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Before the opening credits a title card reads: "In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT. This is the story of a 'Walkabout.'" According to a modern source, this written foreward was added after the film's initial release. At the end of the film, a narrator recites an excerpt from A. E. Housman's poem, "The Shropshire Lad," which tells of "the land of lost content" where one cannot return. The film ends with the statement, "Rien ne va plus," a French saying that can be translated loosely as "Nothing more."
As noted in the closing credits, Walkabout was filmed entirely on location in Australia. According to the film's production notes, the movie features sequences shot in the red desert surrounding Alice Springs, in the Flinders mountain range area and at locations never before visited by Western man. The studio production notes reported that the opening and closing sequences were shot in Sydney. A radio, which appears first in an early sequence as the "mother" prepares food, appears throughout the film and broadcasts miscellaneous information in counterpoint to the childrens' predicament. Several brief shots showing flashbacks and ghost-like visions are interspersed into the main story. Some brief flashes compare city life with that of the natives, such as a city butcher preparing meat intercut with the "Aborigine's" spearing and cutting up of an animal for food. Another inserted scene mentioned in several reviews shows the children playing in a tree, while a group of Aborigines discover and play around the burned-out car and corpse of the "father." Near the end, during the Aborigine's cathartic ritual in which he attempts to spear a cow, gunshots by a homesteader kill several animals.
Two small subplots show sexual undercurrents of a group of scientists working in the Outback and a homesteader and his unhappy wife, who have hired Aborgines to make souvenir clay animals for the tourist trade. In the last scene, the "girl" is shown preparing a meal in the kitchen while listening to the radio, as did her mother in an early sequence. According to a modern interview, producer Si Litvinoff stated that many of the filmmakers argued for ending the picture when the children were found on the road, omitting the city epilogue.
As noted by film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote liner notes for the DVD version of the film, the chronology of the movie is not clock-bound, but presented more like the Aborigines' non-linear sense of time. Ebert suggested that the desert in the story was "a mystical place, a place of visions" that was neither the Aborigine's home ground nor the children's, that their time there was a type of "dream" and the two suicides were "the boundaries of reality."
James Vance Marshall is a pseudonym for the Englishman, Donald G. Payne, who also wrote some versions of Walkabout and other novels under the name Ian Cameron. Walkabout, which first appearead as The Children in the Australian magazine Woman's Day with Woman, was a popular juvenile classic in Australia. As noted in the Saturday Review (of Literature) review, the film's adaptors made changes, adding "touches of eroticism that were not...so explicit in the novel." In the novel, an airplane crash left two American children, a twelve-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother, alone in the desert. Also in the novel, the aborigine's death is attributed to the common cold and to autosuggestion, a phenomenon which is implied in the film but not explained.
According to a November 1967 Hollywood Reporter news item, Lee Loeb and Lee Irwin wrote a screenplay based on the novel that they sold to Denis O'Dell, who had lined up Nicolas Roeg to direct. However, Loeb, Irwin and O'Dell's contribution, if any, to the final film has not been determined. In a modern interview, Litvinoff stated that director Roeg had been developing a screenplay for a small studio, National General, and the rights for the product were "entangled" with a company headed by Richard Lester. Unable to get approval to make the film, Roeg asked for the help of Litvinoff, who convinced executive producer Max Raab to help finance the project. According to Litvinoff, clearing the rights for production took another year.
Walkabout marked the first film as sole director for Roeg, who was formerly a cinematographer. Lucien Roeg, who portrayed the "boy," was the son of the director, who had initially considered casting his older son, Nico, in the role, according to Litvinoff's modern interview. According to the studio production notes, David Gumpilil, the aborigine, was a dancer in his small northern tribe before moving to Manninggrieda, Australia, where Roeg discovered him, and had no concrete proof of his age. According to studio production notes, his friend who was fluent in Gumpilil's tribal language, as well as English, served as his interpretor. After his debut performance in Walkabout, Gumpilil continued to appear in films, mostly Australian, and had a significant role in the 1986 Paramount film Crocodile Dundee. Associate producer Anthony J. Hope, who died in 2004, was the son of comedian Bob Hope. Hope's first feature film, All the Right Noises (see entry above) was shot shortly before Walkabout. Although Walkabout marked his second and final feature film as associate producer, Hope became a director of business affairs at Twentieth Century-Fox, and was also involved in politics.
As noted in Filmfacts and corroborated by MPAA records, Walkabout was initially given an R rating on the basis of two nude swimming scenes. According to Filmfacts, critics Judith Crist and Hollis Alpert publicly criticized the rating. An June 11, 1971 Variety news item reported that Raab, Jonas Rosenfield, Jr., who was an advertising publicist for Twentieth Century-Fox, and several others argued the case for an appeal. The Codes and Ratings Appeal Board reversed the decision and awarded the film a GP rating, as a June 23, 1971 Variety news item reported, marking the first time that a vote was unanimously reversed. Walkabout was a British entry at the Cannes Film Festival. A January 1997 Entertainment Today reported that a director's cut on DVD restored five minutes of previously unseen material to the film.