Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly (1970)


(director/writer: Tony Richardson; screenwriter: Ian Jones; cinematographer: Gerry Fisher; editor: Charles Rees; cast: Mick Jagger (Ned Kelly), Allen Bickford (Dan Kelly), Sue Lloyd (Kate Kelly), Geoff Gilmour (Steve Hart), Mark McManus (Joe Byrne), Serge Lazareff (Wild Weight), Peter Sumner (Tom Lloyd), Frank Thring (Judge Barry), Ken Shorter (Aaron Sherritt), John Dease (Whitty), Clarissa Kaye (Ned’s Mother); Runtime: 100; MGM/United Artists; 1970-UK)

“This film is worth seeing for those who want to see what Mick Jagger looks like when sporting an Abe Lincoln beard.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This film is worth seeing for those who want to see what Mick Jagger looks like when sporting an Abe Lincoln beard. The rock n’ roller is asked to carry the film as the action antihero of Australian legend…Ned Kelly, the so-called Robin Hood of the Aussies. But he fails to be convincing, in my opinion he is better suited to play Gene Kelly than Ned.

The film opens to a b/w prologue of Ned Kelly bravely going to his execution. Then it goes to Technicolor and Ned is seen in a flashback, coming home from jail after a 3-year sentence to see his mom and reacquaint himself with the large Kelly family. This scene is set in 1871. In the background we hear the booming voice of Waylon Jennings, as he sings Shel Silverstein’s lyrics, which tells — of Ned’s hatred for the British rule and hope for Ireland to be a republic. Ned says a debt must be paid … as he hears voices from his dead father, his class-divided country, and his conscience, all telling him to get revenge. So begins Ned’s romp through Australia’s outback, seeking justice for all the wrongs his people have suffered.

Ned begins by stealing horses after complaining about the unfair tax law on horses that stray, which favors the rich landowners. When he’s only 20 he forms a gang causing him to hide the rest of his life from the police, who put a price on his head of two thousand pounds. When Ned’s mother (Clarissa Kaye) is jailed on a false charge of abetting criminals and is sentenced to 3-5 years, Ned offers to surrender in exchange for his mother’s freedom. When the authorities refuse the Kelly brothers go on a robbing rampage, burning mortgages of the poor found in postal vaults, and murdering some soldiers. Rampaging through the Outback they gather sympathy among the poor and lower classes, who don’t trust the traps (police).

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

In the climax, Kelly and his gang plan to ambush a train with British police, but someone Kelly trusted tips the police on the train and Kelly is trapped in a saloon. One of Ned’s brothers commits suicide rather than be taken alive. But Ned heroically has the police go after only him and his other brothers, as they become decoys so that the others in the gang can escape.

This was a flat presentation, hardly touching an emotional button on what all the fuss was about over Ned Kelly’s call for justice. Jagger didn’t have a prayer in succeeding in this dry script offered by Ian Jones and Tony Richardson. The story failed to focus on Australia, seemingly more of a British film than Australian. Under Richardson’s lackluster direction all Jagger seemed to do was proclaim his innocence and vow revenge, which soon became a shrill cry. If you want to see a better film about Ned Kelly, catch “Mad Dog Morgan” (76), a much truer and more daring version, with Dennis Hopper giving a much better characterization of Ned Kelly’s madness.