(The following article, found on Trove Newspapers site, was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mon. 29 Jan 1934.)
Amusing reminiscences of the early days of Australian films were given to members of the Sydney Movie Makers’ Club in a lecture by Mr. Eric Howell, a former actor.
Mr. Howell said that as he then looked upon the cinema as a cross between a peep-show and a magic lantern, he was startled when it was suggested that he should appear before the cine camera.
It was in the melodrama, “Sea Dogs of Australia”. He played the part of the villain, a nondescript alien, the personification of the foreign peril. One part of the action depicted the attempted destruction of H.M.A.S. Australia. An empty kerosene drum was placed beside it, and then Mr. Howell was shown on a hulk operating switches supposed to be connected to the explosive. He was interrupted by the hero and heroine and dived into the harbour.
For that, he received a bonus of ten shillings (10 cents) and the promise of a new suit if his own was ruined.
When the scene had been taken, he was hailed as a hero – the particular bay was infested with sharks, but that had been carefully concealed from him before he performed the dive.
Mr. Howell said that, strangely enough, “Sea Dogs of Australia” was being shown in Sydney in August 1914. It was withdrawn by order of the Minister for Defence. Some of the scenes had actually been photographed on H.M.A.S. Australia, and it might have been dangerous to allow the detail of the ship to be seen.
Mr. Howell claimed that the first “close-up” was taken, not by D.W. Griffith, as was claimed by many, but by Raymond Longford in the silent film “The Silence of Dean Maitland”. Mr. Harry Thomas played the part of the dean. During the confession sermon, the camera was concentrated on his face while he mouthed the words. When the picture was projected, he stood behind the screen and spoke the lines.
“The film business seems to move in cycles”, he said. “Today the producers are again making pictures about morons who have never had any experience outside the books of Steele Rudd. They are an insult to Australia. But it is impossible to make any suggestions to the powers-that-be. The theatre has survived in our country only through the efforts of the innumerable amateur societies.
Sea Dogs of Australia was a 1913 Australian silent film about an Australian naval officer blackmailed into helping a foreign spy. Lieutenant Verner (Eric Howell) incurs massive gambling debts, and a foreign spy, Herman Markoff, tries to blackmail him into stealing some secret plans for an explosive. Verner agrees and helps Markoff kidnap his friend, Lieutenant Sidney, but is stopped by Dave Smith, a champion Australian boxer. Verner tries again and by torturing Sidney succeeds in securing the plans. Verner decides to use the plans to blow up the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, but Sidney manages to escape and kill Markoff. Verner almost escapes on a ship, but Australia sinks it and Verner dies.
‘Many of the scenes in the story are taken onboard the Australian flagship Australia and, under Its frowning 12 inch guns, the hero lieutenant and his sweetheart, pledge their troth. There is another officer also in love with the girl, and his jealousy leads to a bitter revenge. The events which follow show an attempt to steal certain details of a new explosive, and an abduction. Dave Smith, the Australian champion pugilist, takes part in the picture, and he is seen in a rescue scene of exciting situations. The appearance of a strange cruiser, the firing of a submarine mine, and the speeding of the fastest craft in Australian waters is a prelude to the Australia being seen in action, and the 12 inch guns in play, and the destruction of the mysterious war-ship. The final scene is a naval wedding on Garden Island.’