The Devil's Playground (1976)

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Released 3-Nov-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Director, Fred Schepisi
Featurette-The Devil's Playground - Filmmaking By Faith
Featurette-Fred On Filmmaking
Gallery-Photo-Fifty-five Images
Theatrical Trailer-The Devil's Playground
Teaser Trailer-Umbrella Trailers
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 94:57
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Fred Schepisi

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Arthur Dignam
Simon Burke
Nick Tate
Charles McCallum
John Frawley
Jonathan Hardy
Gerry Duggan
Peter Cox
Thomas Keneally
John Diedrich
Sheila Florance
Richard Morgan
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music Bruce Smeaton

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Following a highly successful career in advertising, Fred Schepisi's first venture into film was directing a segment of the underrated 1972 film, Libido. The Priest was the third installment of a quartet of stories, all of which revolved around relationships and sexual behavior.The Priest was written by novelist, Thomas Keneally and it's somewhat of a prequel to Schepisi's first feature, The Devil's Playground.

    Fred Schepisi wrote The Devil's Playground based on his own experiences as a young boy in a Catholic seminary. Although elements of the film centre on issues of Catholicism, the very heart of the story is universal and will have relevance to many. The film was also the first feature film produced by Schepisi's production company, The Film House. This is significant because most of the film was financed by Schepisi himself, with additional funds from the AFDC (Australian Film Development Corporation), family investors and some money from business aquaintances.

    One of the successes of this film lies in Rhonda Schepisi's (Fred's then wife), wonderful casting. Every performance shines, including the many roles portrayed by young actors. Arthur Dignam as Brother Francine, plays a role with similarities to his role in the aforementioned, The Priest. Nick Tate is brilliant in his portrayal of Brother Victor and even non-actor, Thomas Keneally is competent in the role of Father Marshall. Without singling out every performance, it would be amiss of me not to mention the screen debut of  Simon Burke. His performance as young Tom Allen was something of a revelation. This difficult role would have seriously challenged many seasoned actors.

   The Devil's Playground is set in a Catholic seminary somewhere in Victoria during the autumn of 1953. The narrative follows thirteen-year-old, Tom Allen, who is struggling with a habitual bed wetting problem, as well as the embarrassing puberty issues that confronts any boy of his age.

    The seminary is a caldron of raging hormones as most of the young men struggle with their faith and the constant repression of natural sexual urges. In the common room, the Brothers have similar issues. They also discuss matters of faith and occasionally question the value of their sacrifices.

    The weekends bring an opportunity for some normality. Brother Victor and Brother James (Peter Cox) go to the football, where they can blend in with the crowd and lose their identity. However, this can also open the doors to temptation.

    Although he says he's going to the museum, Brother Francine uses the same time to go to the swimming pool, where he covertly watches semi-naked women.

    As the season turns colder, Tom meets and falls for a young girl, but all correspondence is stopped when Brother Celian (John Frawley) detects romance in their letters.

    When Father Marshall arrives at the seminary, he delivers a hell-fire sermon before announcing that "the retreat" has begun. The retreat is three days of total silence and contemplation. At its conclusion a tragedy is discovered in the seminary lake when an act of misguided divinity is attempted. From here, the vocation of many will be tested.

     The Devil's Playground was classed as box office poison by distributors who refused to touch the film. Subsequently, Fred Schepisi did the promotion and distribution himself, having to raise additional funds for the process. Schepisi's faith in the film paid off when it was commonly well received by audiences and critics, even though the premise of the film prevented it from achieving high box office sales.

    In 1976 The Devil's Playground was selected to screen at the Cannes Film Festival during the Directors' Fortnight and as a consequence gained selection to many other renowned film festivals around the world. At the 1976 AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards, the film scooped the pool, winning for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Tie between Simon Burke and Nick Tate), Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.

    After more than thirty years The Devil's Playground remains one of Fred Schepisi's finest  films. It is also one of the premier films of Australian cinema.

