Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
Our rating: 3 out of 5
There hasn't been a classic western since Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne rode off the silver screen. Maybe there were too many during the Golden Age of Hollywood, or perhaps cowboys and shootouts just went out of style. But whatever the cause, there are a few films like Tombstone, Texas Rangers, and Quigley Down Under who make an earnest attempt to raise interest. This film takes a classic approach and throws it into a new bag of tricks. It works. But just barely.
Matthew Quigley (Tom Seleck) is the finest sharpshooter in the States. A gruff man with a heart of gold, he owns the best long-range rifle ever made, and can shoot the eye out of a crow at six hundred yards. Packing up all his gear, he sets out for the Land Down Under in answer to the advertisement of Elliott Marston, a wealthy rancher in need of a sharpshooter to rid his property of the dingos who enjoy killing his cattle. Arriving in port, Quigley meets up with Crazy Cora, a fellow American who honestly believes he's her long lost husband Roy. Unable to leave her behind, he agrees to allow her to accompany him and the band of men and saloon girls bound for the Marston ranch. He's impressed with the extensive property and high value of the ranch's owner, but then realizes he's been brought here under false pretenses. Marston (Alan Rickman) isn't looking for a dingo-shooter; he's looking for a man who can kill the local aborigines. These native blacks occasionally pick off his sheep and cattle, but they've learned to stay out of rifle range.
Quigley doesn't much like the idea. He doesn't much care for being tricked, either. He has the misfortune to throw Marston through a plated glass window, and make an enemy out of the man. He and Cora are knocked unconscious and left for dead in the middle of the desert. But their good fortune comes when they're rescued by a local aborigine tribe, who makes them understand the worth of their native culture. In the meantime, Marston has learned two of his men have been killed by a sharpshooter. And he wants revenge... Not being a big fan of westerns in general, I came into this film with mixed expectations. Quigley Down Under, I discovered, is more of a comedy than a serious western, although all the classic ingredients are there... the shootouts, the brawls, the wealthy villain. There's something almost likable about Cora, who can be found babbling on about the state of her petticoat, calling Quigley 'Roy' every ten minutes, and occasionally laughing at her own insanity. At one point in the film, she inquires of Quigley if they're lost. In-between his affirmative answers, she rambles, 'You can tell me honestly, Roy. I'm a big girl; I can take it. If we're lost, you just say so. Don't sugar-coat it!'
The real trip here is Alan Rickman. I'm so used to seeing him in British costume dramas it took me a full ten minutes to accept his Aussie characteristics and mustache. Eventually I came to enjoy his performance. Unfortunately, his character is under-developed and gets killed in the end. It's a loss half built up of relief, since he was a scum ball, but also a slight bit of remorse, since he was one of the most intriguing personalities. Overall, I had a lot of mixed reactions. The film seems to follow a course of vengeance rather than justice. We're told Marston likes to mix poison with flour to kill off the natives, and has his men often run them of cliffs. What we're not told, beyond one line about his parents being killed by the aborigines, is why. The violence runs high. Dozens of men are shot and killed, sometimes with bloody effects. Dingos try and attack a woman and her child, then turn on each other when wounded. Natives are forced to leap off cliffs. A brawl ensues early on; a man is thrown through a glass window. Horses rear and topple, one time causing both to fall off a cliff. A man is impaled with a spear, and three men are killed at close pistol range. Language was fairly mild. Mainly use of "hell," although two uses of "God Almighty, woman!" and one abuse Jesus pops up.
I could have lived with the violence. The humor of the film was enough to make it worthwhile. I might have overlooked also some of the mildly racy dialogue, like when Cora asks "Roy" to share her bed several times. What I could have done without was the tribal nudity. Most of the men wore skimpy loincloths, but the women are all topless. Most shots are from the shoulders up, but far off glimpses, as well as a few close-ups, show upper nudity. It's a flaw that sadly mangles the rest of the film.