Born and orphaned in the Australian “high country”, Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) is sent to the Harrison lowland farm where – caught between an old family feud and the love of a young woman – he must use his horsemanship to prove himself.
Based on AB “Banjo” Paterson’s poem (known to every Australian of a certain age), this offering from Down Under offers a surprising dual role to imported American star Kirk Douglas, who plays both Spur, the grizzled golden-hearted mountain man, and his brother, autocratic and stony-hearted landowner Harrison.
Douglas manages to ham up both parts with relish – allegedly, he also rewrote some of the dialogue and obviously had more fun with the venture than did most audiences – but Jack Thompson has little to do in support and youthful co-star Tom Burlinson can’t quite carry the picture.
Behind the camera is the “other” George Miller (not the Mad Max (1979) director of the same name) and he makes the most of the impressive locations in Victoria’s Great Dividing Range.
The film cost a lot to make – $4 million with an initial promotion budget of $100,000 – and you can see where the money was spent (and, conversely, where it was saved, or misspent). The action is marvellous action marvellously photographed. And Kirk Douglas must’ve cost a bundle. Sadly, the script is riddled with cliches and soap opera banalities and the direction is unadventurous and lacking in ambition or drive. The formulaic soundtrack, too, is little more than musical wallpaper.
The film was derided by many critics as a “Wallaby Western” with statements such as “The horses are good, the scenery is great, and that is all that can be said”.
Despite its faults, this became Australia’s highest grossing movie – until Crocodile Dundee (1986), that is.
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around,
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far,
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
A B “Banjo” Paterson