Mad Dog Morgan (1976)





Director:     Philippe Mora.

Starring:     Dennis Hopper (Daniel Morgan), Jack Thompson (Detective Mainwaring), David Gulpilil (Billy), Frank Thring (Supt. Cobham), Michael Pate (Supt. Winch), Wallas Eaton (MacPherson), Bill Hunter (Sgt. Smith), John Hargreaves (Baylis), Martin Harris (Wendlan), Robin Ramsay (Roget), Graeme Blundell (Italian Jack), Gregory Apps (Arthur), Liza Lee-Atkinson (Barmaid), Elaine Baillie (Farm Girl), Don Barkham (Morrow).

Australian outlaw


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"The film you are about to see is based on documented fact.  The events depicted were filmed in the forests, caves, rivers, farms and prisons, where they actually took place during the Australian Gold Rush of the 1880's."

A stage coach makes a stop at the settlement.  A fellow named Morgan crosses the road behind the stage coach.  A man with a helmet on his head is stabbing a carcass.  A Chinaman goes by Morgan and the fellow in the helmet throws a piece of meat that hits the Chinaman in the back.  Morgan calls the helmeted fellow a bloody bastard.  The guy comes forward to challenge Morgan and Morgan knocks him down with a fist to the face.

An older man named Martin comes over and tells Morgan that he's got quite an Irish temper.  Morgan admits he's got a little mick in him, but adds that that fellow Renlon is a police pimp telling the police who's been digging without a license.   "... and I'm gonna get him."  Martin asks where he's headed and Morgan says Chinatown because you can have more fun there.  The older man tells him:  "Jeeze, Morgan, you know how they feel about Chinaman down here. They buried two of them alive here yesterday."  Morgan asks Martin to come along with him. 

Martin comes along and soon they are smoking opium.  There is also prostitution going on in the opium den.  After Morgan is very high, the whites descends on the opium den.  They are firing their weapons and setting the opium den on fire.  They kill the owners of the place and then shoot Martin in the head.  Morgan runs and jumps in the small river and gets to the other side. 

The local judge is out bird watching.  He says to his companion that he has to get back to the main castle.  Supt. Cobham says that he admires the severity of the judge's sentences.  The judge says:  "I give long sentences because we've got roads to build."

Morgan robs three men at one time.  For the crime "John Smith" is sentenced to twelve years hard labor with the first two years to be done in irons.  "We will not tolerate lawlessness in Victoria."

Morgan and two others with a guard watching them row over to the prison where they will be staying.  A prisoner from the prison jumps into the water and tries to swim away.  Morgan holds out his oar for the man to grab onto, so the guard uses his rifle butt to hit Morgan in the back of the head.  The escapee goes under the water, but never comes up.  The guard says there's no escape from this prison. 

In prison they are going to brand Morgan with an M for "malefactor".  He is branded on the palm of his right hand.  In his cell he is sodomized by four men.  Morgan screams for help, but the guards refuse to help him. 

During the day ,Morgan has to break rocks or cut down trees. 

After six years, Morgan is released for good behavior.  He steals a horse.  Two men follow the tracks of the stolen horse.  They see Morgan up on top of a rock, so they get off their horses, grab a shotgun and go after him.  Morgan shouts that he has as much right to be here as they do.  The heavy man shoots and wounds Morgan.  They run up to the top of the rock and start following a blood trail.  At the edge of the rock any sign of Morgan is gone. 

An Aborigine named Billy finds Morgan all bloody and saying he is dying.  The Aborigine uses some of his native medicine to save Morgan's life.  Morgan asks Billy to come with him and Billy agrees.  The white man takes it easy until his arm mends.  He tells Billy that he loves him and he will always be his friend.  When he feels better he practices his robbery technique.  He draws his two pistols and says: "Your money or your life". He sees a drawing of Lincoln and says he likes the way the man looks and thinks he could look like him. 

Morgan comes to the attention of the authorities.  He has been involved in four armed robberies in the last month.  Sgt. Smith has been sent to track Morgan.  The sergeant is none other than the man who branded Morgan's right palm in prison. 

Billy chases a well-dressed white man on a horse.  He throws a boomerang at him and knocks the man off his horse.  The fellow is a Mr. Baylis who says he is the magistrate of Waga Waga (in New South Wales).  He has very little money on him, so Morgan just lets him go. 

Baylis speaks to the inspector about Morgan.  He wants to go out tracking down Morgan with the inspector.  In the jail is a photographer named Roget who says he also wants to come along.  He desperately wants to get a photo of an outlaw.  Four men set out tracking Morgan.  They are out three days and the inspector says there is no sign of the man.  Baylis wants to go on for at least one more day.

The next day Baylis and some of his men come across a man and Baylis asks him if he has seen this Daniel Morgan?  The guy says he hasn't see anyone for days.  Baylis tells the man that it is a crime to harbor a bush ranger.  The fellow tells Baylis that he heard riders in the morning.  He points to the direction in which he heard the noise.  The posse finds fresh tracks and decides to follow the tracks.  In the night they try to sneak up on Morgan and Billy.  Baylis fires a shot that hits Billy.  As Billy goes down he shoots Baylis.  Another member of the posse is shot in the arm by Morgan.  Morgan and Billy get away.

