Mad Dog Morgan DVD Review
Written and directed by Philippe Mora
1976, Region 0 (NTSC), 97 minutes, Unrated
DVD released on November 24th, 2009
Dennis Hopper as Daniel Morgan
Jack Thompson as Det. Mainwaring
David Gulpilil as Billy
Frank Thring as Supt. Cobham
When Irish prospector Daniel Morgan (Dennis Hopper) fails at gold mining, he turns to crime and opium, and spends six brutal years in prison before terrorizing the countryside of Victoria, accompanied by a young Aboriginal named Billy (David Gulpilil). Detective Mainwaring (Jack Thompson) is determined to put a stop to Morgan’s exploits and pursues him across the territory and it is through his record that the facts of the story are known and on which this film is based.
For his shared defiance of colonial authority, Daniel Morgan is as important a folk hero as fellow Australian bushranger Ned Kelly. Many of the film’s locations are the actual places where Morgan was pursued in the late 1860s, a testament to the loyalty of the filmmakers in telling this infamous Australian legend.
Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) is absolutely fantastic in this hard-to-find film, submerging himself in the role of the hard living outlaw who is out for revenge against the system that hurt him. He survives beatings, brandings and rape while incarcerated, and his passion to fight back is strengthened along the way. David Gulpilil (Crocodile Dundee) accompanies Hopper and brings an authenticity to life in the bush as he demonstrates how to kill snakes, throw a boomerang or a spear and even to start a fire by rubbing sticks together. Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant) and Frank Thring (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) lend a sense of menace even though they are technically the good guys out to stop our Robin Hood anti-hero.
Director Philippe Mora (The Beast Within) has taken the Morgan character in a sympathetic direction that fully complements Hopper’s strengths as an actor. Mora’s style as a director is rather schizophrenic with certain elements of plot simply sandwiched in among the myriad sequences of montage. With this debut effort, the pattern of cramming in jigsaw pieces is established and it will recur in future directorial efforts including The Howling 2 and The Howling III.
There has been a resurgence in the love for Australian exploitation pictures of the 1970s and Mad Dog Morgan is a film that should definitely be seen, if for nothing more than to witness Hopper’s fantastic performance. The decade provided several other fantastic features along the way, but there were few contemporaries that could deliver the punch as Mora. After years of censored prints circulating, Troma’s new DVD provides the domestic debut of the film in the original uncut format.
Video and Audio:
Troma previously released this title with a terrible transfer that, while anamorphically enhanced, was presented at the incorrect aspect ratio of 1:66 instead of the originally shot 2:35. This time around, the aspect ratio is correct, but the picture is a non-anamorphic 4x3 hard matte. This edition does not appear to utilize the recently re-mastered sources used in the Australian DVD and the overall image is murky and washed out, appearing to have been sourced from an old laser disc dub.
Troma offers a sub-par 2-channel stereo mix, but it accurately matches the video presentation. Some muddy warble and uneven audio levels will make you reach for subtitle options that are sadly unavailable.
The Tromasterpiece label is somewhat redeemed in that a second disc of bonus materials has been provided. Philippe Mora interviews Dennis Hopper in the half hour conversation piece titled "That’s Our Mad Dog".
Next Mora conducts several interviews with members of the crew including cinematographer Mike Molloy, who enthusiastically recalls shooting with anamorphic lenses, a comment that makes the shitty transfer all the more painful.
The movie was shot at many of the actual locations where Daniel Morgan’s crimes occurred and a brief featurette revisits these places as they appear today.
A radio interview with Philippe Mora is joined with a still gallery and a trailer.
Troma enthusiastically jumps at new technology and their support for DVD has been admirable. Titles were often lacking in presentation, but the package was fleshed out with limitless extra value items that served to promote all things Troma, regardless of whatever feature that shared the disc. The last few years have provided some high water marks for Troma’s supplemental materials, including feature length documentaries that rival the main attraction for entertainment value.
With the advent of the Tromasterpiece Collection, Troma is taking time to revisit some of the earlier releases and provide truly special editions for loyal audiences. The series has released some stellar titles including Combat Shock and The Last Horror Film, and now the frustrating stumble of Mad Dog Morgan. It is unfortunate that a director’s commentary is not provided, especially given how involved Mora is with all the other elements. Most disappointing however is the bone-headed decision to correct the previous video issues with a non-anamorphic transfer. Hopefully this is a simple slip in quality control at Troma and future releases will attain the level of excellence that “fans of the monster” expect.