Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (film)

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
Directed by Leslie Norman
Produced by Leslie Norman
Written by John Dighton
Based on the play by Ray Lawler
Starring Ernest Borgnine
Anne Baxter
Angela Lansbury
John Mills
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography Paul Beeson
Edited by Gordon Hales
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
2 December 1959 (Australia)
16 December 1961 (USA)
Running time
94 min.
Country Australia
United Kingdom
United States
Language English

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a 1959 Australian-British film directed by Leslie Norman and is based on the Ray Lawler play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. In the USA the film was released under the title Season of Passion.


Queensland sugarcane cutters Roo and Barney spend the off season in Sydney each year, seeing their girlfriends. For sixteen years Roo has spent the summer with barmaid Olive, bringing her a kewpie doll, while Barney romances Nancy. In the seventeenth year, Barney arrives to find that Nancy has married; however Olive has arranged a replacement, manicurist Pearl. Roo has had a bad season, losing his place as head of the cane cutting team to a younger man, Dowd.

Barney tries to smooth things over between Roo and Dowd, who falls for Bubba, a girl who has grown up with the cane cutters. Barney leaves to work with Dowd. We learn that Dowd has proposed to Bubba, and she now intends to go with him to Queensland. Roo proposes to Olive, who is devastated by this, refusing his proposal and demanding that Roo return their lives to the way they were. Roo leaves, and we see him next saying farewell to Barney and the other cane cutters, along with Bubba, as they board the train for Queensland. Roo then returns to the bar where Olive is working, and the pair are shown laughing together as Roo drinks his beer.



Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a pioneering Australian play written by Ray Lawler and first performed at the Union Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on 28 November 1955. The play is almost unanimously considered by scholars of literature to be the most historically significant in Australian theatre history, openly and authentically portraying distinctly Australian life and characters. It was one of the first truly naturalistic "Australian" theatre productions.

Film adaptation

Film rights were purchased by Hecht Hill Lancaster for a reported £134,000. They assigned the adaptation to John Dighton, who had just written The Devil's Disciple for the company. Dighton:

I intend to stick to the play as closely as possible. The two barmaids and the old woman are good characters, but a little more colour is needed in the development of the relationship between the two cane-cutters. In its construction Lawler's play runs downhill all the way. This, I feel, was a weakness. I intend to give the film version what I regard as a necessary build-up to a dramatic peak in the middle.[1]

Carol Reed was originally mentioned as a possible director and most observers thought Burt Lancaster would play Roo. However eventually Leslie Norman (who had previously produced Eureka Stockade and directed The Shiralee in Australia) directed and Ernest Borgnine played the lead.[1]

Leslie Norman later claimed "I want to keep it Australian, but unfortunately the Americans said they couldn't understand the Australian accent and I had to cut out all the Australianisms. That picture broke my heart... What buggered him [John Dighton] - and me - was cutting out the Australianness and giving it a more upbeat ending. It is one of the best plays I have ever seen, but I can't say I'm happy with the film."[2]

The film was retitled Season of Passion for the American market.[3] The film was criticised by some fans of the play, whose complaints were rooted in three essential criticisms:

Shooting began in December 1958, taking place at Pagewood Studios and Artransa Studios. There were some location scenes at Luna Park and Bondi Beach. For one scene, Sydney residents on the shore were asked to leave their lights burning to provide a romantic backdrop to the action. Filming wound up in February.[4]


  1. 1 2 "Hollywood starts work on "Doll".". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 16 April 1958. p. 36. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  2. Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Metheun 1997 p441
  3. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959) at the Internet Movie Database
  4. "MOVIELAND'S "DOLL" ON LOCATION.". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 18 February 1959. p. 8. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
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