Smithy (1946 film)

Smithy (also known as Southern Cross in the UK and Pacific Adventure in the US) is a 1946 Australian adventure film about pioneering Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his 1928 flight across the Pacific Ocean, from San Francisco, California, United States to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia . This was the first-ever transpacific flight. Kingsford Smith was the pilot of the Fokker F.VII/3m three-engine monoplane "Southern Cross", with Australian aviator Charles Ulm as the relief pilot. The other two crew members were Americans James Warner and Harry Lyon.

Directed byKen G. Hall
Produced byN. P. Pery
Written by
Based onan adaptation by Max Afford and Ken G. Hall
Music byHenry Krips
CinematographyGeorge Heath
Edited byTerry Banks
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 26 June 1946 (1946-06-26) (Australia)[1]
  • 25 November 1947 (1947-11-25) (UK, U.S.)
Running time
  • 119 minutes (Australia)
  • 99 mins (US)
Budget£53,000[2] or £73,000[3]
Box officeover £50,000 (Australia)[4]
£50,000 (USA)[4]


In 1943 in the South-West Pacific, some Australian and American airmen discuss the story of "Smithy", Charles Kingsford Smith. The Americans are told the story by an old officer of Smithy, along with a waiter, Stringer, who knew him.

The story starts in 1917 with his recovering from a wound incurred in fighting over the Western Front. Kingsford Smith is rewarded with the Military Cross and is determined to make a career out of flying.

After the war Kingsford Smith visits America and has a brief romance with Kay Sutton (Joy Nichols) but later falls in love with and marries Mary Powell (Muriel Steinbeck).

He attempts to enter the England to Australia Air Race in 1919 but is stopped by Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Kingsford Smith then decides to become the first person to fly from the United States to Australia across the Pacific. He does the trip with Charles Ulm (John Tate) in an aircraft called the Southern Cross and becomes world-famous.

Kingsford Smith attempts to set up his own airline but is not successful and is forced to take people on joy flights to make a living. He breaks another record, crossing the Pacific from the Australia to the United States in a single engine aircraft with P.G. Taylor (Captain P.G. Taylor). Kingsford Smith almost dies flying to New Zealand with Bill Taylor and John Stannage (John Stannage as himself), and subsequently, retires the Southern Cross.

In 1935 Kingsford Smith attempts to fly from Australia to England but disappears over the Indian Ocean.




Smithy was the idea of N.P. Pery, the managing director of Columbia Pictures in Australia.[6] The Australian government had restricted the export of capital during the war, and Pery thought making a film could use up some of that money. Pery:

"Although I represent an American company, I have no hesitation in saying that I firmly believe the production of British films will blossom out, and will in time take its place side by side with the production of American films. Furthermore, I do not think I am indulging in Utopian fancies when I say that Australia, or rather, some spot in Australia, could be made the Hollywood of the British Commonwealth."[7]

Pery approached Ken G. Hall, who was Australia's most commercially successful director, and asked him to make a film about an Australian who was well-known internationally. Hall says he briefly considered Don Bradman but never seriously because Bradman was not known in the United States. The three main candidates were Ned Kelly, Dame Nellie Melba and Charles Kingsford Smith. Hall said he decided against Kelly because too many bad films had been made about him.[8] Melba was eventually rejected because of the costs involved with producing opera sequences and the difficulty of finding an appropriate singer to stand in for Melba.[9] That left Kingsford Smith, who appealed in part because of his connection to the United States.[10] (According to a contemporary newspaper report, Pery also considered Billy Hughes.[11])


Hall commissioned treatments from several writers, including Jesse Lasky, Jr., who was then stationed at Cinesound Productions with the US Signal Corps; Josephine O'Neill, a Sydney film critic; Kenneth Slessor, film critic and poet; and Max Afford, one of Australia's leading playwrights and radio writers.[12] Early drafts focused on Smithy's first flight across the Pacific but then Hall decided to cover most of Smithy' life.[13] Hall felt Afford's version was the best and the two of them developed a detailed treatment.[14]

The treatment was adapted by Alec Coppel, an Australian writer who had enjoyed success in London and returned to Australia during the war.[10] Sydney journalist Norman Ellison provided research.


Ken G. Hall looked at 60 applicants to play the title role in Smithy, screen testing eight.[15][16] Hall says the choice came down to Peter Finch and Ron Randell, a radio and theatre actor. Hall preferred Finch but sent extensive screen tests of both actors with Muriel Steinbeck back to Columbia in Hollywood. The studio picked Randell on the grounds of his greater romantic appeal.[17][18] Filmink magazine later wrote "While Finch was the better actor, I feel it was the right decision – Randell suited the more conventional, romantic approach Hall wanted to take with the material."[19]

Muriel Steinbeck was the only actor considered for the female lead in Smithy.[20] She had previously appeared with Randell in A Son Is Born, a film whose release was held up to take advantage of publicity for Smithy.


Although Smithy was entirely financed by Columbia Pictures, Ken G. Hall made it using his old Cinesound crew and shot it mostly at Cinesound's studio in Bondi.

The aircraft used in Smithy was the genuine Southern Cross, which has been purchased by the Australian Government 10 years earlier and refurbished by the RAAF.[21] A surplus RAAF CAC Boomerang was used in flying sequences for Kingsford Smith's Lady Southern Cross Lockheed Altair.

