Critics rave about Number 96
A taste of the critical response to the Number 96 movie
Reproduced below is the entire the text of a contemporary review by critic Ken Quinnell of the Number 96 feature film. It appeared in Cinema Papers, July 1974. Many other reviews of the film followed the same contours.
"This is one of those films which gives the reviewer a feeling of invulnerability - it is difficult to imagine that it would be possible to make a statement about the film that anyone without some kind of vested interest would ever bother disagreeing with. It is one of those films that begs for the witty superficiality of a Bob Ellis or a John Tittensor.
"Number 96 is a bad film by every criteria, except the criterion of its ability to make money, which it will do wherever the television serial it spun off from is viewed. This is not to knock the serial itself, which often achieves a reasonable standard of writing and script editing for a local programme. Basically the film suffers from the same fault as Country Town (nee Bellbird). That is, the large cast of characters, which for some reason are all included in the film, preclude the possibility of structuring a satisfactory plot line. Country Town made the dual error of constantly explaining the absence of regulars from the serial, while using other key characters to no purpose at all. Number 96 introduces a variety of unintegrated sub-plots to occupy all the tenants of that famous building: a solution that disintegrates the dramatic structure of the script, and leaves the film without even a shred of coherence on which to hang its ill-fitted humour.
"No purpose is served recounting the plot of Number 96. It is a lot more obviously tongue-in-cheek than the serial - Vera Collins marries the Prime Minister - and the humour is a lot less successful. Les' sauna venture, and Herb and Dorrie's marital mix-up, requires for their laughs the extension of the situations beyond the abilities of the characters to contain them.
"Number 96 is the first commercial feature I have ever encountered of which the reviewer could legitimately say, if he so desired, that it is out of focus. The blow up to 35mm from 16mm for theatrical presentation emphasises the inadequacies of local laboratory facilities. The whole "look" of the film is appalling - garish, claustrophobic sets, the flat lighting and the poor colour quality actually make it physically difficult to watch. The acting is undirected in any meaningful way and remains pitched at the same general standard as that of the serial - which is OK for television but excruciating on the big screen.
"It has allowed Australia to see its 96 super-stars in colour before the arrival of colour television. That is the extent of its achievement." 
Other reviewers were no less kind. David Stratton wrote:
"Never has such an ugly looking film been presented for paying cinema audiences. In fact, the whole shoddy enterprise, with its fifth-rate acting, cardboard sets, juvenile plotline and amateurish direction, was an insult to the intelligence." 
Even the reviewer from the usually complimentary TV Week, a magazine that seemed to specialise in Number 96 coverage, disliked the movie. Said TV Week movie reviewer Grahame Willis:
"The movie version of Number 96 is as comfortable as an old coat, but a movie it isn't-it's big screen TV without the commercials. The plot plunges along at an even pace, and the characters are there but never develop. Technically, it leaves much to be desired, with direction and camera seldom interesting or showing much imagination. The color is over-bright and variable; the backgrounds are over-busy; the makeup wanders disconcertingly-all good reasons in what not to do when Number 96 goes to color next year. Yet, does it matter? The critics will probably be caustic; the fans will come in their droves, and producer Bill Harmon can cry all the way to the bank." 
Originally uploaded November 2004
Last updated 23 November 2013
 Quinnell, Ken. "96." Cinema Papers. July 1974, page 272.
 Stratton, David. The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival. Angus and Robertson: Sydney, 1980, page 269.
 TV Week . 25 May 1974, page 16-17.