Tag Archives: Australian Westerns

Other Wests: Canada, Alaska and Australia

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 6, 2014

Other Wests:  Westerns Set in Canada, Alaska and Australia


Northern Westerns:

In the early days of the movies, the Alaska and Klondike gold rushes were only twenty years in the past.  Many people remembered them, including those who had only read of them when they were taking place.  The gold rushes had also given rise to popular novels that used the wild northern country as a setting for adventure stories, like the stories of Jack London, James Oliver Curwood and Rex Beach.  The narrative poems of Robert W. Service, about “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, were well known.  In the 1920s, Charlie Chaplin (The Gold Rush) and Buster Keaton (The Frozen North) made movies set in the northern gold rushes, as did Rin Tin Tin.  Some of these stories, like The Call of the Wild and Rex Beach’s 1906 novel The Spoilers have been made as movies multiple times.  Although used less frequently as a setting now, more than a hundred years after the northern gold rushes took place, they still have some interest for modern audiences, as seen in the recent (2014) television miniseries Klondike.

The use of the frozen north as a setting has much in common with westerns—themes of civilization vs. lawlessness, self-reliance in defense of one’s life and property, surviving in an often-hostile nature, ranching and mining, Indians and outlaws.  It just happened there a decade or two later than it did in what we normally think of as the American west.  Indeed, many of the figures in the American west, such as Wyatt Earp, drifted northward with the gold strikes.  If Bill Hickok hadn’t been dead for more than twenty years, he might have been tempted as well.

As usual, there are probably other movies that could be added to these lists.  If you have one, please leave a comment.


The Silent Era

The Spoilers (1914)

Etienne of the Glad Heart (short, Tom Mix, 1914)

The Man from the Yukon (1916)

The Dawn Maker (1916)

The Flame of the Yukon (1917)

The Savage (1917)

The Girl Alaska (1919)

Back to God’s Country (1919, 1925, 1953)

The Silver Horde (1920)

The Cyclone (Tom Mix, 1920)

Flower of the North (1921)

O’Malley of the Mounted (William S. Hart, 1921)


The Frozen North (Buster Keaton, 1922)

The Spoilers (1923)

Where the North Begins (Rin Tin Tin, 1923)

Shadows of the North (Rin Tin Tin, 1923)

The Alaskan (1924)

North of 36 (1924)

Curses (Al St. John; Dir:  Roscoe Arbuckle, 1925)

The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin 1925)

Call of the Klondike (1926)

A Hero of the Big Snows (Rin Tin Tin, 1926)

Trail of ’98 (1928)

Code of the Scarlet (Ken Maynard, 1928)


Poster for Gary Cooper in The Spoilers (1930); Mae West in Klondike Annie (1936).

The Sound Era

The Silver Horde (Joel McCrea, Evelyn Brent, Jean Arthur, 1930)

The Spoilers (Gary Cooper, 1930)

Men of the North (Gilbert Roland, 1930)

McKenna of the Mounted (Buck Jones, 1932)

Call of the Wild (Clark Gable, 1935)

Northern Frontier (Tyrone Power, 1935)

Border Brigands (Buck Jones, 1935)

Rose Marie (Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, 1936)

Klondike Annie (Mae West, 1936)

Call of the Yukon (Richard Arlen, 1938)

Heart of the North (Dick Foran, 1938)

Susannah of the Mounties (Shirley Temple, Randolph Scott, 1939)

North of the Yukon (Charles Starrett, 1939)

Queen of the Yukon (Charles Bickford, Irene Rich, 1940)

North West Mounted Police (Gary Cooper, 1940; Dir:  DeMille)

River’s End (Dennis Morgan, 1940)

The Spoilers (John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Marlene Dietrich, 1942)

Pierre of the Plains (1942)

North to the Klondike (1942)

Northwest Rangers (1942)

Klondike Kate (1943)

Riders of the Northwest Mounted (1943)

Belle of the Yukon (Randolph Scott, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dinah Shore,1944)

Road to Utopia (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, 1945)

Where the North Begins (1947)

Trail of the Yukon (1949)

Canadian Pacific (Randolph Scott, 1949)

Call of the Klondike (1950)

The Cariboo Trail (Randolph Scott, 1950)

Gene Autry and the Mounties (1951)

The Wild North (Stewart Granger, 1952)

Pony Soldier (Tyrone Power, 1952)

Back to God’s Country (Rock Hudson, 1953)

Fort Vengeance (1953)


