Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is an Australian policeman of the not-too-distant future who drives the last of the MFP (Main Force Patrol) V8 Interceptors, wears a leather jacket, totes a sawn-off shotgun and is a very hard bastard. He needs to be, to do battle with the roving motorcycle gangs who terrorise Australia.
From the opening energy of the insane “fuel-injected suicide machine” Nightrider (Vince Gil) outrunning the “Bronze” (police) – including that indelible Ford-through-a-caravan sequence – to the climactic end, Mad Max does indeed have you praying that “he’s on your side”.
An Australian Navy rocket was attached to the Nightrider’s Holden Monaro for the fiery crash in the opening sequence, and real speeds were used in the action sequences, so the speedometer seen on Jim Goose’s motorcycle is accurately indicating speeds of over 100 km/h (with a cameraman holding a 35mm camera riding on the back!).
The pace of the film heats up considerably when Max sees his family slaughtered by the gangs and begins to take it all a bit personally and goes looking for revenge. . .
Chronic petrol shortages, ultra-violent New Romantic gangs and extended chase sequences abound in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi meets spaghetti western genre-buster, with vicious motorcyclists, punk clothing and rude weaponry spurring on more than a few good nightmares – especially the part where Max’s wife (Joanne Samuel) and son are killed.
After all his friends have been murdered or brutally maimed, the previously kind-hearted Max ends the film in a merciless massacre, fired by cold fury and righteous vengeance to kill every member of the motorcycle gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne).
The final montage of shots is all highway, with Gibson staring blankly at the centre white line disappearing into the darkening horizon. His past life of love and domesticity has been erased. The road is his home now.
Though this groundbreaking Australian film was originally dumped by the US distributor (who dubbed it with American voices) it eventually became a huge cult hit.
Cheaply made, with undeniable DIY style, Mad Max also managed to be heavily censored in the UK and banned completely in Sweden due to the lashings of comic-book violence.
Mad Max featured Mel Gibson at his sex-god prime, untainted by Hollywood. He earned the motley sum of $15,000 for the role, which made him a superstar (the entire movie was made for just $350,000).
Real bikers were used in various action scenes, including members of The Vigilantes and the local chapter of the Hells Angels.
It was rumoured that a rider was killed in the scene where a biker gets hit in the head by a flying motorcycle during the bridge sequence. This isn’t true – the story was fabricated by American stuntmen who were threatened by the action sequences generated in Australia (on next-to-no money).
Mad Max 2 (1981) was an even bigger hit with truly amazing stunts, and the one that rightfully finished off the trilogy, Beyond Thunderdome (1985), co-starred Ms Tina Turner during the peak of her comeback and a bunch of annoying feral children.
Johnny the Boy