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The Adventures of Barry Mckenzie

The Adventures of Barry Mckenzie (1972)

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teaser The Adventures of Barry Mckenzie (1972)

Sort of a predecessor to the bro comedies we have now, "ocker" comedies originated in Australia in the '70s. That term may still be obscure in America, but Down Under it denoted an entire subgenre filled with young, upbeat, lowbrow men who love their women and beer, not necessarily in that order. These mad antics are often laced with social satire, usually at the expense of Australians and other cultures, and include such longtime video and TV staples as Stork (1971), Alvin Purple (1973), and Jock Petersen (1974).

However, the Citizen Kane (1941) of ocker comedies is unquestionably The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), a raucous farce from director Bruce Beresford years before he shot to international fame with Breaker Morant (1980) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). However, Beresford made his big screen debut with this film, which was an instant local hit and earned back over half its budget in its opening weeks on just eight Aussie screens. Beresford became one of the homeland's biggest names throughout the rest of the decade thanks to a more outlandish, supernatural-tinged sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974), as well as the randy satire Don's Party (1976) and the riveting, underrated heist film, Money Movers (1978).

When Beresford was looking for an inaugural film project, he found it courtesy of a comic strip entitled "Private Eye" created by Barry Humphries, better known to the world as Dame Edna (and with whom he still remains close friends). In fact, the Edna character originated here in this film as Aunt Edna, a colorful character who urges her nephew, Barry (Barry Crocker), to widen his horizons by visiting England. Shot on location both in London and Australia, his random encounter with the local populace around Earl's Court involve drinking, romantic mishaps, con artists, and even BBC television, which forms the basis of the film's climax. Along the way some familiar faces pop up including Peter Cook (shortly before his brief relocation to America), Spike Milligan (a cohort of Cook's from The Goon Show), and veteran actor Dennis Price, who was about to appear in Theatre of Blood (1973).

Perhaps the most enduring social contribution of this film is its colorful dialogue, which rivals A Clockwork Orange (1971) for imaginary slang that became part of the vernacular. New terms for bodily functions are spewed left and right, while even the songs are packed with innuendo and silly schoolboy-level humor. That turned out to be a blessing for Crocker, a crooner with a string of enduring TV themes to his credit including the popular Neighbours. His character's nickname from this film, "Bazza," even stuck to the real man himself as late as the '90s when he made an appearance in Muriel's Wedding (1994). In fact, his contributions to charity and entertainment even earned him the Order of Australia in 1987.

The plan to shoot in both Australia and England resulted in numerous production headaches, with the use of British crew members for the local shoot ruffling some feathers. An official statement from the film's production company, Longford Productions, after its box office success summed up their attitude succinctly: "Despite ratty unions, sour critics, dopey censors and aggravating, overwhelming distribution problems, the Australian film can make it." The film was never meant to be a critic's darling, and despite its warm reception both locally and in the U.K., it has yet to receive an official home video release of any kind in the United States (where Aussie films wouldn't gain traction for a few more years). Even if you don't know what every word means, it's still a film best watched with a coldie in your hand and your favorite sheila by your side.

By Nathaniel Thompson

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