The Cheaters

Directed by Paulette McDonagh
94 minutes
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McDonagh’s pioneering romantic melodrama, silent with live score performed by Jan Preston, is set in Sydney and stars the director’s sister as the daughter of a criminal mastermind.

The McDonagh sisters, daughters of a Sydney doctor, made four pioneering feature films: Those Who Love (1926), The Far Paradise (1928), The Cheaters (1929) and Two Minutes Silence (1933), as well as some documentaries. Most of these films are, sadly, lost today. Paulette (1901-1978), the middle sister, was the driving force and acted as the director and screenwriter; Isabel, using the stage name Marie Lorraine, was the leading actress; Phyllis, the youngest, was the producer and production designer. The Cheaters, their third feature, went into production as a silent film, although at the time cinemas were busily converting to sound. It’s the story of Paula (Lorraine), the daughter of Bill Marsh (Arthur Greenaway), an embezzler, ex-convict and head of a criminal gang. Used by her father to attract wealthy men, Paula falls in love with Lee (Josef Bambach), the adopted son of John Travers (John Faulkner), her father’s most bitter enemy. 

The film was completed as a silent but during the long delay in finding distribution, some sound sequences were added: we are screening the original silent version with live musical accompaniment from composer and pianist Jan Preston. Location footage of Sydney at the time includes a shot of the incomplete Harbour Bridge.

Live accompaniment from: Jan Preston

Jan Preston has had a longstanding career as a screen composer, live piano player and singer/songwriter. She has written music for over 100 documentaries and dramas, including Border Politics and Australian Story, as well as written and performed for 20 silent movies. Preston's score for The Cheaters investigates the film’s themes for love, revenge, madness and duplicity with a continuous soundtrack of music and music-scape that follows the dramatic action of this extraordinary film.

Piano kindly sponsored by RON OVERS, Sydney artisan grand piano builder and designer.

Presented by the National Film and Sound Archive’s digital restoration program – NFSA Restores – reviving our cinema icons.


Wed 5 June
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Past Event Cancel
Sponsored By
Program Strand
David Stratton Selects
Paulette McDonagh
Isabel McDonagh, Paulette McDonagh, Phyllis McDonagh
Marie Lorraine, Arthur Greenaway, John Faulkner
Paulette McDonagh
Jack Fletcher
Seniors, Women Directors, Australian Films, Cinephile, Focus on Women, Retrospective
Company Credits
Print Source: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (NFSA)
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