Charles Edward Chauvel, legendary Australian filmmaker (1897 -1959) grew up on the family farm near Warwick, Queensland which instilled in him a lifelong love of the land. However, after the completion of his schooling, he chose to study commercial art and drama in Sydney and work as a production assistant with legendary showman and entrepreneur, Snowy Baker, and a number of leading filmmakers.
After an extended trip to the United States which provided some introductory experience in Hollywood studios, Charles returned in 1923, inspired to produce his own silent films. Moth of Moonbi and Greenhide followed, the latter of which, reflected the Queensland life of his youth but enjoyed moderate commercial success. It was in casting Greenhide that he met, and subsequently married, Elsie (Elsa) Mary Wilcox with whom he also formed a formidable professional partnership.
Charles Chauvel was the only Australian filmmaker to successfully navigate through four decades of profound change, from silent films, to sound, then colour and finally television. He was not only an artist but a resilient businessman and entrepreneur who produced 10 films, five documentaries and a BBC television series and succeeded despite great challenges in financing Australian pictures.
Another of Charles’ major contributions was his discovery of and support for Australian acting talent; he discovered and launched the careers of both Errol Flynn and Chips Rafferty and played a major role in advancing those of Peter Finch and Michael Pate.
His approach to filmmaking was that of a nationalist, telling Australian and Queensland stories in particular. He was also the maker of big ambitious films, more focussed on place and action than character such as his first feature film, In The Wake of the Bounty, Errol Flynn’s first role. This film which reconstructed the Bounty mutiny also depicted spectacular footage of Pitcairn Island, and exemplified his entrepreneurial and risk-taking character.
It is widely accepted that his greatest films were made during and after the Second World War including the iconic Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), The Rats of Tobruk (1944), Sons of Matthew (1949) and Jedda (1955). Forty Thousand Horsemen was Australia’s first international film success winning acclaim in Britain and the United States and elsewhere.
Jedda, which became an Australian classic, took three years to make under arduous conditions in the Northern Territory, was Australia’s colour first feature film but, more importantly, featured indigenous actors in lead roles for the first time. It was also the first Australian feature film to be exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival.
His final work was the successful 13 episode Australian Walkabout television series produced for the BBC in 1958.