Robbery Under Arms (1957 film)

Robbery Under Arms is a 1957 British crime film directed by Jack Lee and starring Peter Finch, Ronald Lewis, Laurence Naismith and Jill Ireland.[1] It is based on the Australian novel Robbery Under Arms by Thomas Alexander Browne who wrote under the pseudonym Rolf Boldrewood.[2]

Robbery Under Arms
British theatrical poster
Directed byJack Lee
Produced byJoseph Janni
Written byAlexander Baron
W. P. Lipscomb
Based onnovel by Rolf Boldrewood
StarringPeter Finch
Ronald Lewis
Music byMátyás Seiber
CinematographyHarry Waxman
Edited byManuel del Campo
Release date
3 October 1957 (World Premiere, London)
Running time
104 minutes


In 1865 Australia, the two Marston brothers, bold Dick and sensitive Jim, are drawn into a life of crime by their ex-convict father Ben and his friend, the famous cattle thief Captain Starlight. They help take some cattle their father and Starlight have stolen across the country to Adelaide, where they are sold with Starlight impersonating an English gentleman claiming to own the rustled herd.

The two brothers take their share of the money and go to Melbourne. On board ship they meet the Morrison sisters, greedy Kate and nice Jean, who are romanced by Dick and Jim respectively. They read that Starlight has been arrested, and return home, where they and their father narrowly escape arrest.

The brothers are then reunited with Starlight, who has left prison, and join him and some other men in robbing a coach, in which a trooper is shot and killed. Dick and Jim go to the gold fields to make enough money to escape to America. There they are reunited with Kate, who is married but is still interested in Dick, and Jean, who Jim marries.

Just as the brothers are about to leave to start a new life, Captain Starlight and his gang (including Ben Marston) arrive to rob the local bank. During the robbery several people are killed by Starlight's gang (although not by Starlight), including a mother protecting child. Jim Marston is captured by locals and is about to be lynched but rescued by a trooper who comes to arrest him. Dick rescues Jim from the trooper. but is killed in the attempt.

Jim hides out with Starlight and his father but misses his wife too much and goes back to see her. Starlight and Ben Marston are killed in a shoot out with police. Jim Marston is arrested.




Ealing Studios had planned to make the film after The Overlanders (1946) and Eureka Stockade (1949), and they hired William Lipscomb to do the script.[4] Gregory Peck at one stage was announced as a possible star.[5]

Ken G. Hall wanted to direct. However plans to make the film were hampered by the closing of Pagewood Studios.[6] Leslie Norman was keen to produce.[7]

Then in the mid 1950s director Jack Lee and Joe Janni had a big hit with the Australian-themed A Town Like Alice (1956), starring Peter Finch and written by Lipscomb. Rank put Lee and Janni under contract for two years and had Finch under contract. The three were reunited for the movie.[8]

Peter Finch had made The Shiralee (1957) in Australia immediately before.

Jack Lee later said:

I made a mistake choosing Robbery Under Arms, a complicated Victorian novel with masses of plots and subplots and too much moralising. However I went ahead and chose the part for Peter Finch, who complained that he was overshadowed by everyone else, and in a way he was right. Janni and I weren't happy with the script and would have liked to put it off for another year. But we were under pressure from Rank and we had to go ahead with an inadequate script. There are one or two nice scenes in it but it's too slow and talky.[8]


Shooting began in January 1957 on location in Australia at the Flinders Ranges, South Australia and near Bourke, New South Wales, with two days filming at Pagewood Studios. In April the unit moved to the UK where interiors and exteriors were shot at Pinewood studios in Buckinghamshire.[9][10]

During the making of the film, on-screen couple David McCallum and Jill Ireland fell in love off screen as well, and married once they returned to England.[11]


The film was popular at the Australian box office although reviews were poor.[10]

Filmink magazine said "there’s no real theme or story uniting it all... There’s no interesting mystery or enigma to Starlight... All the cool things he does in the book... are cut out except for the bit where he impersonates a gent from England. There’s no real relationship between Starlight and the boys... A real dull mess."[12]

See also


  1. "Robbery under Arms (1957)".
  2. Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). "The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film". Walter de Gruyter via Google Books.
  3. "Aboriginal actor visits London". The Australian Women's Weekly. 19 June 1957. p. 39. Retrieved 27 February 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  4. "FILM WORLD WEATHER IN AUSTRALIA DISAPPOINTS STUDIO". The West Australian. Perth. 3 November 1949. p. 16. Retrieved 14 February 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  5. "News from studios". The Australian Women's Weekly. 24 November 1954. p. 20. Retrieved 27 February 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  6. "Decision a blow to film industry". The Mail. Adelaide. 26 January 1952. p. 2. Retrieved 9 November 2014 via National Library of Australia.
  7. "LONDON". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 31 October 1952. p. 2. Retrieved 11 January 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  8. Brian MacFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Methueun 1997 p 357-358
  9. "BUSHRANGING CLASSIC". The Australian Women's Weekly. 19 June 1957. p. 40. Retrieved 27 February 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  10. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 225
  11. "A REBEL GETS ANGRY". The Australian Women's Weekly. 20 August 1958. p. 73. Retrieved 27 February 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  12. Vagg, Stephen (24 July 2019). "50 Meat Pie Westerns". Filmink.
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