Rod as writer: Black Opal

Rod Taylor did a lot of writing throughout his acting career, from simply changing lines to rewriting scenes to crafting complete screenplays.

One script that made it to the screen (or, at least, to video) was “The Treasure Seekers.”

Another script that Rod pushed extremely hard to make was “Last Bus to Banjo Creek.” His efforts on that project enjoyed considerable coverage throughout the 1960s and ‘70s.

Another script, “Black Opal,” has not enjoyed such attention despite thrilling action sequences, dazzling Australian scenery and a touch of the supernatural.

A draft of the screenplay, dated Jan. 11, 1997, tells a great story. It starts with a vivid description for the opening shot: The camera swoops down, past “the monstrous coat-hanger shape of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and on over the shining bug wings of the Sydney Opera House” and descends on a scene of seafaring action. Despite the obviously modern-day establishing shot, the action features pirate ships of bygone days.

The next scene reverts to the present day, as preparations are being made for a major sailing competition from Sydney to Auckland (modeled after the famous Sydney Hobart Yacht Race).

Opening conversations at the yacht club In Sydney establish the characters. Personalities and rivalries are established and then it’s off to the races, with 25 boats setting sail. Our protagonists are in one called Black Opal.

Soon after the start, two competitors almost collide. But this bit of danger is a mere taste of the trials to come. A fog bank rolls in and engulfs all 25 boats. They vanish from sight. Radio communications turn up nothing but static.

Back in Sydney, a group of concerned family and friends decide to take off after the sailboats and find out what’s going on. One of this group is a newspaperman named Eddie Collins – likely the part Rod wrote for himself.

The would-be rescuers enter the fog bank and find the Black Opal and their friends. But the danger is just beginning. Ghostly figures emerge, with evil intent. These phantoms from another time gradually eliminate the present-day sailors and rescuers.

Meanwhile, back in Sydney, spectators are amazed to see that the racing boats have re-appeared. Everyone is stunned, including all the crew members. One boat remains missing: the Black Pearl.

Back at sea, one survivor of the spectral murders rushes back to Sydney Harbour. Just before he is about to emerge into the dazzling light of home, one of his crewmates appears, begging him to stay, dragging him back into the fog.

Inspiration

Real-life tragedy and local myth likely inspired Rod in the writing of this screenplay.

In 1979, the five-person crew of the yacht Charleston set sail from Hobart, Tasmania. Their mission was to bring the sleek new boat to Sydney to enter the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Several days went by after the crew’s last communication, near Flinders Island (between Tasmania and Australia). The Charleston failed to arrive at Sydney, and searches commenced. No evidence of the yacht or its crew has ever been found.

Australia also has its version of the Bermuda Triangle — the Bass Strait Triangle, which lies between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. Boats have gone missing for centuries in this treacherous area. The first aircraft that went missing, in 1920, was engaged in a search for a missing schooner. Of more recent vintage is the disappearance in 1978 of Australian pilot Frederick Valentich, a UFO enthusiast. Alien abduction, in addition to human error, has been investigated as a possible explanation of his fate.

2 thoughts on “Rod as writer: Black Opal

  1. Thanks for the article, very interesting as I know Rod was involved in rewriting scenes throughout his career. Laurent

    Like

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