Mad Max (1979)
May 24, 2015 5:29 PM - Subscribe

A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son. (This is the first film for the Mad Max/George Miller Film Club here in FanFare.)

Rotten Tomatoes synopsis:
This stunning, post-apocalyptic action thriller from director George Miller stars Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, a policeman in the near future who is tired of his job. Since the apocalypse, the lengthy, desolate stretches of highway in the Australian outback have become bloodstained battlegrounds. Max has seen too many innocents and fellow officers murdered by the bomb's savage offspring, bestial marauding bikers for whom killing, rape, and looting is a way of life. He just wants to retire and spend time with his wife and son but lets his boss talk him into taking a peaceful vacation and he starts to reconsider. Then his world is shattered as a gang led by the evil Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) murders his family in retaliation for the death of one of its members. Dead inside, Max straps on his helmet and climbs into a souped-up V8 racing machine to seek his bloody revenge. Despite an obviously low budget and a plot reminiscent of many spaghetti Westerns, Mad Max is tremendously exciting, thanks to some of the most spectacular road stunts ever put on film. Cinematographer David Eggby and stunt coordinator Grant Page did some of their best work under Miller's direction and crafted a gritty, gripping thrill ride which spawned two sequels, numerous imitations, and made Mel Gibson an international star. One sequence, in which a man is chained to a car and must cut off a limb before the machine explodes is one of the most tense scenes of the decade. The American version dubbed all the voices -- including Gibson's -- in a particularly cartoonish manner. Trivia buffs should note that Max's car is a 1973 Ford Falcon GT Coupe with a 300 bhp 351C V8 engine, customized with the front end of a Ford Fairmont and other modifications. ~ Robert Firsching, Rovi
posted by ocherdraco (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
For me, the biggest question about the original Mad Max is "Why was it a success?" Looking at it through the lens of the kinds of action films around today, it seems like a weird slow burn of a film.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:03 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it was a combo of the exotic locale (for Americans at that time), the lingo, the music and the villainy of the bike gang. My sister and I still refer to each other as Johnny the Boy or Bubba Zanetti (Bubba is the preferred one).
posted by nikitabot at 6:11 PM on May 24, 2015


I think it was a combo of the exotic locale (for Americans at that time)

But this one didn't do very well in the States, did it? My understanding was that it was a success almost everywhere but the States. (Hence why everywhere else Road Warrior is Mad Max 2, but in the US, not enough people knew Mad Max in the first place.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:23 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mad Max made about $8 million in the U.S., but more than $90 worldwide. I definitely recall it being considered a weird movie in the U.S., it didn't get wide distribution, and it suffered from being up against some really good genre films that year -- Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Amityville Horror.

I bet it's the kind of movie that translates well into other languages -- meaning, there's not much dialogue and there's a simple, uncomplicated plot where it can stand on visuals and action alone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:14 PM on May 24, 2015


The motorcycle gang is legitimately menacing. Unpredictable and sadistic. When they roll into that little hamlet and everyone is just standing around gawking I always felt an actual sense of dread.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:13 PM on May 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I watched this for the first time last week, since I'm planning on seeing Fury Road and had no exposure to Mad Max before. I can imagine liking it in '79, but in 2015 I didn't see much to commend it. Whatever it does well has been done much better since then, and it's such a slow burn that the flame almost dies a few times. I know people who say the Road Warrior is much better, so I'll give it a shot, but I found this one really disappointing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:20 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also just watched it for the first time in preparation for Fury Road. I told a couple of friends about this plan (we also watched The Road Warrior) and got the question, "are they good?" Well..... not exactly. But they do a good job of being their thing. And you can really see why Mel Gibson became a star - he is beautiful, and very charismatic.

I was a little girl in Missouri in the early 80s and Mad Max was everywhere in my zeitgeist, even though I was too young to have watched it. I remember dune buggies in particular being a huge deal - why were a bunch of midwestern elementary school boys always talking about dune buggies? I didn't realize until watching this movie last week that Mad Max must have been why.
posted by something something at 8:13 AM on May 25, 2015


I watched this last week. It's... pretty bad. But at least interesting bad!

Some notes I took while watching:

The night rider's raving at the beginning of the movie feels like it's of a piece with the Warboys in Fury Road... he even has some line about Toecutter seeing him that felt like "Witness Me!" Also, Toecutter refers to Max's wife at one point as "Lovable" (noun) which reminded me of the harem's names in Fury Road.

The bit where Max is chilling at home to the saxaphone soundtrack... and then it turns out of be his wife was so goofy and wonderful. This together with the Halls of Justice music made the film feel like a sort of arch parody at times.

Why is that one guy in a Kendo suit?

I've never heard of a biker referred to as a "licorice ride" before. Memorable.

My favorite line (about the crushed car in the Halls of Justice parking lot): "Perhaps it's the result of an anxiety."
posted by selfnoise at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why is that one guy in a Kendo suit?

I got the feeling that all of the legal apparatus had retreated to the cities, and that city folks felt vulnerable and in need of protection when venturing out to rural, nearly-lawless places like wherever the dilapidated halls of justice are.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2015


I know people who say the Road Warrior is much better, so I'll give it a shot, but I found this one really disappointing.

