Color, 1976, 102 mins. 59 secs. / 94 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Philippe Mora
Starring Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil, John Hargreaves, Graeme Blundell
Indicator (Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 HD), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/PAL)) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), 4 Digital (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Troma (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1)
One of the more notorious (albeit not financially successful) films to come out of Australia's 1970s movie boom was this fact-based outlaw saga based on the exploits of Irish-born Daniel "Mad Dog" Morgan, played by a full-throttle Dennis Hopper. Very violent by Australian standards, the film earned the ire of local film commissions but managed to get released in several territories around the world, usually in very heavily censored form. By the time the film hit the U.S. and U.K. two years after its Australian release (sometimes bearing its original shooting title, Mad Dog), the film became a calling card of sorts that led to director Philippe Mora embarking on a truly idiosyncratic career with films like The Beast Within, Communion, Howling II, Howling III, and A Breed Apart.
At least in the original cut, a member of the Victorian police, Detective William Henry Manwaring (Aussie cinema legend Thompson), frames the story of his pursuit of Morgan, an Irish-born unruly wanderer whose experiences with the violent side of Australia, including the slaughter of Chinese laborers, leads to a brutal six-year bout behind bars. After his release he becomes a bushranger and forms a bond with Billy (Walkabout's Gulpilil), which not only familiarizes him with the outback but stirs a deep anti-colonialist streak within him that turns into a violent crime spree complete with robbery, hostages, and murder, making him one of the most wanted men on the continent.
Though several international leading men were sought for the leading role in this low-budget production, nabbing Hopper (who was persona non grata in Hollywood due to his chemically-induced wild behavior and the bombing of The Last Movie) turned out to be a masterstroke as he delivers exactly the kind of loose cannon performance that anchors the entire film. From a technical standpoint it's as disorienting as Mora's other work (including some weird temporal dislocation and ragged editing throughout), but it's also stunningly photographed, features a who's who of major Aussie actors who would soon become big local names, and delivers a few jolt of genuinely shocking violence.
The video history of this film is about as ragged as its theatrical one, with initial VHS and DVD releases from Troma reflecting the abbreviated export cut, which removes several minutes including the more extreme violence and tones down a prison sexual assault while replacing the prologue with written text. The uncensored version turned up later as a two-disc Troma DVD in 2009, albeit from a very sped-up PAL master (96m45s) and looking pretty rough with a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer. The sole extra on the first disc is a jokey Mora intro (54s), while disc two has a fantastic "That's Our Mad Dog" (27m46s) conversation with Hopper and Mora produced for the Umbrella Aussie DVD the same year, a Mora "interview" that's just his quick intro again, an interview with cinematographer Mike Molloy and Mora (7m40s), an interview with associate producer Richard Brennan and Mora (5m29s), a Mora radio interview (14m22s), deleted scenes (7m4s), a brief locations featurette (44s), a still gallery (4m50s), a theatrical program, the trailer, and bonus trailers for Poultrygeist, The Toxic Avenger, Combat Shock, The Last Horror Film, and The Sexy Box. The Umbrella DVD features a great Mora solo commentary (he's always quite the raconteur, including plenty of tales about Hopper's wild card behavior), a marvelous vintage "To Shoot a Mad Dog" (24m36s) featurette with tons of behind-the-scenes footage including that insane exploding head gag, the Mora radio interview and Hopper chat, and DVD-Rom script and promotional material. In 2019, Umbrella upgraded the film to Blu-ray (not available for comparison here) featuring some new extras we'll get to below.
In 2022, Indicator brought Mad Dog Morgan to both U.S. and U.K. region-free Blu-ray featuring a new restoration from a 4K scan of the interpositive, featuring both the full director's cut and the altered export cut. Needless to say, it's a big improvement with the blown-out highlights now under control and the film grain looking natural and detailed. The film's cheap production probably constrained it a bit as it's still plagued by some murky blacks at times, which seems to be baked into the source. It's doubtful you'll ever see it looking better than this, and the inclusion of both versions for comparison in one handy place is welcome. The DTS-HD MA English 1.0 mono track (with optional English SDH subtitles) sounds fine given the very basic sound mix. The earlier commentary is ported over here along with a 2019 one from the Umbrella release with Mora and Jake Wilson, which has some additional great stories and commentary about Australia's very troublesome racist history; just be aware the sound quality is extremely spotty. Also included are "To Shoot a Mad Dog," the Hopper-Mora interview, the Mora radio interview, the featurettes with Molloy and Brennan, and from the Umbrella Blu-ray, a "Hopping Mad" (33m48s) featurette with Mora (produced and edited by Urban Legend's Jamie Blanks) looking back at the film and Hopper's legacy plus more stories about the scrappy shooting and special effects. A long batch of interview excerpts from Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (66m29s) features Mora, Jeremy Thomas, Jack Thompson, John Seale, Graeme Blundell, and Roger Ward recalling the raucous shoot, the film's depiction of 1850s Australian history, the strong violence for the time, the culture of real-life criminal antiheroes including Ned Kelly, and the strange local rituals of the era. Also from the Umbrella is "Mad Country" (13m54s), a 2019 locations featurette (with optional Mora commentary) revisiting the many familiar outdoor spots throughout the film. The Mora intro from the Troma disc is included here along with its outro (7m52s combined), plus the trailer (in scope and HD) and separate galleries for promotional materials and a great production diary. The deluxe limited edition packaging is a big extra unto itself complete with a fold-out double-sided poster and a robust 80-page book featuring a new essay by Tara Judah ("Mad Dog Morgan and the Bushranger") complete with lots of historical info and comparisons to Kelly, Mora's pre-production notes, an archival interview with the director and an article from the set, Thomas' thoughts on the film, and sample critical reactions.
Updated review on September 2, 2021.