December 12, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
"PLEASED to know you, Jack. What about another beer?"
Call it death by hospitality.
The speaker is Jock (played by the popular Australian actor Chips Rafferty in his last screen role) the police chief of the tiny Aussie town of Bundayabba, known to the locals as "the Yabba."
On the receiving end of Jock's affably masculine invitation is John Grant (Gary Bond), a Brit schoolteacher obliged by a $1,000 bond to teach in Australia's most remote outback outposts.
Grant is on his way to Sydney after the end of the school year. But he effectively gets trapped in the Yabba, seduced by copious beer consumption, a local coin-toss gambling mania and finally a kind of demented male camaraderie. Its first iteration is in the benign beer-guzzling entreaties of the police chief himself. But Grant succumbs to bonding of a darker nature when he falls in with Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasance), an intellectual match for Grant who has cheerfully gone to seed in this remote, hot backwater.
After listening to Jock proudly talk up what a grand place the Yabba is, Tydon offers the immortal quip: "All the little devils are proud of hell."
Made in 1970, Wake in Fright was directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) with a pair of British movie stars in lead roles. It won an award at Cannes and played in France for five months, but Australians didn't take kindly to the film's portrayal of Aussie masculinity and the movie promptly failed in its domestic release.
Indeed, it was considered a lost film until a print was found in Pittsburgh and it was digitally restored in 2009.
Australians have since embraced the film; well, as much as a film of this nature could ever be embraced. Its most notorious scene is a horrifying kangaroo hunt in which the animals are cut down by drunken hunters in a gruesome slaughter all the more upsetting because Kotcheff got the footage from a real hunt.
That sequence is not soon forgotten.
But this is also a film of more subtle horror, depicting one man's psychological disintegration in chillingly credible gradients.
Wake in Fright
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 D3