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Mad Dog Morgan - Mad Dog Morgan(Blu Ray/ book) [Powerhouse - 2022]

From the mid-1970 Mad Dog Morgan is an Australian western edged with brutal grittiness, dark humour, and moments of fly buzzing bloodiness. It features Dennis Hopper, as the title character- gold prospector turned rather bumbling and boozy highwayman- who the locals love, and the authorities want dead or alive. Here from Powerhouse is a new region free release of this slice of gritty and brutal Ozploitation classic- with the disc taking in two cuts of the film, two commentary tracks, a few other on-disc extras, and an eighty-page book.

Released in the year 1976 Mad Dog Morgan was directed by Paris born but moved/ settled in Melbourne, Australia Philippe Mora. In total he has twenty-six feature-length to his name- with these going from the southern gothic horror of 1982’s The Beast Within, hamming ‘n’ camping it up 1985 werewolf sequel Howling II- Your Sister Is a Werewolf, 1989’s alien abduction drama thriller Communion, and 1994 comedy thriller Art Deco Detective

Mad Dog Morgan is based on the true story of Daniel Morgan (30 April 1830 – 9 April 1865) who was described as "the most bloodthirsty ruffian that ever took to the bush in Australia “. The film kicks off with us meeting the Irish immigrant Morgan (Hopper), who’s trying to do his best prospecting for gold- one thing, unfortunately, leads to another and he lands up being sent to jail. Here he gets brutalized, rapped, and branded- and after a few years he’s released, and it’s fair to say he’s very imbittered- he steals a horse, but gets gun down/ left for dead. This is when curious aboriginal man Billy (David Gulpilil) steps into the story, he nurses Morgan back to full health with the pair deciding to rob folks- in a sort of on/off Robin Hood manner.
As the film progresses the price on Morgan's head increases, and we get a series of gritty & grimy action sequences, dramatic shots of the Australian landscape, and Hopper's rather quirky take on the character. In the last quarter of the film, bulky camp Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring) steps into the story, determined to get Morgan with the film moving towards spitting and gargling on blood resolve.

The film's tone is decidedly grim, sweaty, and fly buzzed- though at the same time there are touches of dark and macabre humour here and there. Hopper is great as the shambling and bumbling highwayman- with the actor's unpredictable persona perfect for the character. We have a good selection of supporting cast- Gulpilil as Hoopers happy-go-lucky saviour/ friend. There’s Bill Hunter as sadistic prison warden, turned police sergeant who lands-up tracking Hopper, we have John Hargreaves as uptight and moustache-twirling Baylis, as well as few other great character actors. I’d say if you’re a Hooper fan Mad Dog Morgan will certainly be of interest, and if you enjoy rather lopsided grim-yet-dark humour laced westerns this will also appeal. But you can see, like a lot of Hopper's 70’s work, why this might have found it difficult to find its audience, as it’s certainly a distinctive take on the western form. 

 

This new region free Blu Ray features two cuts of the film- there’s the 103-minute directors cut, and the 95 minutes UK/ US cut- and I believe both of these features a new 4k scan, but I can only comment on the longer cut. The 4k looks good and well defined, nicely highlighting the brutal and beautiful landscape of Australia. Extras wise on the disc we get a good selection of archive things- We get two commentary tracks one with writer-director Philippe Mora and film critic Jake Wilson (2019), and one with writer-director Philippe Mora (2009). There's To Shoot a Mad Dog-A twenty-five minute behind-the-scenes documentary from 1976 featuring interview footage with actor Dennis Hopper, produced and directed by David Elfick. Hopping Mad which is from 2019 and runs thirty-four minutes finds Mora talking about the film’s production and working with Hopper. That’s Our Mad Dog: A 2008 Conversation with Dennis Hopper & Philippe Mora which runs twenty-nine minutes. ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ Interview Excerpts from 2008 which runs sixty-seven mins and features an extensive selection of outtakes from Mark Hartley’s acclaimed documentary on Australian cinema, featuring Mora, producer Jeremy Thomas, camera operator John Seale, and actors Jack Thompson, Roger Ward and Graeme Blundell. A 2009 Interview with the director of photography Mike Molloy (8 mins). A 2009 Interview with associate producer Richard Brennan (6 mins). A 1976 Radio Interview with Philippe Mora (15 mins), Mad Country: Shooting Locations Revisited from 2019 with optional audio commentary by Mora. A 2009 Intro/Outro with Philippe Mora runs eight minutes. An original theatrical trailer, Image gallery: promotional and publicity material, and Production diary gallery
The release comes with an 80-page book with a new essay by Tara Judah, Philippe Mora’s pre-production notes on Mad Dog Morgan, an archival interview with Mora, archival article by Mora on the making of the film, Jeremy Thomas on Mad Dog Morgan, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits.

 

If you either enjoy gritty, grimy and violent westerns, and/ or Dennis Hopper films Mad Dog Morgan is something you’ll be wanting to see, and what better way to see it in than in this new classy edition from Powerhouse.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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