This week we are covering films from down under. Mad Dog Morgan is currently available on instant Netflix
WATCH: Mad Dog Morgan (1976) – Rated R
“Ruthless bounty hunters scour Australia’s harsh outback for infamous outlaw Mad Dog Morgan (Dennis Hopper) in this thriller based on the life of the Irishman who immigrated during the 1800s gold rush. Morgan is caught for stealing horses and endures years of torture behind bars. He continues his outlaw ways after his release, and soon he’s wanted … dead or alive.”
This movie certainly wastes no time. Morgan smokes opium – next scene – Morgan steals clothes – next scene – Morgan is being sentenced to prison – next scene Morgan is being raped by evil prisoners. How can you tell that they are evil? Out of all the prisoners shown, the rapists are the ones who have bad teeth (lazy filmmaking 101). A few scenes later and Morgan is being released after 6 years hard labor.
The fast pace is a bit off-putting at first. The first third of the film disposes of all but the last year of his life in rapid fashion with precious little detail. The last two-thirds of the film cover a number of well-known incidents that Morgan was famous for, culminating in his death (not a spoiler – the film begins with Morgan’s death being announced).
Morgan was a hard-drinking outlaw and folk hero. He was capricious, flamboyant, and mercurial. The casting of Dennis Hopper in this role was brilliant. I was actually worried at Dennis Hopper’s casting as he often overacts but he was really terrific here. A side note: Morgan was known as Mad Dan, not Mad Dog but Mad Dog Morgan makes a better title.
Dennis Hopper is aided here by a good Australian ensemble. Jack Thompson is authoritative as Detective Mainwaring. Frank Thring (Ben Hur, El Cid) is his usual fun self as Superintendent Cobham.
Perennial aborigine David Gulpilil plays Billy, Morgan’s friend. This is odd because historically Morgan was also known as Billy the native. There is an implied homosexual relationship but Billy mysteriously disappears late in the film. About the time you start to wonder if you missed something, he reappears but only in an obligatory wrap-this-storyline sense. David Gulpilil is also credited with the aboriginal songs and didgeridoo music.
It is hard to review the film as it is clear that this copy has been chopped to pieces. Netflix has this listed as rated R but there is very little here to be objectionable. There are some very obvious cuts present. One of the superintendents wants a piece of Morgan besides his beard but that bit of dialogue has been excised. There are several other obvious dialogue cuts. An early killing receives a very abrupt cut. The prison rape is implied but again it appears as though this scene must have been longer. This must be a print that was edited for television which seems odd given the widescreen aspect ratio.
The Australian scenery is wonderful naturally but unfortunately this copy seems a little out-of-focus. This makes the cinematography a little difficult to appreciate. Despite all the flaws, I heartily recommend this film just on the strength of Hopper’s performance.
People Watch: Character villain Michael Pate appears here briefly as Superintendent Winch. He also has a small role in yesterday’s Howling III – The Marsupials.