of the comic strip has become all vulnerable, big-eyed and ingenuous. 'If it was raining sheilas', he says in the producer Philip Adams' favourite line, 'I'd be washed down the drain with a poofter.' And it's because he never will realise his ambition to find a jam tart who bangs like a dunny door that the well-prepared (or warned) opening night audience loved him.
It's the bush versus the cunning townies all over again. Kangaroo Valley as Snake Gully. But all this four-square innocence has grown so many limitations since the sixties that the diversions - three Barry Humphries, one each of Peter Cook, Spike Milligan, Dick Bentley, Dennis Price, Avice Landon and Joan Bakewell - don't arrive often enough.
As a continuing character, Bazza isn't much more than a verbal compost heap, and all any actor can do is throw away the well-loved but over-ripe metaphors with enough nonchalance to make ti sound as he really produces them. Barry Crocker's style is stand and deliver them, so that it's all to clear they're his only act.
Aunty Edna Everage is something else. When the mad eyes behind the butterfly glasses flash on screen, there's a sense of musing unpredictability under the Moonee Ponds idiom that makes you feel she could say anything. Ahse also wins on costume. Humphries has an unerring sense of how she should be dressing and doing her hair each year, and there's almost as much reward in watching Edna move with the times as there was when she first administered that shock of recognition years ago.
Bazza is not built for change - just a certain sort of audience identification. But he's very efficient at that, as the participatory shouts of the T-shirted followers showed the other night. And the moment they were all waiting for was the Chunder. It was almost as if they could sniff it coming. The lead-in is a fight in the Arts Freedom Factory. Humphries, as Hoot, the Jesus-freak, goes down under a knuckle sandwich, his mouth and detached teeth so reddened that you can see he's had more than a fair share of the sauce bottle. Bazza is triumphant when the uniformed bodyguard of the shady entrepreneur, Maurie Miller (with no apologies to you know who), steps in. Down he goes - into a sepia nightmare about being stabbed by Abos in the Simpson.
And in the audience, the murmurs start: 'Is he? Is he? Is he going to do it?' Not just yet. He has to wake up straitjacketed in hospital first to see Humphries again. This time as the psychiatrist Dr De Lamphrey, he is unwise enough to get down on all fours to see why Bazza is studying the carpet so intently. And as he crawls closer, it happens - in a lumpy, full-colour close-up that sends a great orgasmic sigh echoing through the house. It's not repeated - during the hambone nor the mass Percy-pointing event that follows.
The film has the one-dimensional, Carry On look of being shot in a harsh light - reminder of its comic strip beginnings. And both Bruce Beresford's direction and the structure of the Humphries-Beresford screenplay are like the television-inspired comedies being turned out by Ned Sherrin and friends. The film is episodic, farce rather than satire, and as happens in so many of those British comedies, the climax is in a television studio where Bazza hambones before the cameras and BBC Late Night Line-Up's Joan Bakewell (being a good sport about it).
Some of its nicest moments involve those who underplay - especially Paul Bertram as Bazza's Earls Court mate, Curly, with his bath ful of Fosters, his Nolan posterrs on the wall, his patient bird reading Nova in bed and the Great Australian Novel in the typewriter.
There's another, and perhaps better, film there somewhere."
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie has as its erstwhile hero the monstrous
Barry McKenzie who with his double breasted suit, airways bag (which even
then was a sign of mental retardation), and his braggadocio is a camp
parody of an outdated Australian masculinity (his clothes belong in the
1940s and early 1950s not the 1960s or 1970s). Episodically structured,
improbably connected, the film has a farcical structure in which narrative
is clearly at the service of set piece performances by Barry Crocker (Bazza),
Barry Humphreys (Edna Everage and other roles), Spike Milligan and Peter
Cook. In many ways the film can be regarded as a "re-writing" of They're
a Weird Mob. It encourages not so much the "identification" with its
Australianness of They're a Weird Mob, but a suspending of illusionist
belief entirely thereby producing its fantasy of the "hyper-Australian".
"I worked with MCA Australia as the Assistant Film Promotions Manager on The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. MCA was the film distributor throughout the major cities in Australia of this film. At that time, it was rated the most popular Australian film in their history. I worked directly with Barry Humphries, who not only starred in the movie as four different characters, but was instrumental in introducing Foster's Lager, the Bazza McKenzie Hat and the Aunt Edna character (who manifested herself into Dame Edna, who is widely recognized world-wide). Not to forget Bruce Beresford and Barry McKenzie! I still have a copy of the comic strip "Bazza Pulls it Off" and "The Wonderful World of Barry McKenzie" (which the movie script was derived from). Sadly, I lost the Barry McKenzie soundtrack."
"I'll never forget the Grand Opening Premiere at The Ascot Theatre in
Sydney with all the cast, producers, directors, etc. The after party was
held at The St. George's Club where Foster's Lager was consumed in abundance."
Sandra Hall (1984) - Critical Business: The New Australian Film in Review (Rigby)