Based on the 1958 John O’Grady novel of the same name, They’re A Weird Mob told the story of newly-arrived Italian immigrant Nino Culotta (Walter Chiari) and his struggles to settle in Australia.
Nino is an Italian sports journalist who arrives in Australia to find his cousin’s new magazine for migrant Italians has folded. He soon gets a job as a builder’s labourer learns to talk and drink like an Australian, and falls in love with an Australian girl (Clare Dunne).
He is bemused by this strange new country, where people abuse him on the street and strangers want to buy him a drink, but he sees a future.
Scriptwriter Emeric Pressburger expanded the original book considerably, giving it the coherent storyline it so badly lacked before. Chiari’s Nino is a considerably more sophisticated Italian than the original character, and he ends up marrying Kay Kelly, the daughter of a successful builder.
Of Nino’s four builder mates, only Ed Devereaux, as Harry Kelly, and Judith Arthy, as Dixie, turn in convincing performances.
The film was an enormous hit at the Australian box office, grossing $2 million, on a budget of $600,000.
It was one of the first feature films to deal openly with questions of prejudice against ‘New Australians’, albeit in a way that also flattered an Anglo audience.
Nino encounters more kindness than prejudice, and quickly adopts ‘Australian ways’, becoming a model migrant.
The film was in tune with the ‘assimilationist’ view then dominating Australian immigration policy.
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