• Mad Dog Morgan (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: April 3rd, 2019.
    Director: Philippe Mora
    Cast: Dennis Hopper, David Gulpilil, Jack Thompson, Frank Thring, Michael Pate, John Hargreaves
    Year: 1976
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    Mad Dog Morgan – Movie Review:

    Directed by Philippe Mora and starring a feisty, young Dennis Hopper, Mad Dog Morgan cast the actor in the lead role during a strange time in his career. After The Last Movie blew up in the worst possible way, Hollywood wasn’t interested in him so much. During this period he went and did some odd low budget and foreign projects, this being one of them. That said, this quirky Australian film set during that country's gold rush and based on a true story is one of Hooper's best efforts as an actor.

    Set during the mid-1800s, we meet an Irishman named Daniel Morgan who has joined plenty of other people in heading to Australia from his homeland to hopefully make a fortune panning for gold. Morgan is a bit of a hothead, however, and he winds up on the wrong side of the law after smoking a lot of dope and committing armed robbery. He gets arrested and sent to a prison camp where he's raped by his fellow inmates, all in plain view of an establishment that could care less about what happens to him. The guards simply let it happen.

    A few years later, he's set free and finds himself wandering rather aimlessly throughout Australia. It isn’t too long before he resorts to various criminal activities to earn a living. He is more than happy to act out against the authorities who locked him up. He meets up with an Aborigine named Billy (David Gulpilil of Walkabout) from whom he learns various survival tactics. Morgan eventually heads to Victoria to take on the law face to face with Billy in tow but we all know what happens to mad dogs... they're generally put down.

    Mad Dog Morgan, particularly in its uncut form as it is presented here, is a pretty vicious film. Hopper really gets into the role, long before he made a career out of playing lunatics on the big screen in movies like Blue Velvet. He winds up delivering a fantastic and crazed performance that's definitely in the top tier of his filmography. You can absolutely believe he is the unhinged madman he's playing in this film, as he just completely throws himself into his work. The supporting cast, many of whom will be familiar to fans of Australian exploitation films of the time, are all perfectly good here but it's definitely Hopper's show and he steals every scene he's in. His relationship with Gulpilil's Billy is the film's backbone, and if it borders on (possibly intentional) homoeroticism at times, so be it. They share a very strong bond between the two of them, so it's not so surprising that Morgan reacts as maniacally as he does when Billy gets injured in a firefight later in the film.

    Contrasting with the rather harsh nature of the storyline and the violence that it contains is the cinematography that comes courtesy of Mike Malloy, who had previously worked with Nicholas Roeg and Stanley Kubrick. The camerawork does a fantastic job of capturing the natural beauty of the area where the film takes place. Plenty of long shots show off just how empty and uninhabited parts of the country were. It makes the perfect setting for the story to play out it in, making the film feel very much like a Spaghetti Western at times, complete with a stirring instrumental soundtrack made up of some rather unsettling Aboriginal music.

    Mora's movie may take some liberties with the story as far as historical accuracy is concerned, but it's rife with atmosphere and tension that is made all the more effective when the film's sporadic violence burst onto the screen. Bullets plow through heads, burning men jump off of cliffs into the water below (one of infamous Aussie stuntman Grant Page's most famous moments - watch The Other Hollywood for some interesting insight into this scene!), and Morgan himself is the victim of a nasty rape. It's trashy at times and more than a little exploitative to be sure, but it fits the tone of the picture perfectly, resulting in a pretty damn awesome movie.

    Mad Dog Morgan – Blu-ray Review:

    Taken from a new 4K scan of the 35mm interpositive, Mad Dog Morgan arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment on a 50GB disc (with the feature taking up just under 30GBs of space) framed in the film’s proper 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio in 1080p high definition and it looks much, much better than past DVD editions have. Detail is really solid here, especially in close up shots, and the image has good depth and dimensionality to it. Colors are a bit on the hot side, but that would presumably have been part of the film’s intended visual style. Skin tones look fine and black levels are good. The image is free of any compression artifacts or edge enhancement problems and it shows no signs of obvious noise reduction. There’s almost no print damage here at all, the image is surprisingly clean, yet it retains that naturally grainy look inherent to its style.

