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Food on Film: A Missed Opportunity

March 11, 2013

The Weekend Australian’s film critic Evan Williams wrote an entertaining piece last year about memorable food films citing Babette’s Feast, Julie and Julia, Tampopo and La Grande Bouffe, among others, in his story Reel Delicious .

Culling my mother’s old LPs a few weeks ago, I stumbled on an album by brilliant Italian actor/comedian Walter Chiari. He played the lead role in the popular Australian film They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell) as Nino Culotta, a sports journalist who travels to Sydney by ship following the promise of a magazine job. Cut to the comedy of errors that follows and he finds himself digging holes as a brickie’s labourer working alongside three likely lads – all good-natured Aussie blokes who soon teach him the local customs.  They're a Weird Mob DVD

What surprised me about the film was the lack of food scenes or Italian culinary references. If They’re a Weird Mob were made in today’s food-obsessed world, its plot of an educated Italian immigrant finding himself in an Anglo-Australian mid 1960s setting could have been milked by the filmmakers for all its worth. The only exception is a restaurant scene where Nino politely advises a couple of sheilas “you can’t eat spaghetti with a spoon”.

In another scene he’s at home with his workmates after a hunting expedition. All they’ve produced from the trip is a miserly rabbit, which is rejected by one of the wives and a dinner of baked beans on toast with extra tomato sauce is eaten instead. Nino looks on in amusement. But jump to 2013 and what a wonderful opportunity to have him jump up and offer to debone the rabbit and stuff it with garlic, breadcrumbs and capers. Perhaps with some grilled radicchio on the side.

Nino is such a likeable character that he happily accepts two mugfulls of milky tea (or is it instant coffee?) from a workmate after long hours sweating in the hot sun on a worksite. Today, he would have offered his workmates an espresso made from the stovetop Moka pot he’s set up in the shade of the truck.  Drinking scene in pub - They're a Weird Mob

And wine? No way. Our ‘New Australian’ tries to blend into his new lifestyle by drinking far too many beers with his mates at the local pub. Where’s the Prosecco? The Pinot Grigio? Or a Vermentino from Sardegna?

These missed opportunities are more than compensated for however with some great Australian idioms used throughout the film.

Meeting a new drinking buddy, Nino is asked “Whaddya do for a crust?”

He’s also told in no uncertain terms that he’s “not right in the scone”.

More praise for the film: http://blogafi.org/2012/11/22/why-i-adore-theyre-a-weird-mob/

Italian-Australian chef Stefano de Pieri’s stuffed rabbit recipe that Nino could have made:  http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/17413/stuffed-rabbit

Images courtesy Roadshow Entertainment

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8 comments

  1. Oh I haven’t seen this movie for ages, I will have to dig it up. Interesting there are so few food references though. It is what my parents always talked about when describing the 1950s. Another thing my mother also likes to recount is when she was in the migrant camp at Bonegilla in 1950 – they went on a trip to Albury and she, my father and another italian couple went into the bar of the pub. The women were quickly ushered out of there into the “ladies lounge”, as the bar was only for men. Mum thought Australia was so backward and uncivilized


    • It’s by no means a masterpiece – and has some very strange scenes, but it’s a really good snapshot of the post-war mood in Australia. And Walter Chiari is so charming you just want him to succeed. Re the pubs, yes, I remember some of the pubs where we lived in the early ’60s in inner-west Balmain all had Ladies Lounges. And shandies were the drink of choice.


  2. It’s a lovely film – but you already know I think that because you just left a comment on the blog where I mentioned it – http://simonsometimessays.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/spoiler-alert-the-sick-the-weird-and-the-dead/
    thanks for liking and commenting – I’m sure our paths are going to cross again!


    • Yes, it is. Have also just borrowed the book from a local library: a 1959 hardcover version (book was written in 1957 and differs from the screenplay a little). It was a bestseller here in Australia.


  3. Congratulations on creating such a great blog. I’m so glad to read something meaty (it gets me away from drooling over interior design sites). Like your other readers, I think I need to revisit the “Weird Mob” film. Maybe someone can do a 2013 re-make? Who would play Nino? The mind’s gone blank, but I’ll think of someone ….. Meantime will dip into the rest of your blog.


    • Thanks so much for the compliment. Yes, do revisit ‘Weird Mob’ – it divides people, but I think it’s very clever. A 2013 remake? Suggestions for Nino might be Eric Bana? or Jonathan LaPaglia? Problem is that Walter Chiari really made him unique and in reading the book now (after re-watching the film) I can hear Mr Chiari every time Nino speaks. Such strong characterisation. cheers


  4. Another unique post! I’m a sucker for a good food scene, too, and i’m with you on these lost opportunities. Love the Aussie food-related idioms too – too funny. Gotta love the Aussies!


    • Actually there IS one scene with four likely lads being very polite at an awkward afternoon tea and trying to eat dry, hard, brittle meringues. One by one they end up as crushed powder. Didn’t include it as you’d hardly class these meringues as ‘food’.



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