Australasian Cinema > films > Wake in Fright

Wake in Fright

wakeWake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) aka Outback (overseas); wr. Evan Jones, novel Kenneth Cook, dp Brian West, ed. Anthony Buckley; Gary Bond, Donald Pleasance, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, John Meillon

So dark in style that it goes beyond realism, this film, directed by a Canadian, presents a bleak view of life in the more remote parts of Australia (whites only).

David Stratton mentions in his first book (1980: 7; and also in his Autobiography, 2008: 269) that this film was 'almost made' by Joseph Losey, and that if it had been it would have had Dirk Bogarde in the lead. Imagine that: it's already a very good film - it would have been outstanding. Both he and the actor who was cast by Kotcheff (as John Grant) Gary Bond, were gay, so would presumably have been able to deal with the implied homosexual encounter with the character played by Donald Pleasence in one of his two or three trips down under.

Ted Kotcheff (b. Toronto, 1931) has directed as much for TV as on film, as that is how he began his career. Not long after making this film he made First Blood (1982) the first Rambo film.

This was Chips Rafferty's last film, and Jack Thompson's first feature. It's also one the three films Dawn Lake, wife of TV personality Bobby Limb, appeared in. Limb was a major stockholder in NLT one of the two companies which produced the film. The director's wife, Sylvia Kay, also played a part.

The film premiered at Cannes in May 1971. Pike & Cooper tell us (259) that it was warmly received in both Paris and London, but did less well when it opened later in the year in Australia, perhaps partly because the distributors, United Artists, did not market it effectively. Shirley & Adams suggest that it 'was perhaps too uncomfortably direct and uncompromising to draw large Australian audiences' (245).


John Grant's nadir is definitely the sexual encounter with Pleasence's Doc Tydon (he tries to shoot himself shortly thereafter) so I find it interesting that audiences now are much more horrified by the kangaroo hunting sequence. As I spent many of my school holidays on my uncle's farm, and, as the kangaroo shoots we went on (at night, with the driver's door and all windows on the Land Rover removed) remain the most exciting thing I've ever done, I enjoy those scenes. Those I enjoy least show the bored schoolteacher in his boring classroom. (I was also a schoolteacher.)

References and Links

Luke Buckmaster, cinetology, on drunks in movies.

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Garry Gillard | New: 17 September, 2012 | Now: 20 January, 2019