Two former co-pilots of Kingsford Smith, P.G. Taylor and Harry Purvis play themselves, as does former Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Hughes plays himself as a younger man interviewing Kingsford Smith.[22] Hall says Alec Coppel wrote a scene where Kingsford Smith tries to persuade Hughes let him compete in an air race and Hughes switches off his hearing aid. Hughes was sensitive, however, about his deafness and references to it were removed in the shooting script.[23]

Smithy featured the first on screen appearance of noted Australian actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell who was cast as a RAAF control tower officer – winning the role as he could supply his own RAAF uniform.


Smithy had its world premiere at a gala screening in Sydney on 26 June 1946, attended by the cast and crew, the Premier of New South Wales, and Shirley Ann Richards, who was visiting Australia at the time.[24]


Reviews were generally positive, although not without criticisms.[25][26]

Filmink magazine later commented Steinbeck had "a “wife” part but a decent one – she gets to flirt, and worry and fight, and the film improves immeasurably once her character becomes part of the action." [27]

US release

Smithy was released in the United States as Pacific Adventure. The Los Angeles Times noted the film "... is obviously from Australia, although there is no mention of the fact ... while technically acceptable is pretty much a stereotype of all the other histories of aviation pioneering... Ron Randell makes a likeable hero."[28]

The New York Times wrote that "... it is unfortunate that the people who made this picture ... did not draw a more exciting and exacting drama out of the colourful career of the noted airman ... offers only the sketchiest account of Kingsford Smith's life... the scenarists made the mistake of not looking deep enough into their subject... the facts may be true enough but they seem more fictitious than real."[29]

Smithy was advertised in the United States with the tag line "Not a war picture".[30]

Box Office

Smithy was the third-most popular film released in Australia in 1946.[31]


Pery was keen for Columbia to make further films in Australia.[32] Harry Cohn, head of Columbia, however, was opposed to the idea. He later arranged for Smithy to be drastically re-cut and re-edited for its US release, calling it Pacific Adventure, removing references to Australia, along with Pery's credit.[33]

Cohn did offer Ron Randell a long-term contract in Hollywood, which the actor accepted.[34]



  1. " The screen and its stars". Werribee Shire Banner (Victoria), 13 June 1946, p. 4 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012
  2. Hall 1977, p. 172.
  3. "£73,000 spent on 'Smithy'." The Mail (Adelaide), 9 February 1946, p. 8 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  4. "The Research Bureau holds an autopsy." Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 17 February 1952. p. 11 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 8 April 2013.
  5. "How to be a film star." The Border Watch (Mount Gambier, South Australia), 25 May 1946, p. 4 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  6. "Smithy' flies again." The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), 8 December 1945, p. 9 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  7. "A chance to make good." The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), 17 June 1944, p. 8 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  8. Pike p 193-194
  9. Hall 1977, p. 172.
  10. Pike and Cooper 1998, p. 202.
  11. "Salute to 'Smithy'; Tasmanian premiere tonight." The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), 26 July 1946, p. 7 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  12. Hall 1977, pp. 172–173.
  13. Pike p 194
  14. "Film on life of 'Smithy'." The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 2 June 1944, p. 3 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  15. "Screen 'Smithy' chosen from sixty applicants." The Australian Women's Weekly, 12 May 1945, p. 11 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  16. "Smithy's three nephews carry on great tradition." The Australian Women's Weekly, 2 September 1944, p. 16 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  17. Hall 1977, p. 174.
  18. "Smithy' role." The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 May 1945, p. 5 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  19. Vagg, Stephen (10 August 2019). "Unsung Aussie Actors – Ron Randell: A Top Twenty". Filmink.
  20. "Won role in 'Smithy' after one test." The Australian Women's Weekly, 2 February 1946, p. 28 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  21. "Smithy's plane to fly again." The Mail (Adelaide), 28 October 1944, p. 14 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.}
  22. "MR. W. M. Hughes in 'Smithy' film." The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September 1945, p. 4 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  23. Hall 1977, p. 175.
  24. "Smithy' premiere has all trimmings." The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1946, p. 3 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  25. "Smithy' dialogue is weak, but it has good points." The Argus {Melbourne}, 5 July 1946, p. 3 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  26. "New films." The Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 September 1946, p. 13 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  27. Vagg, Stephen (25 August 2019). "Unsung Aussie Actors – Muriel Steinbeck". Filmink.
  28. Scheuer, Philip K. "Advertising agency woes achieve high in hilarity." Los Angeles Times, 13 November 1947, p. 19.
  29. T.M.P. "Story of Australian Aviator." The New York Times, 26 November 1947, p. 18.
  30. Whiler, A.H. "Random notes about pictures and people." The New York Times, 20 July 1947, p. X3.
  31. "Australia's favourite stars and movies of the year." The Mail (Adelaide), 4 January 1947, Supplement: Sunday Magazine p. 9 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 25 April 2012.
  32. "U.S. has capital to invest in Australia." The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 October 1946, p. 4 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.
  33. Hall 1977, p. 184.
  34. "Star of 'Smithy' gets contract with Hollywood." The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 1946, p. 6 via National Library of Australia. Retrieved: 19 August 2012.


  • Hall, Ken G. Directed by Ken G. Hall: Autobiography of an Australian Filmmaker. Lansdowne Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0-7018-0670-5.
  • Harrison, Tony, ed.The Australian Film and Television Companion. Cammeray. New South Wales: Simon & Schuster Australia, 1994. ISBN 978-0-9751-0236-7.
  • Pike, Andrew and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-1955-4332-2.
  • Pike, Andrew Franklin. "The History of an Australian Film Production Company: Cinesound, 1932-70" (PDF). Australian National University.
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