Mad Dog Morgan

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Mad Dog Morgan
Mad Dog Morgan 1976 film poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byPhilippe Mora
Produced byJeremy Thomas
Written byPhilippe Mora
Based onMorgan by
Margaret Carnegie
StarringDennis Hopper
Jack Thompson
David Gulpilil
Frank Thring
Michael Pate
Music byPatrick Flynn
CinematographyMike Molloy
Edited byJohn Scott
Motion Picture Productions
Distributed byBritish Empire Films (Australia)
Troma Entertainment (DVD)
Release date
9 July 1976 (Australia)
22 September 1976 (USA)
Running time
99 minutes

Mad Dog Morgan is a 1976 Australian bushranger film directed by Philippe Mora and starring Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson and David Gulpilil. It is based upon the life of Dan Morgan.


Dan Morgan witnesses the bloody massacre of Chinese on the goldfields and turns into a robber. He is arrested and sent to prison for six years where he is tormented and raped. He is let out on parole and becomes a bushranger, befriending an Aboriginal man, Billy. Morgan fights against the vicious Superintendent Cobham and is eventually killed.



The movie was based on the book Morgan - the Bold Bushranger, by Margaret Frances Carnegie.[3] Mora wrote the script on a ship voyage from London to Melbourne in 1974. This was submitted to the Australian Film Development Corporation in early 1975 who agreed to support it.[4]

The budget was raised from the Australian Film Commission (what the AFDC turned into), Greater Union and private investment, including Mora's father Georges, Margaret Carnegie, tycoon Victor Smorgon and Lyn Williams, the wife of artist Fred Williams.[5]

Mora and producer Jeremy Thomas flew to Los Angeles to cast the lead role. Their first choice, Stacy Keach turned it down; Martin Sheen and Jason Miller expressed interest in playing Morgan but Mora decided to cast Dennis Hopper instead.[6] Hopper's fee was $50,000.[4]

The film used various locations where Dan Morgan had been active, in the eastern Riverina, including Billabong Creek, Culcairn and Jindera; as well as locations in Beechworth, north-east Victoria. Morgan's cave in the film was the actual cave Dan Morgan had used. Shooting started on 27 October 1975 and went for six weeks over 36 shooting days to 6 December. The shoot was challenged by rain during the first week but managed to be completed on schedule.[7]

Producer Jeremy Thomas later remembered his experience making the film:

We got Dennis Hopper somehow to be in it and I think there were something like 120 speaking parts and only $400,000 to make the film, which was very much in awe of Sam Peckinpah. We made a Western in Australia. And the film got selected for a side-bar event in Cannes; a film festival as usual came to my rescue. So I moved back to Europe having had the hands-on experience of making a film. The budget was made on a piece of paper, just page after page, and that is how the budget was constructed, never having made a film before, and a lot of the people who worked on the film were complete amateurs. I don’t know how it was completed or done because we were very irresponsible, but I think it is a very good way to start with a colleague or friend.[8]

Mora later wrote that he was "setting grotesque 19th-century human behaviour against an extraordinary landscape. I created Francis Bacon figures in a Sidney Nolan landscape, with stunts inspired by Jean Cocteau."[5] The director says that Hopper was a handful during the making of the film, constantly imbibing drink and drugs.[9] However he says the actor could be very professional, a skilful improviser and gave a performance which was "really extraordinary. I think he identified with the role."[5] Mora recalled Hopper at the finish of the shoot:

Rode off in costume, poured a bottle of O.P. rum into the real Morgan's grave in front of my mother Mirka Mora, drank one himself, got arrested and deported the next day, with a blood-alcohol reading that said he should have been clinically dead, according to the judge studying his alcohol tests.[5]

Mora shot a scene where a young Ned Kelly looks at a waxwork of Morgan but decided not to use it.[5]

The making of Mad Dog Morgan was featured in Mark Hartley's 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, in which Thomas, Mora and Hopper are interviewed.


