Wake in Fright (15)
The majesty of Wake in Fright is in its surreality and the sense of an enlightened young man being sucked down by a coarsening that he somehow embraces and exults in.
Gary Bond is the bonded schoolmaster en-route to a seaside holiday in Sydney who is stranded in a bleak and brutal outback town. What should be an overnight stay turns into a five-day excursion into man’s baser instincts.
And while he first attempts to fight off the constant exhortations to drink – and the attentions of a very liberated young woman – he eventually allows himself to wallow in the attractions of a very different world to the one he knows.
Based on a cult novel – the title comes from Omar Khayyam: “May you dream of the devil, and wake in fright” – the movie pre-dates Deliverance yet contains much of its sense of twisted machismo.
Grant is portrayed as an agonised man, a somewhat prissy snob who looks down on the two-fisted brawlers he meets in Bundayabba – a town of flies, guns, fast women and bored men who fill their hours with beer and scraps.
Yet like Conrad’s Marlowe in Heart of Darkness – he is a derivation of an explorer but without an agenda – Grant is confronted with behaviour and personalities he has never before contemplated. To see him jump headlong into that world is deeply shocking.
Donald Pleasence drifts through the plot as a struck-off doctor in a tin shack. He is perhaps as mysterious as Grant; the difference is that he has accepted his lot and floats through what remains of his life pickled in alcohol.
Star rating: ****