Thoroughbred (film)

Thoroughbred is a 1936 Australian race-horse drama film directed by Ken G. Hall, partly based on the life and career of Phar Lap. Hollywood star Helen Twelvetrees was imported to Australian to appear in the film. The film also stars Frank Leighton and John Longden.

Helen Twelvetrees during filming of Thoroughbred
Directed byKen G. Hall
Produced byKen G. Hall
Written byEdmond Seward
StarringHelen Twelvetrees
Frank Leighton
John Longden
Music byHamilton Webber
CinematographyGeorge Heath
Edited byWilliam Shepherd
Distributed byBritish Empire Films
Release date
May 1936 (Australia)
July 1936 (UK)
Running time
89 minutes
Box office£25,000[2]

Plot summary

A Canadian horse trainer, Joan, is the adopted daughter of horse trainer and breeder Ma Dawson. She buys an unwanted thoroughbred colt named Stormalong. Joan nurses the horse back to health with the help of Ma's son Tommy, and Stormalong starts to win races. He becomes the favourite to win the Melbourne Cup which attracts the interest of a gambling syndicate who try to dope the horse and kill it in a stable fire. They then kidnap Tommy prior to the race.

Stormalong manages to participate in the Cup, and although is mortally wounded by a sniper, lives long enough to come first place. Tommy escapes and helps the police capture the gangsters.



The film was the first made by Cinesound after the studio ceased production in 1935 enabling Hall to visit Hollywood for a number of months. While in Hollywood there he signed contracts with American star Helen Twelvetrees and writer Edmond Seward to work on the film. (Sally Blane and Norman Foster had been originally considered).[4]

He also purchased a rear-projection unit which was used extensively in the film.[5] The budget was originally announced as £25,000.[6]

Twelvetrees was paid £1,000 a week, reportedly the highest salary ever paid by the Australian film industry to an actor.[7] (Another source said £200 a week.[8])

Her co-stars would be Australian leading man Frank Leighton and English actor John Longden who was having an extended stay in Australia. According to Ken G. Hall, Twelvetrees and Leighton had an affair during filming, despite the actress having been accompanied to Australia by her husband and baby. Her husband found out and threatened to kill Leighton. Hall told Stuart F. Doyle who arranged for some detective friends to force Twelvetrees' husband to leave Australia.[9]

This was the first movie with Cinesound for actor Ron Whelan, who joined the company as assistant director and also worked as an actor in several films.[10]

Australia's Prime Minister Joseph Lyons visited the set during filming.[11]

The horses races were shot in part by a camera man being towed on a sled.[12]

The climax is similar to the 1934 Frank Capra film, Broadway Bill. Hall claimed he was unaware of this and blamed it on Seward.[13]


The film was popular[14] although reviews were mixed, with some criticism of the script.[15]

The film received a release in the UK, but was subject to cuts from the censor on the grounds of scenes depicting cruelty to animals, in particular the stable fire.[16] The movie was not a success at the English box office.[14]

A novelised version of the screenplay sold out within three days, at a rate of 1,000 copies a day.[17]


  1. "HELEN TWELVETREES". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 4 December 1935. p. 20. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  2. The Home : an Australian quarterly, Art in Australia, 1920, retrieved 29 March 2019
  3. "CINESOUND FILMS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 30 October 1935. p. 17. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  4. "Prod Starts at Cinemsound". Variety. 27 November 1935.
  5. "DEMAND FOR LOCAL FILMS". The Examiner. Launceston, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 11 October 1935. p. 9 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  6. "RACING FILM". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 25 October 1935. p. 11. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  7. "Notes on the Screen." The Argus (Melbourne) 6 Nov 1935: 10 accessed 15 December 2011
  8. Pike, Andrew Franklin. "The History of an Australian Film Production Company: Cinesound, 1932-70" (PDF). Australian National University. p. 79.
  9. Hall p 105-108
  10. 'Versatile Ronald Whelan', The Mail (Adelaide), Saturday 29 May 1937 p 12
  11. "CINESOUND FILMS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 14 December 1935. p. 12. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  12. "AUSTRALIAN INGENUITY MEETS PROBLEM IN MAKING "THOROUGHBRED"". The Mercury. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 18 April 1936. p. 17. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  13. Hall p108
  14. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 172.
  15. "FILM REVIEWS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 11 May 1936. p. 4. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  16. "AUSTRALIAN FILM". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 18 July 1936. p. 17. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  17. "'Thoroughbred' Novel Into Third Edition", Everyones, Wednesday, 25 March 1936, p7

Hall, Ken G. Directed by Ken G. Hall: Autobiography of an Australian Filmmaker, Lansdowne Press, 1977

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