    The only audio option offered on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Clarity is good, the track is properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. Dialogue is easy to follow and to understand and the score sounds richer here than it has in the past.

    Extras start off with an all-new audio commentary with director Philippe Mora and Jake Wilson, the author of Australian Screen Classics: Mad Dog Morgan, a film critic for Fairfax Media. It’s a solid track with a lot of great information in it. They cover everything you’d want – the locations, using aboriginal actors, the history of Australia and how this movie covers an interesting part of it, the real people whose exploits worked their way into the movie, and of course, working with the notoriously nutty Dennis Hopper. Mora notes how he tried to make the movie as authentic as possible, the contributions of cinematographer Mike Molloy (who had worked with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange) and plenty more. Umbrella also carries over the alternate audio commentary with Mora that was included on their older DVD release from 2009. There’s definitely some repetition between the two tracks but there’s also enough information exclusive to both tracks that makes them both worthwhile.

    As far as the featurettes go, we start off with a piece called To Shoot A Mad Dog: Making Mad Dog Morgan which runs twenty-five-minutes in length. This is an excellent piece that details the making of the film. Narrated by Mora, we get some great interview footage here with Hopper himself as well as some clips of the great Grant Page working on some of the stunt scenes in the film. Great stuff. The footage of Hopper just being Hopper is worth the price of admission alone.

    Also on the disc is a twenty-nine minute conversation between Mora and Hopper entitled That's Our Mad Dog, which is a pretty interesting look back at the making of the movie from the pair. Hopper begins by talking about his experiences in Australia and how he was warned by some of the locals not to screw the film up, what with Morgan being considered a bit of a hero and all. They then proceed to talk about working on the film, the other cast members, the themes of the picture and what it was like shooting out in rural Australia. It's all quite interesting and definitely worth sitting through.

    Up next is Hopping Mad: Looking Back on Mad Dog Morgan, a thirty-four-minute piece with Mora that focuses specifically on what it was like working with Hopper. He starts off early on by saying he was worried Hopper was going to die because of all the drinking and drugs he was doing on the set – to the point where they wanted to make a cast of his face in case he did die so they could make a mask of his face and use another actor if the need arose. Mora also speaks a bit about Ned Kelly in this piece, and about his celebrity status, but the focus is on Hopper. Mora didn’t know he had been blacklisted in Hollywood , they just wanted to cast the guy from Easy Rider as a bush ranger. Lots of details about meeting Hopper at his compound in Mexico while he was editing The Last Movie, how Hopper greeted them with a gun, what Hopper was like on set, how Mora just assumed this was what it was like when directing a Hollywood actor, details of shooting some specific scenes in the movie and lots more.

    Also included on the disc is a selection of extended interviews from Not Quite Hollywood. Here we hear from director Philippe Mora, producer Jeremy Thomas, camera operator John Seale and cast members Jack Thompson, Roger Ward and Graeme Blundell. There’s sixty-six-minutes of material here, and a lot of ground is covered, though a fair bit of Mora’s material is also covered in the commentary. Still, it’s great to see this material included here, particularly the interviews with the cast members who aren’t really represented elsewhere on the disc. It provides an interesting snapshot of the Australian film industry of the seventies.

    From there, dig into Mad Country: Shooting Locations Revisited (which is available with or without a commentary from Mora), which runs fourteen-minutes. This is, as you’d probably guess, a look back at the locations where the movie was shot. It’s amazing how many of the locations look exactly the same now as they did in 1974, and also interesting to see how many have changed. Mora’s commentary is good as he’s quite emotionally moved by seeing this footage and, as he puts it, “the power of the Australian landscape.”

    The disc also includes a fourteen-minute radio interview with Philippe Mora wherein he speaks about the historical figure that influenced the film, working with Hopper, shooting on location, the history of the bush rangers and quite a bit more.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is an image gallery and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Menus and chapter selection are also included on the disc.

    Mad Dog Morgan – The Final Word:

    Mad Dog Morgan is an excellent a film, a rough and tumble look at a dark period in Australian history and one of its most colorful characters highlighted by a fantastic performance from Dennis Hopper. Umbrella Entertainment has done a great job debuting this Ozploitation classic on Blu-ray, presenting the film in very nice shape and on a disc positively loaded with top quality extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Mad Dog Morgan Blu-ray screen caps!