Morgan rides over to the man questioned by Baylis.  The man steps back from Morgan saying he betrayed him.  Morgan hits him two times and the man goes down.  Morgan says:  "No, I never said it was you, you filthy, slimy bastard."  He gets on his horse and rides off. 

In the mountains Morgan looks at a wanted dead or alive poster of himself.  Billy gives him an animal skin. 

Morgan comes into a bar.  The outlaw is received with pats on the back.  The photographer Roget is there who wants to take a photo of Morgan.  Morgan says he will come back tomorrow at noon, but now he has to go because there are traps (policemen) in the area.  The police arrives just after Morgan and Billy leave.  They ask about Morgan but nobody says a thing.  One white-haired fellow pulls down his pants and moons the police.  The police leave and the guys in the bar have a big laugh.  

Billy holds eight men prisoner as Morgan is inside talking with a Mr. Gibson.  Morgan makes the man write out 8 checks for "cash" for the man's 8 employees outside.  Then he has Gibson hand the checks out to his men.  Morgan then tells Billy to burn down the barn.  Billy lights it with a nearby torch.   Riding out from the place, Morgan and Billy run into the photographer who still wants to take his picture.  Morgan says he's a little busy right now and rides on. 

Morgan and Billy come to a ranch house.  He says he has come to have his picture taken.  One of the fellows tells Morgan that the police are looking for him.  So what else is new? says Morgan.  The landowner invites Morgan in for a drink.  As they sit and enjoy the drink, the landowner says that Morgan is a real scoundrel.  He has scared the piss out of every rich  landowner around the area.  And Morgan has also proved the police to be a bunch of incompetent idiots. 

Morgan gets on his horse ready to leave.  The land owner tries to make a joke telling Morgan just not to rob him.  The drunken outlaw takes the meaning the wrong way and he fires one of his pistols.  This one bullet hits the landowner in the hand and another man in the leg. Morgan gets off and demands to know:  "Who shot at me?"  The landowner says no one shot at him.  He was the one who shot them.  Morgan sends a fellow to go get the doctor.  Now he asks the same question again:  "Who shot at me?"

Billy tells Morgan the fellow is not going for the doctor but for the police, but Morgan can catch him at Pointy Gap.  And Morgan does shoot the man as he gallops across a huge field.  A little later Morgan runs into two policemen on horseback.  Morgan shoots one of them and the other runs away.  Sgt. Smith tells the runaway policeman that he will be tried for cowardice and neglect of duty.  And now there is a 1,000 pound reward for the capture of Morgan. 

Roget takes a photo of the four members of the police department and Sgt. Smith.  Smith goes out to see a man named Maples, but Maples doesn't tells Sgt. Smith anything.  After Smith leaves, his two Aboriginal boys go tell Morgan.  Morgan and Billy find the men at night.  Billy fires but misses.  Morgan comes up to face Smith and shoots him before Smith can shoot Morgan. 

Supt. Cobham says if Morgan crosses the river back into Victoria he will be killed within 24 hours.  He says:  "We will not tolerate anarchy in our colony."

Morgan watches as Billy comes riding up to him.   Billy tells him what Supt. Cobham said to the reporters.  And he adds that there is a bounty hunter named Simon out to get him. 

Morgan comes charging across a field and through a group of sheep shouting for Simon who is watching the sheep.  He shoots the pistol out of Simon's hand and tells him to go tell the superintendent that he is going  to cross the Murray River into Victoria.  Cobham asks Supt. Winch for the best policemen and horses.  He wants Morgan finished off.

Cobham has a luncheon with the local coroner.  He asks the coroner what makes a killer such as this Morgan?  The coroner says he knows a man who wants to examine Morgan's skull, because he is sure that Morgan will have gorilla features.  Half man, half animal?   The coroner says Morgan is a throwback to primitive man. 

Morgan tells Billy to go to Ingrata (?) and he will do the Melbourne road because it is full of money.  (Melbourne is on the southern coast, Victoria.)  Morgan adds that he has some old scores to be paid in full.   They will meet at Dead Gum Tree at midnight. 

The two men meet at midnight and cross south over the Murray River into Victoria. Morgan sets fire to a haystack on a farm.  When everyone runs out to attend to the fire, Morgan faces them with his two pistols.  The man he came looking for is not at the farm, so Morgan takes the man's brother Evans.   Cobham finds out about Morgan taking Evans as a hostage.   He wants that Morgan fellow.  Morgan ties Evans to a tree and then leaves. 

Morgan goes into a bar and orders some Irish whiskey. 

Detective Mainwaring is brought in on the case.  His boss, Supt. Winch, wants Mainwaring to intercept Morgan before he gets to Bond's place. 

The bar maid takes down her blouse (brief nudity).  Morgan tells her that he wouldn't know what to do with her, but she is beautiful.  He says:  "I'm just a tired stranger, mam."  She says he's not a stranger.  He's Daniel Morgan.  He says:  "You know my name.  Thank you."  He leaves the bar. 

