Bushrangers are a surprisingly rare fixture on the Australian small screen. Since the introduction of television in 1956 for the Melbourne Olympic Games we have had Ben Hall (1975), The Trial of Ned Kelly (1977), The Last Outlaw (1980) and Wild Boys (2011) with bushrangers popping up as generic villains in shows like Five Mile Creek (1983). Yet, the most popular bushranger series was Cash & Company, followed by the spin-off series Tandarra and for a brief shining moment in the 1970s bushrangers were staples of the Australian small-screen. Now, Umbrella Entertainment have released an eight disc box set of both series to delight new fans and stir the nostalgia of old hands.
Cash & Company stars Serge Lazareff and Gus Mercurio as bushrangers Sam Cash and Joe Brady, and Penne Hackforth-Jones as widow and station owner Jessica Johnson. The setting is the goldfields of the 1850s with Cash and Brady on the run from crooked cops, always staying a step ahead of the law and getting involved in all sorts of exciting adventures.
The leads form a brilliant double-act, with Lazareff wonderfully charismatic as straight-man Sam Cash and Mercurio as his sidekick Joe Brady engaging and funny, always ripe for a gag. Penne Hackforth-Jones as the feisty widow Jessica Johnson is a superb female lead, brave and wily with a wicked sense of humour. She more than holds her own bouncing between the bushrangers and their pursuers, willing to get in the thick of things to help the boys out. The dastardly Lieutenant Keogh, portrayed by Bruce Kerr, makes for a great villain in the mould of the Sheriff of Nottingham; snobbish, cunning and methodical with a real nastiness underlying it all. The show itself is a brilliant blend of fun action set pieces and witty humour strung together with great plots that capture the gold rush era and accurately reflect the bushrangers of the period. It is evident that the writers and production team had a love for real bushranging tales and you can find little nods to famous bushrangers, especially through character names like Morgan and McCabe. With such enjoyable and adventurous characters and stories to match it is easy to see why ‘Cash & Company’ attracted such an adoring audience.
Tandarra debuted in place of a second season of Cash & Company as Serge Lazareff had taken his leave of the show in between the seasons. Sam Cash was written out off-screen, the previous season having been left open ended due to Lazareff’s involvement not having been confirmed for a reprise of the character before production ended. Cash was replaced by Gerard Kennedy as Ryler, a bounty hunter who was introduced in the final episode of Cash & Company. Ryler is a rough and tumble action hero type, a stark contrast to the charm and playfulness of Cash. To replace one of the heroes with someone that was meant to be the villain was a bold move, but one that surprisingly pays off. The bushranger angle was also changed, Joe Brady now on the right side of the law and the main characters frequently facing off against dodgy businessmen, extortionists and vicious bushranger gangs. Coming straight from Cash & Company, the change in tone in Tandarra is somewhat jarring, especially as the Celtic and folk elements that formed the score are replaced with a contemporary jazzy 1970s soundtrack full of synth, guitar and bongos. The vibe has shifted from upbeat and fun to being far more serious, the villains being more hard-edged. It is at least as good as Cash & Company, but it is a very different show at the same time. Gerard Kennedy as Ryler, while not being the heart-throb Lazareff was, is a great leading man and once again Penne Hackforth-Jones holds everything together as Jessica Johnson. Mercurio’s Brady seems almost out of place at times with the more serious tone of the show, but fortunately the character is one that transposes well to a more action-oriented interpretation. The writing continues to be excellent in this series and leaves one wondering what would have happened if the series had been able to continue.
It is worth noting that the footage is archival and untouched, meaning that it retains the imperfections on the original film ranging from dust and scratches to the occasional dropped frame. While Umbrella Entertainment have proved themselves where restoration is concerned, the process is arduous and expensive. One day perhaps there will be an affordable way to restore these shows entirely but in the meantime this is more than adequate. The softness of the picture, complete with flecks and scratches, gives the episodes a warmth that enhances the experience and will no doubt tickle the nostalgia of older viewers.
As a viewing experience, this makes for great entertainment for young and old. Older viewers and those well-versed in bushrangers on screen will no doubt get a kick from spotting familiar faces popping up in bit parts. One drawback is the lack of subtitles, so those who are hearing impaired are out of luck this time around. No doubt if it is deemed viable a restored and remastered edition of the two series could manifest down the track with subtitles and maybe even extra features. Until then, this is still an enjoyable and worthwhile set to grab and may end up being the only way to enjoy these fantastic episodes for the foreseeable future.
The Cash & Company/Tandarra box set is a must-have for bushranger enthusiasts and fans of nostalgic television. Sadly, very few bushranger programmes and films make it to the home market, so this is a fantastic opportunity to get a fun, exciting and entertaining bushranger series that the whole family can enjoy.
If you would like to purchase the box set yourself, you can find it from Umbrella Entertainment here.