Brian McFarlane reviews 'Mad Dog Morgan' by Jake Wilson

Brian McFarlane reviews 'Mad Dog Morgan' by Jake Wilson

Mad Dog Morgan

by Jake Wilson

Australian Screen Classics, $16.99 pb, 98 pp, 9781925005202

The evocative Prologue to this book has a poetic precision that bodes well for its treatment of this too-long neglected film, and what follows more than answers such expectations.

Jake Wilson's analysis (resuscitation might be a better word) of the 1976 Australian bushranging adventure, Mad Dog Morgan, is above all a tale of three men, and he does justice to each. The three are Morgan himself, director Philippe Mora, and star Dennis Hopper. In dealing with the wayward, vengeful Morgan, Wilson skilfully negotiates the blurred territory between fact and fiction; believing that 'the image of a crazed monster, encouraged by the newspapers, was not the whole story'. Did he deserve to have the scrotum removed from his dead body to provide a tobacco pouch for the Police Superintendent? And did this really happen?

Wilson is on surer ground in charting Mora's European background of artistic endeavour, along with his Australian childhood fascination with bushrangers. He was never going to fit the prevailing trends of the 1970s film revival here, and his preceding documentary features, Swastika (1974) and Brother Can You Spare a Dime (1975), suggested that this 'short, dark, precocious youth' had grown into a maverick at odds with the literary adaptations and realist dramas of the decade. But was he maverick enough to deal with his American star, Hopper, frequently drunk and/or drugged out of his mind, as he came to Australia trailing clouds of his friendship with that other rebel-without-a-cause, James Dean, and of his moment of glory with Easy Rider (1969), the 'low-budget biker film' that became a smash hit?

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Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane’s latest book is Four from the Forties: Arliss, Crabtree, Knowles and Huntington, Manchester: MUP, 2018. He has had three overlapping careers, as teacher, academic, and writer. He is the author or editor of over twenty books and hundreds of articles and reviews on film and literature and related matters. He co-edited The Oxford Companion to Australian Film and was compiler, editor and chief author of The Encyclopedia of British Film. His most recent books include: Twenty British Films: A guided tour and Double-Act: The remarkable lives and careers of Googie Withers and John McCallum. He is currently serving as Adjunct Professor at Swinburne University of Technology and as Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University.

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