Wessex Film Productions, 1949
100 minutes, NR
By Tammy Wanchena
Definitely worth checking out for vintage movie and racing fans, Once a Jolly Swagman, also released as Maniacs On Wheels, takes us back to the original days of Speedway at the height of its popularity in Great Britain, and the distraction it provided to fans after World War II.
Speedway racing is a form of dirt track racing ridden on a short course with a bike having a single speed transmission and no brakes. The riders slide through the corners similar to American style flat track. The origins of are not very clear, but it was likely developed in the 1910’s in either America or possibly Australia. It eventually came to Britain and became a huge hit.
This film is about the motorcycle racing aspirations of Dirk Bogarde’s character, Bill Fox. Bill was a simple British factory worker who was fired for missing too much work racing motorcycles. He then gets discovered by a sponsor and allowed the opportunity to race full time. He achieves great success and marries a beautiful woman before he and his wife are drafted during World War II. Suddenly the dangers of motorsports pale in comparison to the dangers of war. Both come home unharmed, but Bill is challenged with what to do next, having lost his lavish lifestyle. The movie had a lot to say about relationship struggles and racing.
Do not make the mistake of watching this movie with anyone under the age of 30. They will waste time trying to adjust the color, not being familiar with black and white. Their boredom will draw them to their electronic devices. Their restless energy will distract you from watching a really good movie worthy of your attention. Boys will only look up during the crash scenes and will be disappointed if no one dies.
The name “Once a Jolly Swagman” is taken from the first line of an old song, “Waltzing Mathilda” and is based on a novel by Montagu Slater.