The Siege of Pinchgut

The Siege of Pinchgut

Original UK quad format film poster
Directed by Harry Watt
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Jon Cleary
Alexander Baron
Harry Watt
Based on Story by Inman Hunter
Lee Robinson
Starring Aldo Ray
Heather Sears
Music by Kenneth V. Jones
Cinematography Gordon Dines
Edited by Gordon Stone
Distributed by ABPC
Release dates
  • August 1959 (1959-08)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office 338,711 admissions (France)[1]

The Siege of Pinchgut (released in the US as Four Desperate Men) is a 1959 British thriller filmed on location in Sydney, Australia and directed by Harry Watt. It was the last film produced by Ealing Studios, and was entered into the 9th Berlin International Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Bear Award.


An ambulance drives through Sydney, having been hijacked by escaped convict Matt Kirk and his three accomplices, Matt's brother Johnny, Italian Luke and Bert. The four men manage to avoid detection at Sydney Hospital, and head out through Sydney Harbour in a purchased vessel, intending to go north. However the boat breaks down before they can get through Sydney Heads and the men decide to take refuge in Fort Denison (also known as Pinchgut), unaware it is occupied by caretaker Pat Fulton, his wife and daughter Ann.

Kirk and the others take the Fultons hostage and decide to wait until the following night before leaving again. A boatload of tourists arrives but Pat Fulton manages to act as if everything is normal. However, when a police officer, Constable Macey, visits the fort bringing some milk, Ann Fulton screams for help and the authorities are alerted to the kidnappers' presence.

A siege situation results, with the police led by Superintendent Hanna. Matt Kirby is initially reluctant to hurt anyone but becomes less stable after his brother Johnny is shot and injured by Constable Macey. Bert, who is an ex-naval gunner, realises the gun on Fort Denison could be fired at a nearby munitions ship in the harbour and cause tremendous damage similar to the Bombay Explosion of 1944. However, shells for the gun are locked behind three heavy doors at the bottom of the fort which need to be laboriously prised open. Kirby demands a retrial for his conviction in exchange for not firing the gun.

The police order an evacuation of harbourside suburbs, stealthy unloading of the munitions boat, and position snipers around the fort as they try to negotiate a peaceful surrender. The injured Johnny starts to develop feelings towards Ann Fulton and suggests they surrender, but Matt refuses. Luke is shot dead by police snipers, and a sailor on the munitions ship is trapped under some crates. Bert and Matt manage to retrieve the ammunition and are in the process of transferring it to the gun when Bert is shot and killed. Matt loads the gun and prepares to fire when Johnny reveals that he has disabled the firing pin. A furious Matt tries to kill Johnny. Hanna leads a squad of police as they raid the island and Matt is killed. Johnny is arrested and taken away, but not before Pat Fulton promises to speak up for him.



Original Story

The story was written by Australian filmmaker Lee Robinson and British editor Inman Hunter in 1949 when both were working in Sydney at the Film Division of the Department of the Interior. The original idea began with Hunter, who saw Fort Denison while travelling on the Sydney ferry shortly after arriving in Australia, and thought it would make a perfect location for a film. Lee Robinson had worked as an anti-aircraft gunner on Denison in the early days of the war, and together they developed a story about two German POWs who escape during World War II and take over Fort Denison, then hold Sydney to ransom by threatening to fire a gun there on a munitions ship.[2]

In 1950 Robinson and Hunter announced the film would go into production the following year under the name Saturday to Monday, with both intending to direct. However although they secured some backing they were unable to get the necessary finance, and their script was sold to Ealing Studios.[3][4]

Ealing's involvement

The film was directed by Harry Watt, who had previously made two feature films in Australia for Ealing. He resigned from the company in 1955 to work for Granada Television, but had not enjoyed the experience and asked to return after eighteen months. Watt came across the script and became enthusiastic about its possibilities. It was the only one of Watt's three Australian films made without a historical basis and was a deliberate attempt on the director's part to create a commercially successful film.[2]

Ealing Studios were in flux during production. They had just completed six films for MGM – including the Australian-set The Shiralee (1957) – before moving over to Associated British Picture Corporation at Elstree. The association would prove to be an unhappy one and this film wound up being the last one ever made under the Ealing banner.[2]

The script was assigned to British writer Alexander Baron, who brought in his friend, Australian novelist Jon Cleary, to help him with the dialogue. This was done despite reservations of Michael Balcon who worried that Cleary's involvement would make the script "too Australian".[2] Baron's contribution to the movie was minimal and the screenplay was done by Watt in collaboration with Cleary. They changed the story so it was no longer about a German POW, but an escaped convict fighting to prove his innocence to an uncaring judicial system.[5]

Associated British insisted on casting a name actor in the lead role of Matt Kirk, and American Aldo Ray was selected. This meant the nationality of Matt and his brother Johnny was changed to American. The rest of the key cast were imported, with only supporting roles given to Australians.[2]


Watt went to Australia in February 1958, and filming begun in November. Over sixty technicians were imported from Britain to make the movie, although production facilities were provided by a local company, Southern International Productions, which had been established by Lee Robinson.[6]

Soon after filming began, Associated British announced they no longer wished to continue Ealing's production programme. Jon Cleary says this hurt morale and that Watt's "heart wasn't in it" when making the movie.[7] Production was also held up when Aldo Ray tore a leg muscle while jumping into a boat.


The film was entered in the 1959 Berlin Film Festival and released in the UK and Australia. Although aged almost 50, Gerry Duggan was nominated for the BAFTA Film Award for Newcomer to Leading Film Roles in 1960 for his role as Pat Fulton.[8] He lost to the 13-year-old Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay.

It was not a success at the box office and turned out to be not only the last movie made by Ealing, but the last adult feature film Watt ever directed.[6]

However, the film's reputation has risen in recent years: Quentin Tarantino screened it at the Quentin Tarantino Film Festival in Texas, and in 2006 it was restored by the National Film and Sound Archive.[9] It has historical value, depicting postwar Sydney, its harbour foreshore and the remains of the Fort Macquarie Tram Depot which was being demolished for construction of the Sydney Opera House.


  1. French box office for 1960 at Box Office Story
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Philip Kemp, 'On the Slide: Harry Watt and Ealing's Australian Adventure', Second Take: Australian Filmmakers Talk, Ed Geoff Burton and Raffaele Caputo, Allen & Unwin 1999 p 145–164
  3. "Sydney Will Be The Star In New Film.". The Sunday Herald. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 10 December 1950. p. 8. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  4. "SOMETHING NEW IN LOCAL FILMS.". The Sunday Herald. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 17 December 1950. p. 5 Supplement: Sunday Herald Features. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  5. "FORT DENISON: Island star of British film.". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 19 November 1958. p. 12. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  6. 1 2 Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 228-229
  7. Jon Cleary Interviewed by Stephen Vagg: Oral History at National Film and Sound Archive
  8. " Awards for The Siege of Pinchgut". Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  9. 'NFSA provides iconic films for Chauvel Cinema Film Feast' AFC Archive 8 Sept 2006
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