The Far Country (James Stewart, Walter Brennan, Ruth Roman, 1954)

Saskatchewan (Alan Ladd, 1954)

Yukon Vengeance (1954)

The Spoilers (five versions on film, most recently 1955)

North to Alaska (John Wayne and Stewart Granger, 1960)

Dan Candy’s Law (Donald Sutherland, 1974)

The Klondike Fever (Rod Steiger,1980) 

The Canadians (Robert Ryan, 1961)

Death Hunt (Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, 1981)

The Grey Fox (Richard Farnsworth, 1982)

Getting Married in Buffalo Jump (Wendy Crewson, Paul Gross, 1990)

White Fang (Ethan Hawke, Klaus Maria Brandauer, 1991)

Black Robe (1991)

North Star (James Caan, Christopher Lambert, 1996)

The Call of the Wild (Rutger Hauer, 1997)

Promise the Moon (Henry Czerny, 1997)

Six Reasons Why (2007)

Gunless (Paul Gross, 2010)

The Way of the West (The Mountie, 2011)

Gold (German, 2013)

Klondike (MfTV miniseries, 2014)

The Timber (2015)


Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly (2004); the real Ned Kelly in 1880, the year he was captured.

Westerns in Australia:

The Australian frontier offers many of the same conditions that makes U.S. westerns so compelling:  deserts, ranching and mining, aboriginal inhabitants, lawless conditions, survival stories, and outlaws.  If anything, outlaws are an even stronger element of Australian stories, since Australia was settled by outlaws.  And Australia has its own famous historical outlaws, like Ned Kelly.

The Man from Snowy River (1920, now lost)

Robbery Under Arms (Peter Finch, 1957)

The Sundowners (Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, 1960)

Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger, 1970)

Mad Dog Morgan (Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson, 1976)

The Man from Snowy River (Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton, 1982)

The Last Frontier (MfTV, 1986; Dir:  Wincer)

Return to Snowy River (Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton, 1988)

Wrangler (Minnamurra, Outback, The Fighting Creed, 1989)

Quigley Down Under (Tom Selleck, 1990; Dir:  Wincer)

The Silver Brumby? (1993)

Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, 2004; Dir:  Jordan)

The Proposition (Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, 2005)

Australia (Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman,  2008; Dir:  Luhrman)

Dark Frontier (2009)

Tracker (New Zealand; Ray Winstone, Tuemura Morrison, 2010, Dir:  Ian Sharp)

The Legend of Ben Hall (2016)

Sweet Country (2018)

True History of the Kelly Gang (George Mackay, Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe, 2019)

The Legend of Molly Johnson (2022)

PropositionPoster NedKellyJagger

Poster for The Proposition (2005); Mick Jagger as Ned Kelly, 1970.

Image result for true history of the kelly gang review



Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Proposition

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 21, 2014

The Proposition—Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, David Wenham, Emily Watson, Richard Wilson, Danny Huston, John Hurt (2005; Dir:  John Hillcoat)


This Australian western features terrific performances from Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley and Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns, a captured member of the outlaw Burns gang headed by his brother Arthur.  In the 1880s, the Burns gang has long been pursued ineffectively by Captain Stanley, raiding, plundering, ravishing women and then disappearing into the outback.  Finally, in the wake of the rape and murder of the Hopkins family, Stanley captures the two younger Burns brothers:  middle brother Charlie and his mentally-impaired 14-year-old brother Mikey (Richard Wilson).  But he really wants oldest brother Arthur, who runs the gang.  Stanley gives Charlie the Proposition of the title:  He’ll turn Charlie loose and give him nine days to kill brother Arthur.  If he doesn’t do that within the nine days, Stanley will hang brother Mikey on Christmas Day.  Charlie has to choose which brother will live–the sweeter and not-responsible-for-his-actions Mikey, or the intelligent and charismatic but violent, nasty and wild Arthur.  And he will be the instrument of the death of whichever dies.

PropositionWinstoneWinstone as Capt. Stanley.

Pearce heads into the outback, not sure what he’ll do or how he’ll do it.  Meanwhile, Stanley is overseen by government bureaucrat Eden Fletcher (David Wenham) and deals with the fragility of his cultured wife Martha (Emily Watson) in this rough setting.  The more we see of the Burns gang, in flashbacks and in current action, the more we realize what a horrible bad guy Arthur is, and our sympathies start shifting around.  Maybe Arthur could somehow get the government bureaucrat, and then Stanley could get him?  But it doesn’t work out that way.  Arthur and what’s left of the gang continue their furious, and almost mindlessly violent, depredations. 

