Reviews and notes
Ian Mune, the director and co-writer of this spirited adaptation of a novel by the late Ronald Hugh Morrieson (an author much cherished in quarters of his native New Zealand), knows what he is about. Born in Auckland in 1941, he has been variously an actor, dramatist, mask-maker (for the Welsh Theatre Company), scriptwriter and director. He has made documentaries and health-education shorts, and among his script credits are the feature Sleeping Dogs
(by his long-time partner Roger Donaldson), and the 1978 children's TV adventure The Mad Dog Gang Meets Rotten Fred and Ratsguts
A little biography is in order since CAME A HOT FRIDAY
has been made by a team (which includes, notably, the veteran leading player Peter Bland) whose techniques - like the betting swindle - have been tested and refined in the local market place. As the story skedaddles along, one thinks of Roger Corman happily pulling out the stops. Although tyres squeal relentlessly, and one occasionally feels that the picture's only purpose is to reach the end as fast as possible, the action is carefully and unpretentiously crafted and the characters do have their feet firmly on the ground.
"The privations of war are behind us", a tone-setting opening title proclaims, "There is money to be made!" Film con men such as Wesley Pennington and Cyril Kidman - a smoothed-down older man with wary eyes and a young spiv forever letting go with one note and shooting his cuffs - are as old as the film business itself. This pair, however, do not seem to have been unduly imposed upon the empty rural town. They fit right in with the authentic post-war mood and with the people - the Kid just as much as the cadaverous Sel Bishop - bent equally on making their own entertainment and their own fortunes.
Mune makes us believe that in Tainuia Junction, apart from reverencing the war dead (and the film adopts a robustly cynical attitude to this, with Norm Cray carrying off the wooden leg belonging to Don's stuffy father as he rampages after the callow swindler), there really is nothing to do but booze and follow the horses.
Mune has the confidence not to shy away from feeble jokes (if a certain sort of feeble joke is what is called for). There is a running gag involving the garden gate of Don's home, which is carried through with the lack of shilly-shallying of the true professional, a sort of Carry On
confidence. Similarly, when a Disney-like spinster, the robust Aunt Agg, is wheeled on, she is not short-changed.
Mune has a delightful line in whimsy - Corman stands aside for early Howard Zieff here - with the plump, scuttling figure of the Kid, played by the Polynesian actor Billy T James. And, in other sequences, Mune proves that he can skilfully handle stunt comedy (a car balanced on an improvised bridge across a torrent) and that he has a taste for an attractive leisureliness, as in the scenes leading up to the siege - in which the Kid takes the Walter Brennan role - when matters are slowed down and characters allowed their space.
Finally, CAME A HOT FRIDAY
can be recommended for a breathless plot which does not, at the close, run out of steam: the Kid's appeasement of the river god draws a neat capping laugh; for once, everyone receives his just desserts.
-John Pym, Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1985.
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