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AGE OF CONSENT(director: Michael Powell; screenwriters: from the novel by Norman Lindsay/Peter Yeldham; cinematographer: Hannes Staudinger; editor: Anthony Buckley; music: Peter Sculthorpe; cast: James Mason (Bradley Monahan), Helen Mirren (Cora Ryan), Jack MacGowran (Nat Kelly), Neva Carr-Glynn (Ma Ryan), Andonia Katsaros (Isabel Marley), Michael Boddy (Hendricks), Slim DeGrey (Cooley), Frank Thring (Godfrey), Harold Hopkins (Ted Farrell); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael Powell/James Mason; Columbia; 1969-Australia)
“A bitter comedy that has something meaningful to say about the creative nature of the artist.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The talented filmmaker Michael Powell (“The Red Shoes”/”Black Narcissus”/”A Matter of Life and Death”) received a raw deal after his voyeuristic psychological thriller “Peeping Tom” upset establishment-minded studio bosses to such an extent he couldn’t get work in England or the States, so he was forced to make two low-budget films in Australia–this one and the one three years prior to that entitled “They’re a Weird Mob.” The charming personal film “Age of Consent” was Powell’s last major film, as he followed it with a minor work called “The Boy Who Turned Yellow” for the Children’s Film Foundation and later only re-edited his version of “The Edge of the World.” In his senior years the great filmmaker, who lived until 1990 when he was 85, was deserted by the film community and even his masterpieces were ignored.

The film is based on the 1938 novel by Norman Lindsay, an Aussie who also worked as a political cartoonist and painter. The playful but uneven screenplay is by Peter Yeldham, who never fully captures the mood of the artist with authenticity. Its theme has an artist removing himself from a stagnant work situation to find an isolated area where he can take control of his own destiny so he can feel again as a vital artist. The thinly disguised autobiographical account of Lindsay’s own life had a great impact on Powell, who connected with such artistic feelings and was eager to make the film.

Bradley Morahan (James Mason), a New York-based successful artist, chucks the superficial big city art glamor scene to return to his native Australia to try and revitalize his floundering life by living a simple life. He treks to an isolated island on the Great Barrier Reef to live as a beach bum artist in a rented rundown shack with his faithful dog Godfrey, named after an effete NYC art dealer. The island has only a few inhabitants, one being a nasty drunken harridan named Ma Ryan (Neva Carr-Glynn) and her attractive perky teenage granddaughter Cora (Helen Mirren, 23 at the time). The sweet self-sufficient money-hungry girl is saving her coin to leave the island to become a hairdresser in Brisbane, and accepts a gig as Brad’s nude model. Just when things are moving along swimmingly and Brad is painting again, something he thought was lost forever, Nat Kelly (Jack MacGowran), a pesty low-life old friend of Bradley’s appears and when his request for a loan of £300 is turned down steals all his money but for a few pounds. In the meantime, Ma Ryan discovers where Cora buried her savings and steals that to go to town and buy some booze. She also threatens to tell the authorities that Cora is a minor and that Brad is taking advantage of her. How the two annoying characters are gotten rid of so that Cora and Brad can live together in sin without interference, is settled through broad comic sketches in a way that must have pleased Mr. Powell a great deal but didn’t make me feel that he had recaptured his old magical cinematic touches. Nevertheless this seemingly mellow romantic drama, that takes full advantage of the 1960’s Sexual Revolution to have several erotic scenes, can be best viewed as a bitter comedy that has something meaningful to say about the creative nature of the artist, his need for a muse and how physicality shouldn’t be repressed by narrow-minded critics who only know art through a blind faith in what they don’t understand.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”