RogerBW's Blog

Mad Max 11 April 2023

1979 action, dir. George Miller, Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel: IMDb / allmovie. Oil is running out, but there are still cops.

For someone like me who had met the idea of Mad Max through rumours of the second film and a viewing of the third, this came as something of a surprise. The world is rotting, sure, but it's not fallen: there are still police, hospitals, news broadcasts, bulldozers for hire.

Mostly this is an action film rather than trying to be anything more, and having now seen some American New Wave productions of the early 1970s, I feel comfortable slotting this in quite close to that. There's the traditional story arc of the man who tries to work within the system until he suffers one injury too many, which reminded me very strongly of Dirty Harry (1971) – remembering that at the end of that first film, Harry knows he's gone too far, and throws away his badge, a crucial part of the story that the sequels dealt with by ignoring it.

I get a strong feeling of the Little Production That Could: the emphasis is clearly on making the action look right and the gore look as plausible as it can within a very limited budget (Miller's initial inspiration was experience of teenage car culture while growing up in Queensland, followed by working with road accident injuries at a hospital in Sydney). It's not a very gory film in terms of what's on screen, but it's effectively implied. The action is rural because it was cheaper to find empty rural roads than urban ones (and cheaper to pay for damage to crops than to buildings if anything went wrong). The main lens is a 35mm Todd-AO anamorphic, which Sam Peckinpah had abandoned in Australia after filming The Getaway. And so on. There's a feel to a cheap enthusiastic production which is very present here.

Characterisation is minimal, though. Max's wife is mostly there to be threatened. His cop buddies, ditto. What does work well, and the series would mostly continue, is the division between the villainous boss and the main henchman, who's less aware of the big picture and more prone to indulge in violence for its own sake (though Toecutter still has to urge Johnny to burn Goose). Actors are largely unknowns (though quite a few had been in the soap opera Prisoner), and for many of them this is their best-known role.

It's an action film that makes gestures in the direction of being more, but I think it's best enjoyed as an action film.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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