Starring: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Synopsis: John Grant, a bonded teacher, arrives in a rough outback mining town planning to stay overnight before starting his holiday. But one night stretches to several and with the aid of alcohol he plunges headlong toward his own destruction.
Wake in Fright has just been released here in the UK in cinema’s, after it had gone missing in Australia for a number of years, until it was finally released on DVD, restored in 2009. How it disappeared is a mystery because it surely has to be one of the best movies Australia has ever produced. Simply it is the tale of one man’s decent into self destruction.
Gary Bond (who incidentally was born and raised in a village not too far from where I live) plays the school teacher John Grant. He has been posted to a tiny school in a tiny outback village called Tiboonda. Upon the school breaking up for the holidays he decides to get a train back to see his partner in Sydney. He gets off at a place called Bundanyabba so he can get his flight home. That time doesn’t come. Instead he slowly unravels over the next few days and becomes a shell of the man he was before.
I’ve been to Australia, and know most of them like a ‘brew’. I also know, without first hand knowledge admittedly, that some of them, particularly in Outback towns, can be a little rough around the edges. Which is the case with the locals of Bundanyabba, or ‘The Yabba’. They are a hard working, hard drinking bunch. The trouble for John Grant is that he isn’t. He goes for one drink at a bar, and the local sheriff of all people, gets him drunk and shows him how to play a simple game that wins John a lot of money. Blind with drink and ambition, John bets all his winnings on one last toss of a coin, and loses it all, rendering him stuck in the Yabba.
Gary Bond plays the role really well, as does Donald Pleasance, who is almost unrecognisable from his famous roles in Halloween etc. The film is a bit dated in places, but it can be forgiven as it is over 40 years old. Some of the acting is questionable at times but doesn’t take away from the story. John Grants problem, certainly at the beginning is perhaps his own arrogance, believing himself to be above the locals. They are both friendly and hospitable, and menacing and intimidating at the same time. They are alpha males who’s whole life is working and drinking. Grant does not fit in but effectively they kill him with kindness. He sums it up best at the end, when he is dropped off by a truck driver who asks if he wants a drink. Grant, after all he has been through says “no” to which the trucker takes offence. Grant, incredulous says something like “If I burnt down your house, raped your wife and murdered your children that would be OK wouldn’t it. But refusing to have a beer, that’s the end of the bloody world!” The trucker just looks at him like he is a maniac. And that’s the beauty of the film, it seems as though Grant has arrived in an odd place, but in reality it’s a normal place full of people going about what they always do, and Grant is the odd man out.
There are some scenes of brutal Kangaroo slaying which were pretty distasteful and went on a bit longer than necessary I think. It was stated at the end of the film that these were actually filmed as part of a professional hunt, and not just for the movie, but they still seemed a bit gratuitous. That’s my only gripe though, as the film was great, giving the viewer as much a feeling of helplessness and intimidation as John Grant would have felt whilst being bullied into drinking by the locals of the Yabba.
I whole heartedly recommend watching Wake in Fright now it’s back on general release, as it is masterpiece that has been missing for far too long.