Charlie encounters possibly-mad bounty hunter Jellon Lamb (John Hurt).  He is captured and wounded by aborigines, but is rescued by Arthur and the gang.  As he recuperates from his wounds he has to come to terms with how he’ll react to Stanley’s Proposition.  In the end, the Burns gang comes to Stanley (violently–they do everything violently), and Charlie is appalled by it all.

By hearing the premise, you’d think that Stanley is a monster and Pearce not much better, but they turn out to be the most sympathetic characters in the film.  There is marvelous cinematography by Benoit Delhomme and excellent use of the bleak Australian outback landscape, which becomes one of the characters.  The loathsome government bureaucrat is well-played by David Wenham.  You feel it when Winstone’s plot breaks apart.  Winstone and Pearce are excellent in as Capt. Stanley and Charlie Burns.  The production design is very good, too. The effective music was composed and performed by musician Nick Cave (who also wrote the script) and violinist Warren Ellis.

PropositionGang The remaining Burns gang.

The film is not without its weaknesses; the pacing, for example, is too slow.  It has some of the weaknesses of spaghetti westerns, i.e., lingering tight close-ups on faces, flies and dust that don’t advance plot or character understanding much; and there are strange and loathsome soldiers/police/townspeople without giving us much understanding of them.  Emily Watson’s character (the cultured wife of Captain Stanley) is a little spooky, although she’s written that way.  That is, Watson is a good actress and the weakness is in the writing and direction.  It makes her too much just a symbol.  There is poor linking of motivation with the actions of Arthur Burns (Danny Huston, son of director/actor John Huston and grandson of  actor Walter Huston).  Is he just a psychopathic monster, despite his obvious intelligence and literary flair?  He’s interesting in a way, but just too unintelligible.  There is too much dust and not enough exposition, perhaps.  Too much strong language.  The biggest problem:  Over-the-top graphic violence.  It makes Arthur Burns seem like Freddy Kruger.  It is rated R for the violence and language.


Brothers Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Arthur (Danny Huston) at the end.

There are echoes of Sam Peckinpah in the graphic violence, and of Sergio Leone in some of the ways the film was shot.  Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of a possible 4 stars, describing the film as a “A movie you cannot turn away from; it is so pitiless and uncompromising, so filled with pathos and disregarded innocence, that it is a record of those things we pray to be delivered from.”  Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called it “A pitiless yet elegiac Australian Western as caked with beauty as it is with blood.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone


Nicholas Chennault ~ February 5, 2014

The Wrangler (MInnamurra, Outback, The Fighting Creed)—Jeff Fahey, Tushka Bergen, Steven Vidler, Richard Moir, Shane Briant (1989; Dir:  Ian Barry)


This slow-developing tale feels like it wanted to be a large-scale family saga, but the first hour of financial maneuvering and character development feels turgid and not entirely clear.  It didn’t have the budget, running time or editing to be a bigger story.  Set at the time of the Boer War in South Africa (ca. 1898), this is a low-profile Australian production with a largely Australian cast. 

Tushka Bergen is Alice May Richards, a once proud but now financially beleaguered rancher left on her own when her father dies.  (She’s not entirely alone, but her mother and brother aren’t much help in trying to save the ranch.)  She has to ward off a takeover of the family ranch Minnamurra by Allenby (Shane Briant), a ruthless neighboring rancher.  With the help of two men who are romantically interested in her—American businessman Ben Creed (Jeff Fahey), who turns out to be good with guns, and illiterate but expert drover Jack Donaghue (Steven Vidler)—she stages a last-minute desperation drive to get her herd of horses to a port where Lord Kitchener is willing to buy them for a price that will save her ranch and, better yet, enter into a contract for many more horses, helping to insure the continuing survival of Minnamurra. 

WranglerFaheyTushkaCreed and Alice May Richards.

Creed’s trading company has been ruined by sabotage that seems to point again to Allenby.  But the big rancher is willing to use violence to stop Alice in getting her horses to Kitchener.  Needless to say, the drive ends in triumph for Alice, and she chooses the faithful and heretofore underappreciated Creed.  Alllenby suffers no apparent punishment for his nefarious deeds other than losing his chance at Minnamurra and being dumped into a sack of grain when the horses run into the ship. 

