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Last Bus to Banjo Creek

Rod Taylor spent more than a decade trying to produce this film, which he described as "a sort of 'African Queen' on a truck." But with the feeling that he was "flogging a dead horse" and hope that other opportunities were opening up in Australia, Taylor finally abandoned the project.

The film had its origin in a short story titled "The Skedule," first published in 1956 by Australian author Helen Wilson. Prolific British playwright and screenwriter Ted Willis adapted the screenplay in the early 1960s, and the film rights were first bought by J. Arthur Rank and then Universal. Several news reports had Rod set to star in the picture, but it never came to pass.

Taylor explained further, from the set of "The Picture Show Man," in Australia:

I had a script called "Banjo Creek," written by Ted Willis, that had been re-written by some hack at Universal Studios for a production to be made in Australia. I thought the Universal version was a piece of shit, so I added some dialogue and made it good and Aussie and, I thought, funny. But unfortunately I got static from Willis about changing his script -- me, not Universal!

-- Cinema Papers (Australia), January 1977

The story involved a pretty, fragile English girl who has to get to the Outback and is taken there by "a sweaty oaf in a truck." Of course, the pair encounter many disasters, including breaking down in the desert. And of course, they fall in love along the way.

Candidates to play leading lady to Rod's "sweaty oaf" included Maggie Smith, Julie Andrews, Sarah Miles, Olivia Newton-John or Glenda Jackson.

A June 14, 1970, article in the Sydney Morning Herald had Taylor going to Australia in September of that year to make two films -- an American Western called "Slocum" and "Last Bus to Banjo Creek.

'I hope Maggie Smith will co-star,' Rod said. 'I have talked with her on the telephone in London and told her all about it and sent her a script. I hope to hear soon that she will agree to do it. If so, her husband, Robert Stephens, will probably direct.'

The first script was written by Lord Ted Willis (1918-1992), a pioneering and prolific English screenwriter.

Willis created 41 TV serials, wrote 37 stage plays, a dozen novels and scripts for 39 feature films. Among his notable creations was "Dixon Of Dock Green," the longest-running police series on British television (1955-76).

Beginning in 1965, Willis went to Los Angeles to develop the screenplay for Universal along with a script editor who informed Willis that "our first job would be to cut 30 pages from the screenplay."

After little progress, Willis went home on the understanding that he would return when the film started pre-production. However, Universal experienced several internal shakeups, and Willis remarked:

I felt in my bones that this was yet another screenplay that would not go before the cameras. In the next 10 years, a half-dozen producers read it and became keen but the project seem to be jinxed, for something always intervened to stop further progress.

Rod Taylor was still optimistic about the film in a 1975 interview:

I've been meaning to get out here to make it for the past 11 years. Every time I think I'll make it, another film comes up or finance for it dries up, but this time next year, I reckon I'll be back to do it. ... There's more money around here now for film-making.

-- TV Week (Australia), Nov. 1, 1975

In "Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood," author Stephen Vagg notes that Rod's version of the script would have made "quite an entertaining film."  Vagg has read a copy of the script from the mid-1970s and reports that "much of it is unexpectedly wonderful," with warm vignettes, romanticism and emotion.

Vagg particularly notes the bond that forms between the two lead characters, Helen and Jim. "Helen is a strong character, sexy, classy and sympathetic," Vagg writes. "One cannot help but think Rod was channeling Maggie Smith when he was writing."

 

 

LINKS

Not Starring Rod Taylor: Take a look at more projects that Taylor considered, but that never came to be.

Ted Willis obituary

Helen Wilson information

Sydney Morning Herald, June 14, 1970: Rod Taylor to make two films in Aust.

 

VIEWER'S GUIDE

Rod Taylor said he has done a lot of re-writing, but he's written only one film from scratch, "The Treasure Seekers."

Among the films Rod's done some re-writing for:

"Chuka": At the peak of his acting career, Taylor also was immersed in producing this Western, spending evenings and weekends writing and rewriting the script based on a novel by Richard Jessup.

"The Deadly Trackers": Taylor contributed new scenes to invigorate the hatred between hero and villain: "I think that's what the story lacked -- a decent account of the villain's villainy," he said.

"Young Cassidy": Taylor offered contributions as he tried to follow John Ford's orders to bring Julie Christie's character back into the picture toward the end. "I wrote a scene where she's in a doorway after hooking too much, shabby and dirty, and they didn't go for it," Taylor explained.

 

         
   

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