Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

19th century Australia was a pretty heinous place to live in some respects; the landscape was unforgiving towards the white folks who’d come—or, in most cases, been summarily dispatched—from across the sea to build a shiny new civilisation, and the people were just about as unforgiving, neither towards their coloured cousins nor towards each other. This seems to have been especially true of our fine upstanding constabulary, who receive a particularly unflattering depiction (not just the rather jaw-dropping final scene) in this film about Australia’s other major bushranger… a film whose reputation has, I suspect, always preceded it; even back in the day tales of Dennis Hopper’s lack of professionalism (which really is the only polite way to describe his behaviour throughout the film) were already legend while the film was still in production, and they’ve only been revived thanks to Not Quite Hollywood. They’re good stories, of course, but they do perhaps get in the way of the film itself, which is pretty intriguing stuff on its own. It’s home to one of the most jaw-dropping stunt scenes ever filmed (Grant Page leaping “out” of the water on fire), and there’s spectacular landscape work, but Hopper is the drawcard, obviously. Pissed as a newt throughout the film whether or not the story required him to be, his Method madness resulted in some startling moments on screen as well as off; there’s some improv scenes which have a really uneasy edge to them, a sense that things really weren’t totally under control. Philippe Mora tells the story in a fashion that’s less episodic than it is fragmented, lots of shortish scenes that don’t really flow, and it takes about as much getting used to as Hopper’s Irish accent, but once I did I found it added up to a quite fascinating film.

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