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  Malcolm The Gadget Show
Year: 1986
Director: Nadia Tass
Stars: Colin Friels, Lindy Davies, Chris Haywood, John Hargreaves, Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, Beverley Phillips, Judith Stratford, Heather Mitchell, Tony Mahood, David Letch, Mike Bishop
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Melbourne, Malcolm Hughes (Colin Friels) has just been sacked from his job as a worker on the city's trams after he built his own vehicle to run on the lines and took it out for a spin one night when he should have been looking after the depot. His boss (Charles 'Bud' Tingwell) was none too pleased, and when his superiors found out he had no choice but to let Malcolm go, which makes the boss feel a little sorry as he pulled some strings to get him this position, what with everyone thinking Malcolm is mentally backward. But he's not, as actually he is a genius with making things...

This quirky little comedy drama has been disarming viewers ever since it was released back in the mid-eighties, the first film to be directed by Australia's Nadia Tass which set her on a career of some success. It was a collaboration with her regular moviemaking partner (and husband) David Parker, who not only wrote the script (purportedly based on the personality of her brother), but co-produced and performed cinematography duties as well. If this sounds like a low budget film, then it was, but for realising its simple concept it did very well indeed, providing a little ray of sunshine in its overcast imagery.

It doesn't look like the sun-bleached Australia familiar from so many Outback-set films from its home country, if anything it looks a bit chilly, and its resolutely urban setting was not something often seen (or photographed) in the films exported to the rest of the world. This was a few years after the renaissance in Australian films began in the seventies, and illustrated that perhaps their cinema was moving on, as Malcolm was not quite like anything else, an idiosyncratic comedy that could almost pass as a downbeat drama if a few alterations to the script had been made. Even now, it doesn't prompt massive laughs.

But we have seen how the title character innovates in his drab environment, and that gives us hope for something special to arrive before the end of the movie. Before that, Malcolm has to make himself some cash, and Mrs T (Beverley Phillips), the woman who runs the local shop and keeps an eye on him since his mother died a few months ago, suggests a way he can pay his bills (including the one he owes her). Take in a lodger, she tells him, and that he does, with ne'erdowell Frank (John Hargreaves, a familiar face in Aussie cinema) hoving into view to settle with his new landlord. Frank is also short of money, but is looking for more illegal ways to secure it for himself.

Now, at this point Malcolm is drawn into a life of crime and we should really take against the film, especially as Frank is pretty unrepentant about his criminal livelihood. He has a girlfriend, Judith (Lindy Davies), who moves in too, and although she keeps ordering him to straighten up his morals, he drags them all down into his lawbreaking. But after a while you see how much this is benefitting Malcolm, who has some new friends who refuse to judge him and indeed allow him to blossom, whether it's chatting to him (bizarrely, Judith spins him a very old urban myth - maybe it was new at the time) or allowing him to create his inventions. Ah, those inventions, from a toy tramline that runs through his house, picking up mail and the like, to a getaway car that splits in two, all highly amusing, but they've nothing on the way the story resolves itself into a heist, ingeniously realised with gadgets and contraptions which make the last half hour well worth sticking around for. Music by Simon Jeffes and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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