A policeman comes racing out to Detective Mainwaring.  He says that he has been sent to bring him back to Beachwood.  Morgan has been spotted at Witinshire (?).  He's had breakfast at Witty's Hotel. 

Morgan holds up a poor wagon driver, but when he sees the man's got so little, he gives him a pound.  He tells the man his name is Daniel Morgan, so the fellow will tell others. 

Morgan is in the stables when a man approaches him.  The gun man pulls his pistol out, but the man says he's just a simple traveler.  He says he's from "Morgan Country" across the river.  So Morgan asks the man what's this Morgan like?   The guy says Morgan is a real good bloke and the police will never catch him because he sleeps with one eye open.  Asleep at night Morgan has a nightmare about a man set afire who falls into a pond off a hill.  He awakens suddenly with a pistol in his hand.  His fire sharer says Morgan is Daniel Morgan and adds that it's not safe around here for him.  There are police everywhere.  The guy asks him why for heaven's sakes did he come to Victoria?  Morgan says:  "For Revenge." 

Billy has been caught.  The policeman tells Cobham that the fellow is a telegrapher for Morgan. 

Detective Mainwaring tells Supt. Winch that he is underestimating the abilities of this man Morgan.  In New South Wales they have been trying to catch him for years.  Mainwaring  says he wants to track Morgan from Wittey's Hotel.  So off they go to the hotel to interview those who saw Morgan and the condition of his horse.  A local comes riding up with a message.  Morgan was spotted 2 and a half hours ago three miles north of Glenn Road.  Off goes Winch and Mainwaring and their men to the Glenn Road area.  They speak with the barmaid who served him breakfast.  She says Morgan asked for directions to Colley's Bowyards.

Morgan starts chopping down a tree to knock out the telegraph.  He is successful because the line suddenly goes dead. 

Daniel comes into a house by force of arms.  He says he's Morgan.  He tells Mr. McPherson that it is an honor to meet him.  He has heard that McPherson has been a fair man to the tribes. 

Mainwaring tells Winch that he must have gotten by them.  He studies the map and thinks Morgan is somewhere north of them. 

Morgan asks the daughter of McPherson to play the piano for him because he loves "the music".  A woman gets out of the house by telling Morgan she has a sick child to look after.  The woman then tells one of the ranch hands to go get Mr. Rutherford and tell him to bring men and guns for Morgan is here. 

With the music playing Morgan becomes a bit maudlin.  He says he has lost a lot of his life, but, on the other hand, he is lucky to be Dan Morgan. 

The ranch hand doesn't tell Mr. Rutherford so the maid has to tell him herself. 

Morgan has some Irish whiskey.  He says that he is a mad dog, but will be treated well despite that.  He lets the women go to bed. 

Rutherford tells his men that they will get Morgan when he leaves the house.  A lot of volunteers have come to try to get Morgan.  Morgan sees a policeman standing up aiming at him.  So now he knows the police are surrounding the place.

Mainwaring arrives and takes command of the situation.  He demands that Morgan be taken alive.  No one will rush the house. If anyone shoots, they have to shoot only at his limbs. 

Morgan puts Billy's gift skin from Billy around his shoulders.  He comes out of the house.  Mr. McPherson and son are right behind him.  Someone shoots and gets Morgan in the throat.  Everyone now rushes over to Morgan.  They take Morgan to the blacksmith shop.  Later the doctor arrives and asks him if he is in pain?  A Catholic priest asks him if he wants to hear a prayer?  Morgan expires.   

Mainwaring now beats the man who shot Morgan dead.  He died at 2 in the afternoon.  Roget takes the dead man's photograph.  The guy that Morgan knocked down for throwing some meat at a Chinaman is the one who killed Morgan, so he gets into the photo.  He bends over looking like he is just about to shoot something. 

Cobham asks Dr. Henry to flay off Morgan's ears and his scrotum to make a tobacco pouch.  The lawmen don't like this and object.  Cobham insists so the lawmen leave.  The doctor asks for the dead man's head so it can be studied.  Cobham says yes. 

The real photo of Daniel Morgan is shown. 

""When news of the treatment of Morgan's corpse became known, there was considerable public outcry and Superintendent Cobham was suspended.  Despite the dead or alive reward, Billy continued with banditry in the Morgan tradition, and was never recaptured." 


I enjoyed the film immensely.  Daniel was both a good man and a bad man.  He tries to help protect minority people like the Aborigines and the Chinese, but at the same time he engages literally in highway robbery.  And he is out for vengeance for those in prison who were responsible for his maltreatment.  You never knew what Morgan was going to do one moment to the next.  He could be very charitable (and maudlin) or he could act like a mad dog.  Morgan would take pity on unfortunate men and not steal anything from them. But on the other hand, Daniel could shoot a man in cold blood.  He seemed to get more blood thirsty as he went along, murdering quite a few men.

Dennis Hopper was good as Mad Dog Morgan, switching from sweet and innocent to a killer.    David Gulpilil (as Billy) was good as the Aboriginal partner of Morgan.  It's a good way to escape away to Australia in the 1880s and have some fun.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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