The Road Warrior is really an entirely different animal, so don't let your disappointment in this flick dissuade you from watching that one.

For me, the biggest question about the original Mad Max is "Why was it a success?" Looking at it through the lens of the kinds of action films around today, it seems like a weird slow burn of a film.

IMO, the American "success" of both this film and The Road Warrior are also relatively slow burns. I suspect both films reached a much wider audience in the U.S. via late-night over-the-air TV broadcasts, cable TV, and video rentals rather than theatrical release. (I know I saw both first on broadcast TV (probably around '83/'84), and then picked them up in the video rental store pretty regularly after that.) The early 80's were the start of both the cable TV and the video rental explosion, and in turn broadcast stations (terrified of shrinking audiences) started showing more recent films. So these films sit at the intersection of changing media consumption in the U.S. - a couple of fairly obscure (but recent) Australian movies could achieve a widespread "cult film" status by word of mouth and regular opportunities for viewing (instead of having to wait for whatever passed for an "art/revival" cinema in your town to get their hands on a film print.)
posted by soundguy99 at 8:56 PM on May 25, 2015


I got the feeling that all of the legal apparatus had retreated to the cities, and that city folks felt vulnerable and in need of protection when venturing out to rural, nearly-lawless places like wherever the dilapidated halls of justice are.

Huh. I only got the feeling that the dude did kendo. Like, for fun. And his going to Kendo Club was interrupted by the bit with Fifi.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:45 AM on May 26, 2015


Pater Aletheias: know people who say the Road Warrior is much better, so I'll give it a shot, but I found this one really disappointing.

Mad Max has a lot going for it but I've never been a huge fan. The Road Warrior, on the other hand, is probably in my top 10 list.
posted by brundlefly at 9:39 AM on May 26, 2015


There's a couple of callbacks to the handcuff ending. (Spoilers for Watchmen and Fury Road)

Alan Moore's Watchmen has the infamous scene where Rorschach snaps and punishes a child-murderer the same way Max does with Johnny the Boy. The only difference is, instead of using spilled gas from a car, Rorschach sets the building on fire.

The other one I just thought of is from Fury Road, when Max and Nux are chained together in the desert, Max picks up a shotgun and attempts to blow off Nux's cuffed wrist.
posted by FJT at 10:59 AM on May 26, 2015


Food for thought before next week's thread on The Road Warrior: the Mad Max series has always been about toxic masculinity (the headline invokes MRAs, but the article is not just about the current kerfuffle).
posted by ocherdraco at 2:06 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Although Mad Max is the El Mariachi to The Road Warrior's Desperado, I think Max is powerful in its own sleek, brutal way. There's no real question in my mind that The Road Warrior is the movie George Miller would have made from the start if he could have afforded it, but look at what he did! I think if you view the film independent of its sequels, its greatness becomes a lot more apparent.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:10 AM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I saw this last night with my husband, and it was really interesting. George Miller really displays nothing but talent in this one -- all his skill is yet to develop, but you can see the raw evidence of his good instincts. The forest stalking scene was quite tense and frightening, even though it was in broad daylight.

also wow Mel Gibson really is just the best actor on the screen in this film, by an order of magnitude. I've never been a big fan of his frankly but seen in this milieu his skill is undeniable.
posted by KathrynT at 1:56 PM on May 31, 2015


I think it also suffered in the US because of the horrible choice to dub the voices to cover up the Australian accents that I guess they didn't think Americans could understand. By the time I saw this, on cable at some point in the 80s, I'd already seen Gibson in "Year of Living Dangerously" and I knew darn well that he didn't sound like that.

Also, my understanding is that the budget on this one was tiny. I've always assumed that, visually, this one would've looked a lot more like Mad Max 2/Road Warrior if they'd had that amount of money to spend on it in the first place. At least, that's how I wave away the visual differences. Another way of looking at it is that maybe this one happens just before the real apocalypse that devastates the environment, and the others happen after it.
posted by dnash at 12:51 PM on June 1, 2015


We saw it with the original Australian language track! And yeah, I think it's happening as civilization is just starting to come apart.

My brother staunchly maintains that the FIRST Mad Max movie, within the chronology of the universe, is Babe 2: Pig in the City.
posted by KathrynT at 2:20 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Surprised no one's mentioned the gay-baiting not-so-subtext to the pansexual glam villains, and the queer camp in general, throughout. Here's a good fun link about the "complete homofest" of this movie. Max's boss Fifi topless in leather with a scarf around his neck? We laughed, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 8:23 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love the last two shots in this film. Revenge may have given Max some closure, but the damage left to him is irreperable. He is completely dead inside. All he has left is the road.

I hadn't watched this movie in many years, but the violence hit me a lot harder than I remember. Maybe chalk that up to getting old and soft. The scene where the biker gang destroy the terrified couple's car before dragging them out to rape them is nightmarish.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2015


« Older Louie: The Road part 1...   |  Game of Thrones: The Gift... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments

poster