King of the Coral Sea (1954)
Rod Taylor plays Jack Janiero -- an American -- in his first role in a
full-length feature film. This Australian production starred ever-popular Aussie
Chips Rafferty and was a box office success.
Rafferty plays Ted King, a pearler who lives on Thursday Island, the
center of Australia's pearling industry. When King discovers a body floating
in the Torres Strait, the clues lead him to a gang of crooks who are smuggling migrant
workers onto the island.
Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery,
he is joined by his first mate, Janiero; his daughter, Rusty (Ilma Adey); and
Peter Merriman, the heroic owner of the pearling company. Merriman is played
by Charles "Bud" Tingwell, who worked with Rod during his radio
Rod also had previous experience working with the director, Lee
Robinson, on radio programs. Robinson began teaming with Rafferty on
feature films during the 1950s. But at the time, he was
inexperienced as a movie director.
In his book, "Rod Taylor: An Aussie in
Hollywood," author Stephen Vagg quotes Robinson as admitting.
"As far as performance was concerned, Rod had more guidance from
Chips and Bud." Furthermore, Vagg notes, that Rod "was allowed
considerable creative input behind the scenes -- rewriting portions
of the script, having input behind the scenes, even directing some
Robinson may have written the part of Jack Janiero with Rod in mind. Whether
he did or not, the role is a perfect fit: a tough guy with a tender side; a
roustabout who is responsible, hard-working and loyal.
The movie was a financial and scenic success. ScreenSound Australia called the movie "a dashing and romantic thriller
shot in the beauty of the Barrier Reef Islands."
The film is indeed
notable for its spectacular sequences of underwater camera shooting, including
scene that occurs in about three feet of water just off the shore.
Exploiting the scenery was perhaps director Robinson's main goal. According
to "Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years," Robinson recognized
the limited local exposure for Australian features and aimed his work at
the overseas B-movie market. His films stressed the exotic nature of Australia:
[In "King of the Coral Sea"], Robinson's principal
theme was the uniqueness of Thursday Island's sail-powered pearling fleet
and the conflict between old and new generations of pearlers over the introduction
of the aqualung. The more dynamic elements concerned the bringing to justice
of pearlers using their operations as a front for smuggling illegal immigrants.
... The mainstay was again the strong location atmosphere ...
Three weeks after editing was complete, "King of
the Coral Sea" had made its money back in overseas sales and proceeded
to do well in the Australian market.
-- Australian Cinema: The First Eighty
by Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, 1983.
Taylor's film debut, however, came at about the time the Australian feature
film industry was withering away. The growth of television in the United
States was cutting down on the demand for the kind of movies Robinson and
his brethren were making.
Meanwhile "visiting" productions -- films made by overseas
companies -- were on the rise. One of these was a co-production by Twentieth
Century-Fox and Treasure Island Pictures -- "Long
John Silver," the film that sent Taylor on his way to Hollywood.