Dec 1, 2013

Mad Dog Morgan: Gay Outlaws in the Australian Bush

During the 19th century, many Australian men who were wanted by the law or had some other reason to vanish took to the bush, where they formed outlaw gangs, bushrangers, who robbed travelers or rode into town to rob banks.

In 1976, Davis Hopper, then known for counterculture cinema like Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Easy Rider (1969), starred in Mad Dog Morgan, a startlingly homoerotic adaption of the life of bushranger Dan Morgan (1830-1865).

He starts off as a laconic gold prospector, but viewing the government's brutality to Chinese workers pushes him into nonviolent resistance, then robbery.  Sentenced to 12 years in prison, he is brutalized -- and raped.

After his release, he is robbed and left for dead, but he is nursed back to health by the aboriginal Billy (David Gulpilil, the object of Richard Chamberlain's homoerotic desire in The Last Wave). 

The two spend the rest of the movie hugging, wrapping their arms around each other's shoulders, and sitting with their hands on each other's knees, while saying things like "You know I love you" and "I won't let anything happen to you."  When they go into a bar, the aboriginal is refused entrance until Dan says "He's with me," puts his arm around him, and escorts him inside.  

You haven't seen such an expressive gay couple on film since Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

The real Dan Morgan killed many men in cold blood, but the movie Dan Morgan and his boyfriend Billy are hippie Robin Hoods, shooting only when they must, robbing only the rich, tweaking their noses at capitalism, War, the whole military-industrial complex of 19th century Victoria.  They become celebrities.

One of their victims, Sergeant Smith (Bill Hunter), is so upset over the affront to his dignity that he vows vengeance.  He and Prison Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring) send troops out to search for Dan and bring him back dead or alive, preferably dead. Their sadism barely conceals homoerotic desire of their own; at the end of the movie, everyone divides up Dan's body parts for souvenirs, and Cobham takes his sex organs.

There's a surprising amount of beefcake -- Billy, especially, gets some nice semi-nude shots.  And the gay symbolism and same-sex romance has to be seen to be believed.  Try to get the director's cut, not the censored version by Troma.

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