Friday, August 21, 2015

#1,831. Mad Dog Morgan (1976) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Philippe Mora

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil

Tag line: "Ferociously violent - unexpectedly kind. Ruthless bandit or rebel hero? An outlaw's outlaw with a score to settle"

Trivia: Dennis Hopper drank vast amounts of rum so he could properly portray Daniel Morgan

The rumors that Dennis Hopper was out of control during the filming of Mad Dog Morgan, a 1976 Australian movie, have been confirmed time and again by director Philippe Mora himself. In January of 2010, Mora told The Sydney Morning Herald what happened the day shooting on Mad Dog Morgan wrapped:

He (Hopper) rode off in costume, poured a bottle of O.P. rum into the real Morgan's grave in front of my mother, drank one himself, got arrested and deported the next day, with a blood-alcohol reading that said he should have been clinically dead, according to the judge studying his alcohol tests

Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying that Dennis Hopper’s frenzied performance perfectly fit the character of Dan Morgan, an irish / Australian bushranger who roamed the countryside of New South Wales in the 1860’s, when the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing.

After witnessing the massacre of several Chinese immigrants, Morgan turns to a life of crime and is promptly arrested. Tortured and even raped qhilw in prison, he’s released years ahead of schedule for good behavior, at which point he seeks revenge on those who put him there. After stealing a horse, Morgan is shot by its owner, and then nursed back to health by the aborigine, Billy (Walkabout’s David Gulpilil, who also provided the film’s digeridoo music).

With Billy in tow, Morgan terrorizes the local authorities, going so far as to shoot and kill one of their own. Though a folk hero to some, Morgan incites the wrath of Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring), who offers a reward of £1,000 for information leading to his capture… dead or alive.

From the moment he first appears on-screen, strolling through a small frontier town, to his final scene, you can’t take your eyes off of Dennis Hopper. His Irish brogue isn’t flawless (it slips from time to time), but he has a screen presence here that’s undeniable. There are some scenes where it’s obvious Hopper was acting under the influence; during one in particular, where Morgan walks into a bar and is cheered by its patrons, you can practically see the haze in his eyes. But this only enhances the character's out-of-control sensibilities, who, if history is to be believed, was every bit the loose cannon that Hopper was.

Mad Dog Morgan has its share of violence. In the sequence where the Chinese are attacked, Morgan’s new friend Martin, played by Gerry Duggan, is shot in the back of the head, the bullet taking out his eye as it passes through. There are also moments that are difficult to watch. Along with being raped by his fellow inmates in prison, Morgan is tied, spread eagle, to the ground, at which point the guards brand his hand with a hot iron. But scenes such as these capture the chaotic times in which its story is set. This, combined with Hopper’s frantic performance, makes for one crazy ass motion picture.

And I’m betting you’ll love it as much I do.

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