5 March 2001 | cerdo
A faithful and powerful adaptation of a great autobiography
"Some men think it is awfully smart to insult a woman behind a bar".
This film is based on the book "Caddie : the Autobiography of a Sydney Barmaid" (London, 1953), by Catherine Elliot-Mackay, who struggled to survive throughout the Depression in Australia after her wealthy husband had abandoned her. It leaves out the horrific story of her childhood in the mountains where the lives of her family were made unbearable by a monstrously cruel father, but picks up the story as she is forced to leave her comfortable home and find work, and shelter for her two children. With experience in hospitality and good looks she manages to get various jobs in pubs ("I became good at my job. I had to be. I was there to make money and I made it. If an inch off the bottom of my skirts meant an extra 5 shillings a week in tips, I was prepared to put up with the boss's idea of 'Art' "), but one disaster after another befalls her. How she found the strength to carry on is explained by her over-riding love of her children - the hardest thing she ever has to do is to put them in charity homes. One of her admirers, an SP bookie (played by a typically crafty Jack Thompson) who is known for his flash clothes and his very rare and luxurious Cadillac car, says Caddie has real class - "You're like her - an eight cylinder job" - and so christens her Caddie, a name which sticks.
Having read the book some years before seeing the film, I was fascinated to see what the filmmakers would do with the story, and fearful that Caddie's character would be without the subtle balance which made her book so moving: luckily, I needn't have worried.
The part of Caddie is played to perfection by the beautiful Helen Morse. She has 'real class' of course, but also the no-nonsense approach which got Caddie through all those years in rough and tumble pubs in Sydney. "Barmaids generally have a bad name. Some of them are not too nice, but most of them are decent, hard-working women, and there are plenty like me who slaved to keep their children". The supporting actors are all good; I especially liked the performance of Drew Forsythe as the young Rabbito who is (not very secretly) in love with Caddie, and goes out of his way to do little things for her despite his own poverty - a micro-tragedy in the overwhelming tragedy of the Depression. Jackie Weaver is excellent as Caddie's barmaid friend who goes through the trauma of an illegal abortion, and Takis Emmanuel as Caddie's Greek lover gives his role a wonderful dignity, of a different but equally inspiring kind.
This is a film which ought to make anyone who sees it furious at the sort of humiliations forced upon women in the past and enormously inspired by Caddie's spirit of survival. Unfortunately, Caddie didn't live to see the film made, having died at the age of sixty in 1960, but her autobiography was published with the help of writers Dymphna Cusack and Florence James ('Come In Spinner', etc.) for whom she had gone to work as a maid. Her daughter has said, "Mum was terrific, and you could always trust her. As a child, I don't remember ever seeing my mother cry". Vale, Caddie.