Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Things Get Pretty Dull Down Under

Cleveland Press September 17, 1971

"Walkabout" is another good idea gone wrong. Accuracy in translating a novel into film terms, while important, is not the only standard by which to judge the resulting movie. The picture may also succeed on its own terms.

"Walkabout" fails in both senses, perhaps fails as a movie because it fails the spirit of the book.

"Walkabout" is based on the novel by Australian author James Vance Marshall and originally published as "The Children" in 1959. It has become a minor classic in Australia and England.

The title derives from the custom among the aborigine of having an adolescent boy prove his manhood by surviving alone in the bush for a period of a month or so.

You won't find that out watching the picture any more than you will learn, quite specifically in the novel, that the aborigine can die of auto-suggestion.

Since the theaters are about to provide you with a copy of the book for the price of a ticket, you may end up being puzzled at what you see.

The novel is about a couple of youngsters stranded in the middle of the Australian desert after an air crash.

Since the movie wants to make a point about the problems of civilization as against the virtues of primitive simplicity, the youngsters in the movie narrowly escape being shot down by their father who then commits suicide. It seems the day-in, day-out grind of life in the city was too much for him.

The girl (Jenny Agutter) is about 14 and her brother (Lucien John) is considerably younger.

Gradually they use up the remaining food in their picnic hamper. Their transistor radio continue to blare out the raucous sounds of civilization while the camera scrutinizes the Australian flora and fauna.

The children are discovered by an aborigine boy (David Gumpilil). He helps them find water, hunts food for them, eventually leads them to civilization.

The movie says that the girl fails to appreciate the simplicity and purity of primitive living and that the aborigine finally dies of love for her.

A tacked-on flashback shows her later in life, caught on the treadmill and recalling those happier days complete with a nude bathing scene.

The movie goes out of its way to provide erotic overtones including an unrelated scene showing a group of meteorologists out in the wild -- one woman and several men leering at her.

The small cast performs well with the aborigine possibly coming off best. Miss Agutter is rather overmature to be 14 years old.

The picture does have moments of great beauty, possibly because it examines a country so strange for most of us.

But the total effect is a combination of obscurity and dullness.