Classic Film Guide

Mad Max (1979)

Set in the not-so-distant future of Australia and its vast expanses of open spaces, a gay biker gang claims the road as their own by terrorizing the towns and citizens found there. The MFP (police) pursue them in vain until the Interceptor (driven by Mel Gibson, in the title role) can track them down; the result is usually a spectacularly fatal crash. Produced by Bill Miller and Byron Kennedy on a shoestring budget, this cult classic – directed by Miller’s brother George, who wrote the story with Kennedy, and the screenplay adaptation with James McCausland – it made Gibson a star.

The story begins when the gang’s leader – the Nightrider, played by Vince Gil – escapes with one of the MFP’s vehicles. The ensuing chase creates havoc and violent collisions which foreshadow what’s yet to come. But once Max joins the proceedings, the Nightrider knows he’s doomed because he realizes that his interceptor is just as crazy as he. Afterwards, Max’s boss Fifi (Roger Ward) convinces his superiors that they need to retain their young officer, and the last of the V8 Interceptors (a souped-up car that runs on Nitro) is assembled to entice and keep him from resigning. Later, after Max’s best friend, motorcycle cop Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) is killed, Fifi gives his sullen young officer some time off with a speech, saying: “They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes!”

But Max, his seemingly always pantless wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and their child can’t seem to escape the gang, bent on revenge after a mishap that causes one of their members to lose his hand. The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), now the gang’s leader, and his annoying lover Johnny Boy (Tim Burns), happen upon the vacationing young family and tragedy befalls them. Of course, now it’s Max’s turn for revenge. He’d wanted to get out for fear that he’d become just as bad as them – “I'm scared, Fif. It's that rat circus out there; I'm beginning to enjoy it. Look, any longer out on that road and I'm one of them, a terminal psychotic, except that I've got this bronze badge that says that I'm one of the good guys” – but now it’s too late. One by one, he picks off the bikers who, though they draw blood, haven’t got a chance. In the final scene, Max earns the adjective that precedes his name in the film’s title.

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