Come Up Smiling

Come Up Smiling is a 1939 Australian comedy starring popular US stage comedian Will Mahoney and his wife Evie Hayes. It was the only feature from Cinesound Productions not directed by Ken G. Hall.[2]

Come Up Smiling
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Freshman
Produced byKen G. Hall
Written byWilliam Freshman
Based onstory by Ken G. Hall (as "John Addison Chandler")
StarringWill Mahoney
Shirley Ann Richards
Music byHenry Krips
CinematographyGeorge Heath
Edited byWilliam Shepherd
Distributed byBritish Empire Films
Release date
3 November 1939
Running time
77 minutes (Australia)
65 mins (UK)

The film was also known as Ants in His Pants.


Barney O'Hara is a performer in a touring carnival. He runs a sideshow act with his daughter, Pat, and ex-Shakespearean actor, Horace Worthington Howard, which is struggling to make money. One of the main attractions is Pat's voice.

One day Pat is invited to sing at a party held by Colonel Cameron and his daughter Eve, but her voice fails her. A specialist tells Barney that Pat requires an expensive operation.

To raise the money, Barney agrees to fight a boxer known as 'The Killer'. He is helped in his training by dancer Kitty Katkin. On the day of the fight, ants are slipped into Barney's shorts, causing him to defeat the Killer. He wins the money to enable Pat to have her operation.



The film was developed as a star vehicle for popular comedian Will Mahoney, an American vaudevillian who toured Australia successfully in 1938. Ken G. Hall also hired Mahoney's regular co-stars, his wife Evie Hayes and manager, Bob Geraghty.[4] Hall hoped that Mahoney's appeal would help the film outside Australia:

This is the most important contract that has been signed at Cinesound as Mahoney is the highest paid star we have ever signed up. In fact, I think he's the highest paid stage artist ever to have toured Australia. It is only the improved conditions of the Australian film industry, due to recent legislation, that has made it possible for us to enlarge our production budget. If any artist can carry an Australian film to overseas markets, it's Will Mahoney.[5]

Mahoney later said, "I think I'll be a big success in this film, but don't get me wrong. It's only because I'm playing myself and I feel I know me pretty well."[6]

It was the only film from Cinesound Productions not directed by Hall. The writer-director, William Freshman, was born in Australia but had been working in the British film industry. Freshman was hired along with his wife, scriptwriter Lydia Hayward, to give Hall time to prepare for other projects.

"We are now planning bigger things, as we are well able to do, by reason of the additional time at my disposal", said Hall at the time. "Opportunity will be taken to find big subjects from which to make big pictures — like Robbery Under Arms, which I expect to direct personally, Overland Telegraph, Eureka Stockade, and others of that calibre, though not all necessarily historic."[7] (None of these movies ended up being made.)

The Freshmans arrived in Australia in April 1939[8] and the script was ready by June.[9] Hall later wrote that Freshman "seemed to lack the vital comedy sense we needed, but he was a good constructor in a general way of screenplay writing. The boxing ring sequence was, I think, one of the funniest things we did at Cinesound."[10]

The romantic leads were played by Cinesound regular Shirley Ann Richards and John Fleeting. Fleeting had previously appeared in Gone to the Dogs (1939).[11] Singing star Jean Hatton appeared in her second movie, after Mr. Chedworth Steps Out (1938).

The film was the first starring future Australian filmstar Chips Rafferty (as an uncredited extra).


The movie was mostly shot at Cinesound's Bondi studios, with carnival scenes filmed at the Sydney Showground. An estimated 16,000 extras were used.[12][13]

During filming, Jean Hatton was injured falling down two flights of stairs but managed to recover.[14]

Adolph Zukor of Paramount visited the set during filming. He had seen Dad and Dave Come to Town on the boat out to Australia and was so impressed by its quality that he asked to visit Cinesound. Zukor watched Hall direct a sequence of Come Up Smiling and told reporters, "I watched that director at work and he certainly seems to be fully conversant with film technique. I've been pleasantly surprised with what I have seen to-day. I didn't expect to find anything like the facilities that this studio possesses. I would say that Clnesound is just as good as anything we have to Hollywood."[15]


The film was not an immediate success at the box office so Hall had it re-cut and re-released as Ants in His Pants, adding a new song to explain the title. The movie performed much better on re-release.[12][16]

Reviews were mediocre.[17]


  1. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 186.
  2. Pike, Andrew Franklin. "The History of an Australian Film Production Company: Cinesound, 1932-70" (PDF). Australian National University. p. 96.
  4. "WILL MAHONEY". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 10 January 1939. p. 9. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  5. "Cinesound Signs Up Will Mahoney". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 12 January 1939. p. 4 Section: Second Section. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  6. "NEW CINESOUND FILM." Examiner (Launceston) 21 Oct 1939: 12
  7. "Ken Hall Now Producer." The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 3 Aug 1939: 7 Section: Second Section
  8. "A Film Critic's Diary". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 12 April 1939. p. 12. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  9. "Will Mahoney Script Ready". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 8 June 1939. p. 6 Section: Second Section. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  10. Ken G. Hall, Directed by Ken G. Hall, Lansdowne Press, 1977 p 154.
  11. "THE ROMANTIC LEADS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 15 June 1939. p. 30. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  12. ""Ants in His Pants."". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 7 December 1939. p. 31. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  13. "CinesoundStarts Production On Mahoney Film". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 1 July 1939. p. 5. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  14. "Jean Hatton Injured on Film Set." The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 1 Jul 1939
  15. "'GRAND OLD MEN' OF FILMS MEET IN SYDNEY". The Newcastle Sun. NSW: National Library of Australia. 5 August 1939. p. 7. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  16. Philip Taylor, 'Ken G. Hall', Cinema Papers January 1974 p 86
  17. "FILM REVIEWS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 1 January 1940. p. 3. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
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