Mad Max (1979)

When “Mad Max”” opened in the U.S., it came out of nowhere, taking the country and movie world by storm. It immediately became a cult item, putting on the forefront the reputation of Mel Gibson as one of the hottest (and coolest) stars.

It was a new type of film, an uncompromisingly brutal, post-apocalyptic action thriller from director George Miller.

Gibson plays Max Rockatansky, a policeman in the near future, which looks like one big desolate spot in the Australian outback, sort of a war-zone battleground.

Max has seen innocents and fellow officers murdered by primitive, bestial marauding bikers for whom killing, rape, and looting is a “routine” way of life.

Early on, Max says he plans to retire and spend time with his wife and son, and his boss suggests a peaceful vacation. Max’s world and value system are shattered, when a gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) murders his family in retaliation for the death of one of its members.

Emotionally numb, Max straps on his helmet and rides his souped-up V8 racing machine, seek bloody revenge.

Despite low budget and a familiar revenge plot, “Mad Max” is exciting due to the spectacularly staged set pieces. Cinematographer David Eggby and stunt coordinator Grant Page do some amazing work. Director Miller later said that his (primitive) edition was practically done in his bedroom.

There were two official sequels, “The Road Warrior” (aka “Mad Max II”) and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdorme,” and numerous (pale) imitations, all of which catapulted Mel Gibson into a household name, especially with young viewers, largely male high-schoolers and college students. (I was one of them).

A sequence in which a man is chained to a car and must cut off a limb is one of gruesome and graphically violent acts ever seeen by standards of the time.

For the American version, which played for months in theaters (this was prior to the VCR Revolution, in 1984), the voices were dubbed, including Gibson’s.

Mal Gibson’s costume, especially his tight black leather pants and boots, had a huge impact on fashion of the late 1970s and early 1980. In addition to this series, Gibson also impressed in “Gallipoli” and “The Year of Living Dangerously,” followed by the popular “Lethal Weapon” film series.

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