‘Mad Dog Morgan’ Blu-Ray (review)

Very few bushranger films are as deserving of the high definition restoration as Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan, and once again Umbrella Entertainment demonstrate just why what they do is so remarkable with this superb new release.

The menu is simple and easy to navigate, popping up over a backdrop of a montage of scenes from the film so that right from the get-go we see how much better this looks than the previous releases. Umbrella don’t usually go for elaborate menus and nothing here breaks that mold. It’s simple and effective and whets the appetite for the coming attraction.

The restoration of the feature is sublime. The work that the restoration team have put into preparing this for a 4K upgrade have absolutely outdone themselves. The contrast in the picture is bold, the colours vibrant and the details clearer than they’ve ever been seen before. The footage has been cleaned up so there’s no dust specs or scratches to remind the viewer that the vision is taken from 40+ year old film stock. In this process a lot of shots have been stabilised. This is most noticeable in the intro with its cavalcade of S.T. Gill illustrations, as well as the closing shot of Morgan’s corpse replicating a Carte de Visite. To see these once jumpy images rendered properly static, as they were always meant to be, is beautiful in itself, but it really is indicative of the attention given to crafting the best possible iteration of Mad Dog Morgan.

The film itself is the director’s cut, which has been the standard for quite some time and much superior to the sanitised Troma edit that was screened in the United States. Throughout, we have Detective Mainwaring’s interjections to signify each chapter of the story. It is a twisted tale of cruelty, revenge and how mistreatment can drive men to madness. Director Mora’s vision of a film that authentically captures the look and feel of the Gold Rush comes through clearly and viscerally. Dennis Hopper’s performance as Morgan is brilliant, the actor making himself the absolute embodiment of the “mad dog”. Some viewers may struggle to get beyond the more schlocky aspects of production, owing to it being a low budget film at the time of production, but to the dedicated viewer it really pays off. This is a film with layers that reveals new things with repeat viewings.

The special features on the disc include the features from the previous Umbrella DVD release, which were already fantastic, but include a swag of new interviews, commentaries and a documentary comparing the filming locations now to how they were in the film. The photography in this new documentary is absolutely gorgeous and not only highlights the beauty of the locations used in the film, but also drives home that the movie was filmed in Morgan country. The commentary track from Philippe Mora is well worth hearing too as he explains his decisions for choosing the locations and his reflections on the shoot. For aficianados of Australian film this is a must-have for your collection.

This new release demonstrates just how lucky we are that a company like Umbrella exists to release these classic, often obscure, films and series to the home viewing audience, as well as restoring landmark films so that future generations can see them at their best. The Blu-ray of Mad Dog Morgan is absolutely splendid and is an absolute score for film buffs and fans of the film. If you haven’t seen the film before then there has never been a better time to see it than now. Definitely check it out and see why it is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films.

Mad Dog Morgan is available from retailers and online. The DVD is still available as well.

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