Mad Max (1979)




director/writer: George Miller; screenwriters: James McCausland/from the story by George Miller & Byron Kennedy; cinematographer: David Eggby; editors: Cliff Hayes/Tony Paterson; music: Brian May; cast: Mel Gibson (Max Rockatansky), Joanne Samuel (Jessie Rockatansky), Hugh Keays-Byrne (The Toecutter), Steve Bisley (Jim Goose), Vincent Gil (Nightrider), Roger Ward (Fifi McAfee), Tim Burns (Johnny Boy), Geoff Parry (Bubba Zanetti), Sheila Florence (May Swaissey), Roger Ward (Fifi Macaffee), Lisa Aldenhoven (Nurse), David Bracks (Mudguts), Bertrand Cadart (Clunk), Jerry Day (Ziggy); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Byron Kennedy/Bill Miller; MGM Home Entertainment; 1979-Australia)

“The stunt work is spectacular.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mad Max was made by AIP (American International Pictures) as a Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry) or Charles Bronson (Death Wish) type of revenge flick. It’s a well-crafted stylistic violent B-movie exploitation picture that gave Aussie director George Miller (“Babe”/”Happy Feet”/The Witches of Eastwick”) and actor Mel Gibson their starts (Mel becoming an international star with a future in Hollywood looming). The post-apocalyptic action thriller is set in the near future, at a time when civilization is near collapse. It’s about macho officers who patrol a highway out in the sticks and are at war with roving road gangs. The officers look cool in black leather. They ride souped-up V8 patrol cars, and get some cheap thrills playing chicken with the highway rebel roadsters burning rubber on their road. When The Nightrider (Vincent Gil), an escaped cop killer, is killed in a stolen police pursuit car by officer Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) during a high-speed road chase, his biker comrades, led by a psychopath called the “Toecutter” (Hugh Keays-Byrne), swear revenge. The hooligans invade a small-town to collect their friends last remains, Hell’s Angels style, and leave their mark of destruction in the form of looting, rape and murder. When Max’s brave partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) stands up to them, he is burned alive inside a vehicle when during a chase his car overturns. In response, Max quits the force and goes on a beach holiday with his family. But by coincidence the gang runs into him and they kill the family man’s toddler and wife (Joanne Samuel) by running them down on the road. Max goes over the edge and decides to take the law into his own hands, as he goes out on the highway with the police patrol’s best souped-up car (nitro injected) and goes looking with his shotgun to serve the gang frontier justice. He single-handedly seeks to eliminates the entire gang.

The slight story has an appeal for those who think punks should be dealt with vigilante style. It became a sleeper hit among the midnight cult crowd, and spawned two popular sequels. The acting is also slight, but the stunt work is spectacular (kudos to stunt coordinator Grant Page) and the overall effect is more startling than it should be (it’s hard to forget the sequence in which a man is chained to a car and must cut off a limb before the machine explodes).

I read somewhere that the car Max used was a 1973 Ford Falcon GT Coupe with a 300 bhp 351C V8 engine, and it was customized, among other things, with the front end of a Ford Fairmont.