The film was released in Australia and the US and performed disappointingly at the box office, returning to the producers an estimated $100,000.[4] Mora later wrote:

The finished film immediately polarised audiences in Australia. The nascent film bureaucrats of the day were shocked, even horrified, when they saw the film. It was mentioned to me that Max Fairchild raping Hopper in prison, with Bill Hunter leering, was not their idea of promoting tourism in Australia. My wisecracks that I thought this, in fact, would encourage tourism didn’t help.[10]

However the movie sold well around the world - including a $300,000 sale to the US - and achieved good reviews.[1]

Mora tried for several years to set up other films in Australia - including the movie that became Newsfront (1978), an adaptation of For the Term of His Natural Life and a science fiction story called The Black Hole - but was unsuccessful.[4] He moved back overseas where executives at United Artists, who had been impressed by Mad Dog Morgan, hired Mora to direct The Beast Within.[5]

Tromasterpiece Collection[edit]

Troma Entertainment's original VHS and DVD release was a heavily edited version of the film, seeing that the unrated or uncut versions were very difficult to come by outside of Australia.

With the intent of re-releasing the best films in the Troma library, The Tromasterpiece Collection released a 2-disc unrated version of the film in the USA in November 2009.

Special features include interviews with director Philippe Mora, cinematographer Mike Molloy and associate producer Richard Brennan, along with a radio interview, deleted scenes, locations featurette, stills gallery and the original theatrical program.

Two graphic trailers were released for the DVD launch.

Director's Cut[edit]

Umbrella Entertainment (Australia) released a Director's Cut of the film on DVD in early 2009.

The DVD featured a fully restored print of the film, presented in an aspect ratio of 2:35:1.

The single disc included:

- They Shoot a Mad Dog: The Making of Mad Dog Morgan, a 23-minute documentary

- That's Our Mad Dog: Dennis Hopper interviewed by Phillipe Mora - a new 30-minute documentary

Further extras included an audio commentary by director Phillipe Mora; film excerpts; a radio interview; a stills gallery, a reprint of the film's original release theatre programme; and a .pdf file of the original shooting script.


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(1976 AFI Awards)
Best Direction Philippe Mora Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Bill Hunter Nominated

Copyright issues[edit]

The film's title screen copyright notice had an error with the Roman numerals, showing it is Copyright "MCMDXXVI"[11] The "D" (500) should have been an "L" (50). Under American law this would have invalidated the Copyright entirely and placed the film in the public domain.[11] However, as an Australian film, Australian law is unclear how the film is considered.[11]


  1. ^ a b Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, p 300
  2. ^ "Production Survey", Cinema Papers, June–July 1976 p62
  3. ^ Jones, Philip. Great collector of art and teller of our tales. Obituary of Margaret Frances Carnegie, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 August 2002. Accessed 20 July 2015
  4. ^ a b c d David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p227-230
  5. ^ a b c d e f Philippe Mora, 'The shooting of Mad Dog Morgan', Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January 2010 accessed 4 October 2012
  6. ^ Alex Simon, 'PHILIPPE MORA: BALLAD OF A MAD DOG', Hollywood Interview 24 December 2009 accessed 4 October 2012
  7. ^ "Production Preview: The Filming of Mad Dog", Cinema Papers, June–July 1976 p66
  8. ^ Thomas, Jeremy; Lieberson, Sanford (11 April 2006). ""At the Cutting Edge" – Producer Jeremy Thomas, interviewed by producer Sandy Lieberson". Berlinale Talent Campus. Archived from the original on 24 May 2010. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
  9. ^ Drew Warne-Smith, 'Hopper embraced his Mad Dog role', The Australian 31 May 2010 accessed 4 October 2012
  10. ^ Philippe Mora, 'Creator comments on Mad Dog Morgan', Australian Screen Online accessed 4 October 2012
  11. ^ a b c "Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site". Retrieved 7 June 2012.

External links[edit]