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June 2011

The Killing Of Angel Street

cast: Liz Alexander, John Hargreaves, Reg Lye, David Downer, and Alexander Archdale

director: Donald Crombie

96 minutes (M) 1981
widescreen ratio 1.55:1
Roadshow DVD Region 4

RATING: 6/10
review by Gary Couzens

The Killing Of Angel Street

Jessica Simmonds (Liz Alexander) is a journalist. Returning to Sydney from London, she finds that Angel Street, where she grew up, and where her father (Alexander Archdale) still lives, is being demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment block. Her father leads the campaign against this, but then he is killed in a house fire. Disbelieving the official cause (faulty wiring); Jessica joins with union leader Jeff (John Hargreaves) in their campaign...

In the early 1970s in Sydney, housing developers attempted to buy up Victoria Street in order to demolish the existing buildings to replace them with new apartment blocks. The residents, in alliance with the builders' labourers' foundations, occupied the houses in protest, and there were a series of violent confrontations. Juanita Nielsen, an heiress who became involved in the residents' campaign, disappeared on 4th July 1975. She was widely believed to have been kidnapped and murdered on behalf of the developers, though the case remains unsolved to this day. Her body has never been found. In 1981, two films inspired by these events went into production. The first to be released was The Killing Of Angel Street. (I have reviewed the second, Heatwave, separately.)

The Killing Of Angel Street was directed by Donald Crombie and produced by Anthony Buckley, who had previously made Caddie (1976), and The Irishman (1978). Michael Craig, who had starred in the latter film, is credited with the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Those earlier films were gentle, humanist character pieces. The Killing Of Angel Street is certainly tougher, but it's a little soft round the edges. Part of that may be for legal reasons. Juanita Nielsen is even mentioned, at one point, presumably to distinguish this fictional story from the real-life one.

After an attempt to cast Julie Christie in the lead role fell through, Elizabeth Alexander (billed as Liz Alexander), who had previously made an impression in Summerfield, took the part. The fictitious Angel Street was a dummy row of houses built for the production at the bottom of a street in East Balmain. Although the local police co-operated with the filming, there were reports of mysterious vehicles observing the production and veiled warnings to the filmmakers to take care.

The film played at the 1982 Berlin film festival but was not a commercial success. It has not been distributed in the UK but had a television showing in 1983. Thirty years on, what may have seemed contentious is now not much more than a decent thriller. The legal compromises that enabled the film to be made in the first place tend to bland the story out. The ending is not entirely satisfactory, with a would-be cynical final scene that doesn't come off. Alexander makes a sympathetic heroine and John Hargreaves is solid in support as ever.

This review is from Roadshow's DVD release, encoded for Region 4 only, which has a non-anamorphic transfer in the ratio of 1.55:1 (intended ratio 1.85:1). The film has recently been re-issued on DVD by Umbrella, which should on past experience be all-regions and have an anamorphic transfer, though I cannot as yet confirm this. The soundtrack is the original mono. Disc extras are common to both releases: a commentary by Donald Crombie and Michael Craig, the trailer and a stills gallery.



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