In 1874 Australia, newly installed Police Inspector Radford boasts to wealthy Hugh Clarkson that he will capture the famous outlaw Stingaree, who has returned to the area. Hilda Bouverie is an impoverished servant working for the Clarksons. Mr. Clarkson is kind, but his wife treats Hilda and Annie, another servant, as menials. Mrs. Clarkson is excited by the news that Sir Julian Kent, a renowned British composer, is going to be her guest. She dreams of performing before him and becoming an opera star, but her singing is not good. Hilda begs to be allowed to sing as well, but Mrs. Clarkson turns her down. Meanwhile, Sir Julian stops over at a tavern, where Radford and his colleagues are drinking. When Stingaree enters, the policemen are suspicious of the stranger; he is searched, but no weapon is found. His sidekick Howie follows, only he is armed. They abduct Sir Julian. Unaware of this, Mrs. Clarkson goes off to meet Sir Julian.
While she is away, Hilda, who dreams of being an opera singer herself, plays Sir Julian's new song. When Stingaree enters the Clarkson residence to reconnoitre for a future robbery, she mistakes him for Sir Julian and sings for him. He is entranced, and praises her talent. When the Clarksons return, they are accompanied by Radford, who eventually recalls Stingaree. Unmasked, he flees, taking Hilda with him. When they reach his hideout, Stingaree is annoyed to find that Howie has let Sir Julian escape, foiling his attempt to get her an audition. Hilda tells him that her parents had the dream of singing, and that when they died she inherited the dream. Then Stingaree kisses her.
Sir Julian attends a recital at the Clarksons house, with Mrs. Clarkson singing his song disastrously. Howie holds the guests at gunpoint while Stingaree accompanies Hilda on the piano. Sir Julian is greatly impressed by her singing. As the guests congratulate her, Stingaree and Howie slip away. However, Radford manages to shoot and arrest Stingaree. When a furious Mrs. Clarkson fires Hilda, Sir Julian invites her to Europe. Hilda refuses, unwilling to abandon Stingaree, but then she receives a letter from him telling her to pursue her dream, and that he gave up his freedom for her. She leaves, taking Annie with her. Under Sir Julian's tutelage, she becomes a famous opera singer.
Though she cannot forget Stingaree, she agrees to marry Sir Julian. The night before the wedding, however, she tells him that she cannot go through with it. She is going to give up her career and return to Australia. He persuades her to perform at a concert in Melbourne, hoping that the contrast with the fabulous opera houses of Europe will change her mind. Meanwhile, Stingaree escapes, and holds up the new Governor-General's stagecoach. He borrows the man's uniform and attends the concert disguised as him. When he is recognized, the police pursue him. He sneaks into Hilda's dressing room. Hilda offers to give up her singing career for him. As the police try to break down the door, he picks her up in his arms and escapes through the window. They ride off together on his horse.Irene Dunne as Hilda Bouverie
Richard Dix as Stingaree
Mary Boland as Mrs. Clarkson
Conway Tearle as Sir Julian Kent
Andy Devine as Howie
Henry Stephenson as Mr. Hugh Clarkson
George Barraud as Inspector Radford
Una O'Connor as Annie
"Snub" Pollard as Victor
Reginald Owen as The Governor-General
Billy Bevan as Mac
Robert Greig as The Innkeeper
The film recorded a loss of $49,000.
In 1934, Mordaunt Hall's review in the New York Times called the film "nicely done" and said that its "impossible happenings are highly entertaining." He went on to say that "Miss Dunne gives a charming performance and she sings several songs very agreeably." The film was condemned by Australian writers for its depiction of Australia.
It screened in Australia in every state except New South Wales where there was a ban on bushranger films.
In 1946, Stingaree, in addition to several other films, were sold out of the RKO library to producer Merian C. Cooper. On April 4 and April 11, 2007, Turner Classic Movies premiered films produced by Cooper at RKO but out of distribution for more than 50 years. According to TCM host Robert Osborne, Cooper agreed to a legal settlement with RKO in 1946, after accusing RKO of not giving him all the money due him from his RKO producer's contract in the 1930s.
The settlement gave Cooper complete ownership of several RKO titles, including Rafter Romance (1933) with Ginger Rogers, Double Harness (1933), The Right to Romance (1933), One Man's Journey (1933) with Lionel Barrymore, Living on Love (1937), and A Man to Remember (1938). According to an interview with a retired RKO executive, used as a promo on TCM for the premiere, Cooper allowed these films to be shown in 1955-1956 in a limited re-release and only in New York City.
Turner Entertainment purchased the rights to Stingaree, Turner Classic Movies remastered and released the films on DVD as part of their Lost RKO Collection. Until the rights were purchased by Turner and released on DVD, Stingaree had not been seen since a single television viewing in the late 1950s.