Jeff Fahey is the only member of the cast seen much in the US (e.g., as Brian Dennehy’s principal bad guy in Silverado), and he’s pretty good here.  Not released theatrically in the US.  Filmed in New South Wales.  Short, at 92 minutes.  Cinematographer Ross Berryman won an Australian award for this.  It’s better than one might have expected, but it would have been better yet if the story had focused more on the horses and less on the financial shenanigans.  Or if it had had enough time and tight enough editing to make the Allenby shenanigans clearer. 

The main plot line is very similar to the first two-thirds of Baz Luhrman’s 2008 epic melodrama Australia.  For another story about a horse drive (this one from Oregon eastward across Idaho to north central Wyoming) to sell animals to the British for the Boer War, see Broken Trail (2006).  For another Australian horse film, see the better known The Man from Snowy River.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Return to Snowy River

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 4, 2014

Return to Snowy River (The Man from Snowy River II)—Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton, Brian Dennehy, Nicholas Eadie, Rhys McConnochie (1988; Dir: Geoff Burrowes)


Young Jim Craig returns to the Snowy River highlands after a three-year absence, during which he has developed a herd of 100 horses so that he can marry Jessica Harrison without the young couple starting out in poverty.  Her father (Brian Dennehy, replacing Kirk Douglas from the original) would prefer that she marry young Alistair Patton (Nicholas Eadie), cavalryman and son of his banker.  Jessica has an unseemly and unladylike interest in horses, as well as a good way with them.  


Meanwhile, Jim’s old equine adversary Stalker Brumby is defending his own herd in the wild as Alistair tries to hunt them down.  About midway through the film, Jessica decides to go with Jim against her father’s wishes, and Alistair and his henchmen steal Jim’s horses and try to kill him.  He survives and chases them by obtaining the cooperation of the old stallion Stalker Brumby, and when he wins he lets the stallion loose again.  There is an unspoken mystical relation between them.  And Jessica’s truculent father seems to come around.


The film as shown in the U.S. is a little short on resolution.  A wedding scene was shot but not included in the final cut of the film, so it’s unclear whether Jim and Jessica actually get married.  The movie doesn’t really wrap up the fate of the nefarious Alistair Patton, either, leaving it to one’s assumptions.  It seems a little too short.  It’s a bit more formulaic than the first Snowy River film, with the class conflicts, the Australian underdog attitude, the need to go horse-hunting in the highland forests, the lingering photography marked by flying water, aerial photography and plunges down near-vertical terrain.  Like the original, it does give a sense of the sheer joy of riding a horse going full out.  But the editing isn’t as careful as it might be, lingering too long on some of the lyrical shots and taking away momentum from the action.  Brian Dennehy is an excellent character actor, but he is lacking a bit of the star presence of Douglas.  The young lovers don’t seem quite so young; it’s been six years since the first movie, which was released in 1982. 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone


Nicholas Chennault ~ December 31, 2013

Australia—Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Brandon Walters (2008; Dir:  Baz Luhrman)


As the title suggests, this is one of those westerns that does not take place in the American west.  But it involves two traditional western themes:  the European coming to the frontier (see The Big Country, Cowboy, even Last of the Mohicans) and learning to appreciate it, and the cattle drive against great odds (e.g., Red River, Cowboy and Broken Trail).

The first half or more of this lengthy epic involves a cattle drive across northern Australia to Darwin.  It takes place in 1939, but this part is a typical cattle drive story.  Nicole Kidman plays Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat whose husband has been developing Faraway Downs as a cattle operation in the deserts of the northern Australian outback.  The ranch has been hemorrhaging money—Lady Sarah’s family money.  Lady Sarah determines to sell the operation and heads for Australia. 

Hugh Jackman Australia movie image

Jackman emphasizing western themes.

Her husband Maitland is killed just as she arrives; she fires his treacherous foreman Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) and hires the Drover (Hugh Jackman) to get what cattle she has to Darwin to sell to the military (virtually the same story as Wrangler, but a different war).  She develops an affection for the child Nullah (Brandon Walters), Fletcher’s half-aborigine son who’s also the grandson of aborigine shaman King George.  After a successful drive against great odds, Lady Sarah and Drover shack up together.  His first wife was an aborigine, and he maintains close ties with them, for which he is ostracized by many whites.  Cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) keeps trying to subvert Lady Sarah’s efforts and buy Faraway Downs (also much like the plot of Wrangler). 

AustraliaNullahAustralia movie image

Nullah and his grandfather King George.

