Giovanni Culotta (Walter Chiari) arrives from Italy in Sydney, Australia for a job opportunity his cousin has promised him, but almost immediately runs into problems. For a start, his grasp of the English language is fair, but his grasp of the Australian language, with all its slang, is not so hot, and he often finds himself at a loss when the locals are speaking to him. Nevertheless, he does secure a hotel room - after a misunderstanding about the Test Match - and sets off to the offices of his cousin, who is running a magazine and has told Giovanni that he can take up the position of sports reporter there. However, once he reaches the right location, he finds the place in disarray...
They're a Weird Mob was that rare thing, an Australian movie from before the nineteen-seventies and the New Wave cinema of that nation. As a result, the locals were so starved of seeing their culture represented in cinema that this turned into a huge hit in its native land, yet perhaps a curious angle was provided by the man behind the camera, Michael Powell, who had become one of the most respected filmmakers Britain had ever produced. Or at least, that was the case until around 1960 when he had directed the notorious horror Peeping Tom, which made him persona non grata in the industry.
This was part of the reason he was imported to Oz, along with long term creative partner Emeric Pressburger, to helm this which doubled as an indulgent comedy for its country of origin and an introduction to the place for foreigners, who here are sent up and invited to feel welcome in equal measure. As our well-meaning but slightly clueless hero, Giovanni, aka Nino, was ideal for those non Aussies to get a grasp on exactly what it would be like to stay there, with most of the residents perfectly friendly if somewhat prone to in-jokes and an unwillingness to bend to explaining themselves to visitors. You might have thought that hearing his accent might have led those he meets to dial down the dialect and be more helpful in giving directions, but nope.
Mind you, Australia's Mr Television Graham Kennedy appears in a cameo and is given short shrift by the Sydney man in the street (because he's from Melbourne), so what hope does Giovanni have? Even less when he discovers from Kay (Claire Dunne), the magazine's editor, that his cousin has absconded with the profits and the publication is going down the tubes as a result, and to make matters worse, she is asking him to repay his cousin's debts, including the price of his ticket. Since Nino was here to make a salary himself, there is no money to be handed over, and in debt he is forced to take a job somewhere outside his comfort zone as a labourer on a building site. That he shows up for work there in his suit and tie is an indication of how appropriate he is for this.
Nevertheless, God loves a trier and soon our man is throwing himself into the tasks ahead, proving that immigrants are just as likely to do their duty as citizens as the locals who have lived there all their lives will, a point that the filmmakers felt was important, and is hammered into the ground here. Although he had to put up with a variety of insults from the ignorant, Nino is exemplary most of the time, his occasional misstep aside, such as going to the beach and swimming in the dangerous waters instead of between the flags whereupon he is rescued by a team of lifeguards. He begins to make friends and is soon inducted into the traditions of beer and barbecues, but the problem of what to do about Kay remains. His solution? Being Italian, it is romance, as he thaws the frosty businesswoman which leads to a happy ending, one that to be honest is rather too long in arriving. At least we were rewarded with Aussie acting icon Chips Rafferty being as about as Australian as it was possible to be as Kay's father. Music by Alan Bousted and Lawrence Leonard (those lyrics!).