The Picture Show Man (1977)
Native Aussie Rod Taylor plays Palmer -- a Texan -- in this Australian
It's a lively, warm comedy about a traveling showman named Maurice Pym
(veteran Australian actor John Meillon), who brings the glories of the silver
screen to people in country towns of New South Wales during the 1920s.
Taylor gets top billing but appears sporadically as Pym's rival, who
has purchased state-of-the-art equipment. The American treats show business
as a business, whereas Pym clings to the old ways and relies on his personality
and charisma to see him through.
"Picture Show Man" was chosen as one of the10 best films of
1977 by the U.S. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
Here's what the Boston Globe said about the film in an Oct. 18, 1980,
Before theaters, movies were brought to town by traveling
picture shows. ... The films were silent, the seats were hard and the old
handcranked projectors would often break. But there was a sense of adventure
to the men who brought Tom Mix to the tiny villages. They were showmen,
not businessmen, and they loved their craft.
For the first hour of "The Picture Show Man,"
director John Power captures the fly-by-night pioneering of those early
days in Australia with gentle warmth. But, like watching silent movies,
you soon grow tired of nostalgic images and need something more substantial.
The film is ... episodic. Some scenes soar with inventive
dialogue while others fall flat.
Eventually, the film succumbs to its paltry plot. The
story centers around two rival picture shows. Pym (John Meillon) represents
the old guard. He believes in silent films lit by the potentially lethal
combination of ether and oxygen while Palmer (Rod Taylor) invests in talkies
and electric projection. It's a battle of tradition vs. progress, but neither
"Picture Show Man" was a labor of love by Australian film documentarian
Joan Long, who based the film on an unpublished biography of E. Lyle Penn,
an old-time showman. It took four years for her to write, raise finances
and produce the picture.
A 1977 issue of Movie News magazine notes that:
When it came to the part of Palmer, Long sent the script
over to Rod Taylor in Hollywood. "He phoned me back straight away
to ask when he started," Long reported. ...
Rod agreed to come back to Australia to work for "peanuts"
in a guest role because "I wanted to help the Australian film industry."
He explains: "I'd heard about some good movies made here lately, but
it doesn't matter how good they are if nobody's seeing them. ... They can
certainly make something with my name in terms of worldwide distribution."