High Rolling Review
Tex (Joseph Bottoms) is an American working at a carnival in Queensland. Alby (Grigor Taylor) is a boxer at the same carnival. They decide to travel together to Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast and hitch a ride from Arnold (John Clayton). However, Arnold soon makes advances on Alby who beats him up and he and Tex run away with his suitcase and car. But the case is full of cash and the car full of dope, so it’s not surprising that Arnold and his friends want them back…
Following the expensive Eliza Fraser, High Rolling was made as a cheap road movie with one eye on the US market, with an imported American actor in the shape of Joseph Bottoms. The script was written by Forrest Redlich, then employed as a panel beater, with a storyline apparently based on his own fantasies. (Well, it did work for Joe Eszterhas on Basic Instinct.) Tim Burstall produced the film but handed over the director’s chair to Igor Auzins, a TV veteran making his feature debut.
High Rolling is a very minor road movie that’s probably most notable today for being Judy Davis’s film debut. Twenty years olod and still at drama school at the time, she plays sixteen-year-old drifter Lynn, on her way to join a commune but not above a little bit of prostitution now and again. It’s hard to see much potential based on this film, but that’s not her fault. Two years later she made My Brilliant Career. Wendy Hughes and Sandy McGregor turn up as a pair of showgirls.
The problem with High Rolling is not so much its weightlessness, but its charmlessness. Tex, in particular, is obnoxious and Alby simply dim. The film also displays double standards: it’s okay for our heroes to be predatory towards women – this is the kind of macho road movie where the leads get laid every so often to prove to the audience they aren’t gay – but when they are being predated upon, by a man, then all hell breaks loose. And the ending, which features some conveniently skilful under-age driving from Lynn, is a non-event. The title song by Sherbet was an Australian hit single at the time. I can’t trace a British release but the film did play in America under the variant title High Rolling in a Hot Corvette, which changed Taylor’s first name from Grigor to Greg.
Along with Alvin Rides Again, High Rolling seems to demonstrate how much better a director Tim Burstall was than those he hired. That’s a little unfair on Igor Auzins, who did go on to better things: We of the Never Never in 1982 and the expensive flop The Coolangatta Gold from 1984, which does still have its supporters. It’s just about watchable for its short running time, but this is one of the makeweights of the Hexagon box set. It’s not available separately, which is just as well as I can’t imagine too many people keen to own it in preference to the superior films it’s packaged with.
High Rolling is transferred to DVD anamorphically in a ratio of 1.78:1. The IMDB claims the film was shot in Panavision with anamorphic lenses giving a ratio of 2.35:1 but I doubt that very much. The film shows no signs of the artefacts that come with anamorphic lenses (flares on bright lights, “squeezed” out of focus backgrounds). I’ll go so far as to say that, not for the first time, the IMDB is wrong and the intended ratio is either 1.75:1 or 1.85:1. The picture is much the same as others in the set: strong and colourful (a bit too colourful with reds and greens particularly) but with some grain. Blacks are solid and artefacting is not distracting.
The soundtrack choices are the original mono or a remix into Dolby Digital 5.1. Whichever you choose, the Dolby Digital rain trailer marks the beginning and end of any multi-channel activity. Stick with the mono and wonder once again who out there demands pointless remixes.
There are fifteen chapter stops. Subtitles are, as usual, available on the feature only. The DVD is encoded for Region 4 only.
The main extra is a series of interviews, this time featuring Igor Auzins (who has a higher opinion of his own film than I do), first assistant director Tom Burstall, DP Dan Burstall and Wendy Hughes. Robin Copping is listed on the case and the menu but doesn’t show up. The interviews run 11:46 in total. Auzins concludes by saying how well regarded this film is and how well rated it is on Internet review sites. The words "tempting fate" spring to mind...
“High Rolling, a fun-time movie that’s better than a ride downtown on a Saturday night with your best girl.” Well, that’s up to you. The trailer link on the menu leads to two trailers, each 59 seconds long, which look more like TV spots to me. The filmographies section includes this time Tim Burstall (with biography), Igor Auzins, Joseph Bottoms, Grigor Taylor, Judy Davis, Wendy Hughes, John Clayton, Dan Burstall and editor Edward McQueen-Mason. The stills gallery is much as before: a self-navigating set of pictures and promotional artwork that runs 2:08, accompanied by that title song.
As a bonus, we get a short film from the Australian Film Television and Radio School. “A Horse With Stripes” was directed by Andrew O’Sullivan in 1991 and is an eerie tale of suburban unease. It’s presented in 4:3 and runs 25:06.
High Rolling is watchable, once, if you’re not in a very critical mood. It’s of more interest as an encapsulation of some Seventies attitudes and a starting point for one of Australia’s, and the world’s, most talented actresses. As a Hexagon Production it earns its place in the box set for completist reasons (though for unexplained reasons, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Love Epidemic doesn’t), so treat it as an extra to the several much better films you get with it.