In the last part of the movie, Fletcher connives to get Nullah taken away until Lady Sarah sells Faraway Downs to him (Carney now being dead and Fletcher being married to his daughter).  The Japanese attack both Darwin and the mission island where the children are kept.  The Drover, thinking Lady Sarah has been killed in the attack, gets a small sailboat to the mission island and rescues the surviving children, including Nullah, just as the Japanese overrun the place. 

Back in Darwin, Fletcher’s wife has been killed and he’s consequently lost his control of the Carney empire.  In a rage he tries to shoot Nullah but is himself killed by King George.  The Drover, Lady Sarah and Nullah are all reunited happily in the fiery ruins of Darwin. 

The film is overblown, poorly edited and too long, with a story that doesn’t hang together all that well.  There are lots of lingering shots of passionate characters with swelling music, telling us how we’re supposed to be feeling rather than trusting the story and acting to get us there.  It’s very politically correct (in current terms) about looking down on former racial attitudes, and contains a fair amount of ill-defined aborigine mysticism.  It’s not that former racial attitudes were correct–one cannot deny that blacks, Indians and Australian aborigines were treated badly in ways that would not be countenanced today.  But it feels anachronistic to adopt completely the modern views on such matters.  There are lots of obvious CGI effects, especially in the harbor at Darwin. 

Australia KidmanAustraliaDrover

For those who are wondering if there was an island near Darwin filled with children attacked by the Japanese, there wasn’t.  But one of the first Australians to spot the incoming Japanese planes in the attack on Darwin in Feb. 1942 was a priest stationed on a lonely island off Darwin’s shore.  “An unusually large air formation bearing down on us from the northwest,” he radioed into Darwin’s operators on the morning of the attack.  The operators shrugged off the warning.  Twenty minutes later, the town was attacked.  (This, according to Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., a history professor at the University of St. Francis in Illinois.)

Along with the title, this is an almost entirely Australian production, funded in part by Australian government sources.  The director, Baz Luhrman, is Australian, as are the leads (Jackman and Kidman) and most of the other actors.  The multi-talented Hugh Jackman obviously needs to find a good script for a western and do a real one.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Man from Snowy River

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 14, 2013

The Man from Snowy River—Tom Burlinson, Kirk Douglas, Sigrid Thornton, Jack Thompson (1982; Dir:  George Miller)

Based on an Australian epic poem by Banjo Paterson, this is a young-man-triumphing-over-adversity-and-making-his-way-through-perseverance-and-force-of-character movie, set in the highlands of Australia.  It’s also a movie for horse lovers.  Tom Burlinson plays young Jim Craig, who’s trying to put together a respectable highland spread for himself after his father is killed in the movie’s opening scene.  While working for the local ranching baron Harrison (Kirk Douglas), he meets, falls in love with and tries to win the baron’s daughter Jessica (Sigrid Thornton).  Burlinson and Thornton are appealing as the young lovers.  Douglas plays a dual role as both the baron and his estranged one-legged prospector brother Spur; he occasionally gives in to a temptation to chew the scenery, especially in the prospector role.  Jack Thompson is good in a supporting role as Clancy, the legendary highlands horse and cattle man.


Craig captures and domesticates brumbies (wild horses) in the Australian highlands, and he’s good at it.  Based in more beautiful upland country than some Australian westerns, the cinematography is stunning, as are the chase scenes.  The most memorable images are of Craig hurtling down almost vertical slopes in pursuit of the brumbies, barely under control and only a slight misstep away from breaking legs and necks.  No other film has so successfully conveyed the joy of riding a horse full out, with the sense of speed, power and partnership.   There’s a very Australian feel about the movie, with class conflicts and the underdog-makes-good story.  There are incidental conflicts between Craig and a couple of ill-meaning other riders, and with the over-proud Harrison.

When Craig is sent to the highlands in pursuit of straggling cattle from the roundup, Jessica follows, only to be thrown by her horse and trapped on a cliff.  Reading the physical signs of what happened, Craig finds and rescues her, and they fall more deeply in love.  He completes the task and delivers the stragglers and Jessica back home; but he also encounters Harrison’s hostility to their relationship.


Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) rescues the heiress (Sigrid Thornton).