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Transfer Quality


    Over many years Umbrella Entertainment have made a specialty of presenting Australian films to DVD with high quality transfers and a generous selection of relevant extras. I'm really pleased to announce that the long awaited release of The Devil's Playground is no exception to this. The fully restored print used for this transfer comes courtesy of The National Film and Sound Archive and it looks superb.

    The Devil's Playground is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.79:1, which is 16x9 enhanced. The correct aspect ratio for the film is reported to be 1.85:1.

    Although there is some inherent softness, the transfer exhibits an impressive degree of sharpness throughout, especially in close-ups, which were outstanding. Blacks were perfectly clean and shadow detail was excellent.

    The prevalent colours in the film tend to be quite earthy, beautifully reflecting the season of autumn. Generally, the palette is rather sombre, but occasionally there are splashes of vivid colour. All of these colours are nicely balanced, with no adverse issues relating to saturation.

    There were no MPEG artefacts in the transfer and film-to-video artefacts were not a problem. The most remarkable aspect of the transfer for me was the total absence of film artefacts. The restoration process has done total justice to the film by delivering an amazingly clean print.

    Unfortunately there are no subtitles. This DVD is a dual layer DVD 9 disc.

    The layer change occurs during a scene at 87:57 and was easily noticed, but not particularly disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer remained faithful to the original source. There are two audio tracks on the DVD, English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224 Kb/s) and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 Kb/s).

    There were no problems with hearing and comprehending any of the dialogue. There were also no obvious issues with audio sync.

    The original music score by Bruce Smeaton is brilliant. Personally, I believe his score for The Devil's Playground is one of the best written for an Australian film. It is a major contributor to the film and sets the ambience from the very opening. The combination of Ian Baker's cinematography and Smeaton's score is sublime. It was great to hear Fred Schepisi similarly praise Smeaton's score in his commentary.

    The front speakers carried all the sound, so the surround channels and the subwoofer were not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    The main menu is animated with certain scenes from the film. It is 16x9 enhanced and features a looped sample of Bruce Smeaton's score.


Director's Audio Commentary - Fred Schepisi

    This is a thoroughly entertaining and fascinating commentary that will please admirers of the film. Fred seemed to really enjoy the opportunity to discuss the film and he covers most aspects of the production. Apart from the occasional anecdote, he is very open about the technical issues relating to the film. He avoids the common trap of simply describing the scene and offers some genuine insight.

Featurette - The Devil's Playground - Filmmaking By Faith (43:07)

    This very interesting featurette was produced this year and features a series of interviews with some of the people involved in The Devil's Playground. Fred Schepisi, Ian Baker, Brian Kavanagh, Arthur Dignam and Nick Tate all contribute, discussing most aspects of the production.

Featurette - Fred on Filmmaking (39:10)

    This featurette was also produced this year and was obviously filmed at the same time as the previous extra. Fred Schepisi talks about what he believes to be important factors in filmmaking. This piece is not directly related to The Devil's Playground, but more on Fred Schepisi as a filmmaker and his methods. It is still fascinating viewing for anyone with an interest in Schepisi's films.

Stills Gallery

    A collection of fifty-five assorted images from the production of The Devil's Playground.

Original Theatrical Trailer

    The Devil's Playground (2:24 )

Umbrella Trailers

  • The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (2:31)
  • Picnic At Hanging Rock (4:48)

    R4 vs R1

    NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

        For some reason The Devil's Playground has always been a very difficult film to find on any format.

        There is a very basic R1 edition of the film, released a few years ago by Allied Artists Classics. This R1 edition has an inferior full frame transfer and only features the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery as extras.

        There is little doubt that this all region, Umbrella Entertainment release of The Devil's Playground is the best edition currently available anywhere in the world.


        The Devil's Playground was certainly an auspicious first feature for Fred Schepisi and it remains one of his best films to date. The psychological and philosophical themes in the narrative are heightened by superb production values, creating an unforgettable film experience.

        The video and audio transfers do the film great justice.

        The selection of extras is fascinating and comprehensive, adding further to the excellence of this presentation.




  • Ratings (out of 5)


    © Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
    Saturday, November 29, 2008
    Review Equipment
    DVDJVC XV-N412, using Component output
    DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
    Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
    AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
    SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

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