Back in the mid 1980s, just as Paul Hogan’s canny Outback hero Crocodile Dundee was conquering the world at the box office, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Nadia Tass (director) and David Parker (screenwriter and cinematographer) came up with a gently humorous, low-budget movie that challenged the prevailing image of the Australian male as a beer-chugging, prawn-chundering larrikin.
Their movie, the offbeat crime comedy Malcolm, had as its eponymous protagonist a shy, supposedly ‘retarded’ 30-year-old man, a character inspired by Tass’s own brother. Flawlessly played by Colin Friels, Malcolm is socially inept to an infuriating degree but a genius when it comes to mechanical invention. However, it takes another social misfit, petty crook Frank (John Hargreaves), to appreciate his oddball genius and find a fresh outlet for his gift for gadgets – bank robbery.
On its release in 1986, Malcolm vied with Crocodile Dundee and Aliens at the Australian box-office and swept the board at that year’s Australian Film Institute awards, winning eight categories, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Two decades on, Tass and Parker’s debut movie undeniably looks a little rough around the edges, but thanks to the deft playing of the cast, the beguiling humour of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra‘s score, and the quirkiness of Malcolm’s inventions themselves, it remains an irresistibly charming film – imagine an Ealing comedy transported to the suburbs of Melbourne and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s in store.