A fiery stallion (the first “foal of Old Regret”) released into the wild years earlier by an angry Harrison is now the leader and protector of the highland brumbies.  Now Harrison has purchased the last colt of Old Regret for £1000.  Jim Craig tames it, but when he leaves it is allowed by troublemakers to run off with the brumbies.  An enraged Harrison convenes all the riders in the vicinity; Clancy brings along Craig, who would otherwise not be welcome.  In the chase, the brumbies take off down slopes so steep riders can’t follow—except for Craig and his mountain-bred mount.  He brings them in and Harrison gets his colt back.  Craig claims twelve brood mares and says he’ll be back for them “and whatever else is mine,” looking at Jessica.  And that’s where the movie ends, without showing explicitly what happens to the young lovers or to the untamable leader of the brumbies.


Hurtling down the hills, with no stunt rider.

The basic plot is fairly ordinary, but here it’s done well.  The movie’s beautiful setting in the wooded Australian highlands, decent acting, excellent cinematography and a good romantic musical score by Bruce Rowland make it quite enjoyable.  The sight of riders in their Australian hats and flying coattails, with their drover whips cracking like gunshots, evokes a longing to be with them.  Without much violence or harsh language, it has been characterized as a “family film,” but that is too limiting.  The director is the Australian George Miller, but not the more famous Australian director of the same name who made the Mad Max movies and Babe.  There is a passable sequel, Return to Snowy River (1988), which is a bit more formulaic but still watchable.  Jim Craig’s highland homestead, built for the movie, became a kind of Australian national historical site until it was destroyed by wildfires more than twenty years later.

There was a 1920 Australian silent movie with the same title based on the Banjo Paterson poem, but that is now considered lost.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Quigley Down Under

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 8, 2013

Quigley Down Under—Tom Selleck, Alan Rickman, Laura San Giacomo (1990; Dir:  Simon Wincer)


Tom Selleck as Matthew Quigley

As the title suggests, this is not an American western, since it takes place in Australia.  However, the Quigley of the title is an American cowboy from Wyoming, and the action takes place on the frontiers of western Australia.  The director, Simon Wincer, is also Australian, but he has directed several westerns, including Lonesome Dove.

Matthew Quigley is played by Tom Selleck, who, as usual, seems very at home in a western—even an Australian western.  Quigley has been brought to Australia from Wyoming because he responded to an advertisement for a marksman; his expertise is with a specially fitted-out Sharps long-range rifle with custom ammunition.  His new employer is Elliot Marston (superbly played by Alan Rickman), the owner of a large ranch in the Australian outback.  When the task for which he has been hired is finally revealed, Quigley refuses to go along with it and his expression of that refusal triggers a war between himself and Marston.  The advantages seem to all be on Marston’s side, including the regional British constabulary, such as it is.


A demonstration of shooting prowess for Marston’s benefit.

Initially beaten by superior numbers, Quigley is left in the desert for dead, along with a mentally unstable prostitute, Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo).  With the help of aborigines, they make their way through desert and outback to a town on the coast.  Quigley fights off Marston’s minions there, and he then takes the battle back to Marston for its ultimate resolution.

Selleck and Rickman are excellent in their roles, and their performances balance each other nicely.  The sole casting misstep is Laura San Giacomo as Crazy Cora.  She has too urban and modern a sensibility to seem at home in this kind of movie, but it survives nevertheless.

The movie has great scenery, a sense of vast spaces, wilderness, deserts, gunfights, aborigines and much more, along with an excellent soundtrack by Basil Pouledoris.  Australian director Simon Wincer has an affinity for westerns, having made his reputation with Lonesome Dove and several other made-for-television efforts with Selleck (and with very good production values).


Quigley’s modified 1874 Sharps.  In the film, Quigley says of his gun:

It’s a lever-action breech loader.  Usual barrel length’s thirty inches.  This one has an extra four.  It’s converted to use a special forty-five caliber, hundred and ten grain metal cartridge, with a five-hundred and forty grain paper-patched bullet.  It’s fitted with double-set triggers, and a Vernier sight.  It’s marked up to twelve-hundred yards. This one shoots a mite further.

Three fully functional .45-110 rifles matching the above description were built for the film in 1989 by the Shiloh Rifle Co. of Big Timber, Montana.  They also had a 15 14 inch length of pull to fit Selleck’s tall frame, a full octagon heavy barrel with a blue finish, and weighed 13 12 pounds.  Due to the weight, one of the rifles was sent back to Shiloh to be refitted with an aluminum barrel so it could be swung faster (as a club) in fight scenes.

If you’d like other “westerns” with an Australian setting, try The Man from Snowy River and its sequel, the much bleaker The Proposition, or even Australia, with its cattle drive and World War II.


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone