Dir: George Miller, 1979
“Mad Max”, the film that kickstarted Mel Gibson’s career.
Set in an unspecified near dystopian future, GIbson is Max Rockatansky; a law enforcement officer slowly going crazy by the lawlessness in the world he’s assigned to protect. He’s finally pushed over the edge when his wife and child is brutally murdered by a roving gang of bikers, led by the Toecutter.
Rather than Mel being the star it’s the cars and the roads, specifically the Interceptor, a high powered police vehicle used primarily by Max.
It took me a long time to enjoy this film. I remember everybody raving over it but couldn’t get into it. But, something kept dragging me back to watch it. Every time it was on telly I would be in the mood for watching it. Strange.
The director, George Miller, was a doctor working in a hospital and often saw victims of road traffic accidents which inspired him to write “Mad Max”.
It’s not a great film. There are long spells where nothing really happens. I understand that it’s supposed to be showing the breakdown of society and Max’s slow descent into madness.
But, they can be boring. The characters are comic book caricatures of road gangs typical of fifties exploitation B-movie’s of Hollywood in the fifties. Silly names trying to sound hard.
Hugh Keays-Byrne is the eponymous Toecutter and leader of the gang leading his group of road ravagers across Australia, raping, stealing and killing. His second in command is Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry), a silent and cold monster with bleached blonde hair and a menacing stare with designs on taking his leaders place. The others are just a ragbag of nameless, expendable characters.
A lot of focus is placed on Tim Burns Johnny the Boy, a new recruit to Toecutter’s gang who is a wild drug addict with a couple of screws loose and the nemesis of Bubba. Johnny has more to do than any of the other members and is involved in plot points. He makes for a very annoying, yet interesting, character.
Aside from Max on the Main Force Patrol (MFP) there is Max’s best friend Goose, played by Tim Bisley. A joking, coarse police officer he seems to be the life and soul of any company he’s in.
And, there’s the boss, Fifi Macafee. A strong, well built man but effeminate in nature he is respected by his staff. Flamboyant with a fondness for houseplants he wears a neckerchief and is often barechested. There are a few subtle hints that he may be homosexual and possibly attracted to Max. This is a welcoming character facet that deviates from the typical tough guys.
The film ends with too many questions that none of the sequels have answered. What happened to the MFP? What happened to Fifi? Did Goose die or was he just badly burnt? What about the other officers? The ending is just too open which, to me, is a little infuriating.
Being shot on a miniscule budget it’s understandable that not all the effects are up to par. Cardboard fascias are painted on to lorrys! But, on the flipside, some effects are incredibly realistic. Miller directs them with such ferocity and brutality that the result is pure annihilation. If it’s got wheels it’s gonna be destroyed.
Controversial on it’s release it was banned in New Zealand and Sweden and was cut in the UK. The BBFC felt that the scene of the gang hacking the car up when the young couple are in it was too much and removed around forty eight seconds from the scene. Eventually the board saw sense and, in 1992, an uncut ’18’ certificate was issued . Even more shocking is that the film was re released in 2015 to coincide with the release of the fourth installment “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the certificate was downgraded to a ’15’! That’s progress for you.
Unsurprisingly, American distributors decided that US film goers wouldn’t understand the Australian accent and dialogue so redubbed the film with American actors and changed certain colloquialisms to their Stateside counterpart, like windscreen became windshield and “see looks” was “see what I see”. Thankfully, after the huge success and cult following that the film garnered, MGM pressed it on DVD with both the US dub and the proper Australian one.
It’s a good film. I still can’t say it’s great but it is enjoyable and I recommend anybody to give it a go.