There are two films about the Melbourne Summer Games. The first, an hour long, is titled Olympic Games 1956, and it is as straightforward and efficient as its title.
Reference is made to ongoing wars without specifics, as is the fact that five nations have boycotted, although their names are not mentioned. Actually, seven nations boycotted: Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon to protest the Israeli-led invasion of the Suez Canal; and Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland to protest the Soviet invasion of Hungary. China, which initially agreed to compete in the Melbourne Games, withdrew after Taiwan was accepted as an official entry. During the Parade of Nations, on the other hand, West Germany and East Germany march together in the Summer Olympics for the first time. A message on the stadium scoreboard reminds spectators that the IOC does not recognize national rankings by points.
The film manages to cover dozens of events in 12 sports in a short time by concentrating on the winners. Volodymyr Kuts of the USSR wins both the 10,000 meters and the 5,000 meters. Later, Kuts would suffer a rapid decline of health, turn alcoholic and die of a combination of alcohol and phenobarbital. But in 1956 we see him smiling happily with one of his rivals, Gordon Pirie of Great Britain and other westerners.
Other than the sprints, there is only one final that is shown in its entirety: the 1,500 meters. The coverage is captivating. The field is packed with famous runners, including local favorite John Landy, the second man to break the four-minute mile. But the narrator makes sure that, throughout the race, we keep an eye on the man in green, Ireland’s Ron Delany. As the twelve runners enter the final lap, barely eight meters separates the leader from the man in last place. Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark signals Delany to pass him on the inside, and Delany launches a long sprint that gains him an unexpected gold medal. Landy, who placed third, sees Delany collapsed on the track with his head on his hands and rushes over to make sure he is alright. But Delany isn’t ill; he’s praying.
Despite the rapid-fire coverage, the film does slow down enough to show workers at the running deer shooting event shoving running deer targets down a ramp and then brushing over the bullet holes with their hands to clean the targets for the next shooters.
After Mexican Joaquin Capílla, competing in his third Olympics, wins his first gold medal, his brother Alberto jumps into the pool to embrace him…just as French swimmer Jean Boiteux’s father did when his son won the 400-meter freestyle in 1952.
Water polo is given one sentence stating that the championship was won by Hungary. There is no film footage and no mention made of the bloody match between the Hungarians and the players from the Soviet Union, which led to police being called in to prevent an anti-Soviet riot.
The Closing Ceremony emphasizes the “forward march of youth with common ideals” and concludes with a moving rendition of ”Waltzing Matilda” with lyrics altered to express peace, harmony and the Australian desire that athletes and visitors return some day: “Will ye no’ come back again?”
An end graphic with a map of Australia and one of Italy, host of the next Olympics, states “Not The End.”