“Don’t know where we’re goin’, but there’s no use bein’ late.”
The Scoop: 1990 PG-13, directed by Simon Wincer and starring Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo and Alan Rickman.
Tagline: There’s a price on his head. A girl on his mind. And a twinkle in his eye.
Summary Capsule: Sharp-shootin’ gunslinger deals with a bunch of ornery varmints while fending off kangaroos and crazy ladies.
Deneb’s rating: Two out of three five-hundred forty grain paper patch bullets.
Deneb’s review: I’m guessing I’m gonna be the odd man out of this theme week, seeing as how the theme is ‘Weird Westerns’ and compared to some, this ain’t too weird at all. Still, it’s what I could come up with, so let’s take what we can get. I mean, it’s a little weird. It’s a western in Australia! Craziness! Insanity! Starring Tom Selleck, the man whose mustache is more famous than he is! (I mean, seriously, no disrespect intended to Mr. Selleck, but have you ever heard a reference to him within recent memory that did not include a reference to his mustache? I don’t think so.)
Selleck plays Matthew Quigley, a rootin’ tootin’ sharp-shootin’ cowpoke who answers a newspaper ad put out by Elliot Marston, an Australian ranch owner who’s looking for the world’s best long-distance long-distance marksman to kill dingoes for him. Quigley reckons he fits that description, so he hops on a ship and moseys on down there to see what’s what.
Upon arriving in Australia, two things happen in rapid succession. First, through an act of chivalry, he becomes burdened with “Crazy Cora” (Laura San Giacomo), a somewhat-on-the-bonkers-side fellow expat who’s convinced that he’s someone named Roy. Second, when he gets to the ranch and actually meets Marston, he discovers that A: he’s played by Alan Rickman, a bad sign in and of itself, and B: he’s a thoroughly evil bigot who’s actually hired Quigley to help him wipe out the local Aborigines.
Well, gosh all heckfire, that will not stand, so the two men quickly become bitter enemies. Marston gets the upper hand initially, and orders his crew of ex-con cutthroats to dump the two yanks out in the middle of the outback to die of thirst.
Will Quigley make it out alive, kiss the girl, save the day, and deal with those ornery polecats in proper Western fashion? Well, it’s not called “Quigley Gets Killed”, so what do you think?
One could, I suppose, call Quigley Down Under a rather patronizing bit of historical revisionism. After all, why would a man of Quigley’s era, who’s just come from a country where the then-current killing off of its own natives was not only commonplace but glorified, be so thoroughly outraged at what basically amounts to the same thing? I’m not saying he’d necessarily like the idea, or take part in it, but his attitude could be seen as somewhat overly modern. It’s like the attitude we would like our heroes of the past to have had, whereas in reality quite a lot of them were raging xenophobic a-holes when it came to quite a lot of things. It’s the past, all right? Not everything was nice about the past. Not that there aren’t noble and unprejudiced people in any time period, of course, but in real life, Quigley would… well, chances are he’d probably have been a much darker character.
But y’know what? To heck with all that. Quigley’s not a real life character, he’s an awesomely bemustached ‘90’s movie gunslinger wearing a big white cowboy hat, and that means he can be as idealistic as we’d darn well like him to be. And if that means anachronistically altruistic behavior, then so be it! And goldang it, it’s refreshing to see the “cowboy” fight on the side of the “Indians”, even if that’s becoming a subgenre of its own.
As you may have gathered, this movie does not feature the most complex or surprising of narratives. It’s straightforward good guy VS. bad guy hijinks – the basic plot is something you’ve seen a million times before.
Good thing, then, that Selleck fits the role of traditional western good guy so well. His character isn’t the most complex in the world, but he doesn’t have to be – he’s a likable, upstanding guy who fights fair, is courteous to the womenfolk, and never misses, gosh-darn it, ‘cause that would be just plan un-American! Or something. (In fact, the one way that he differs from the traditional picture of the Wild West hero is that he wields a modified rifle instead of a pair of six-shooters. This was a good choice, I think, since it looks pretty cool, and has all sorts of other handy uses around the house that your average six-shooters just don’t have. For example, did you know that you can use a rifle to escape a burning building? It’s true.)
Quigley himself aside, the film’s a little shy on supporting cast, so it’s a good thing that the ones who do show up do a pretty good job. The main one, of course, is Crazy Cora. Laura San Giacomo really sinks her teeth into the role, which is good, because in the wrong hands, this character could be really, really annoying. Fortunately, she isn’t – she’s authentically exasperating and near-deranged at times (you can see why Quigley keeps giving her “lady, you’re nuts” reactions), yet oddly endearing – she’s got a lack of artifice and an “aw, shucks” sort of openness about her that makes her impossible to really dislike, even if she’d be bugging the crap out of you in real life. It’s a tricky balancing act, and she pulls it off well – and as a reward of sorts, she gets an authentically tragic backstory. I mean, if ever someone had a reason to flip her lid, this is it. And yet she’s funny! Whodathunk it?
Then, of course, we have Alan Rickman. I… just what do you say about Alan Rickman? He’s Alan Rickman – he could play this sort of slimy villain in his sleep, and he’s at his very Alan Rickman-iest here, snapping and snarling and kicking people around. He does, however, have an interesting twist or two – Marston’s motivations have at least a little to do with his obsession with the American West. He sports a pair of six-guns that he prides himself on his skill with, and is extremely impressed when Quigley mentions that he’s actually been in Dodge City. In fact, one could see him as a commentary of sorts on all that real-life stuff I was talking about – he wants to hire Quigley specifically because he’s American, and he admires the “solution” the Americans have come up with regarding their native population. His deadly enmity towards his foe on some level seems to involve a sense of betrayal – he thought he’d hired a real gunslinger, dang it to blazes, and instead he’s got one who doesn’t want to kill people if he doesn’t have to! How dare he? I mean, he wears a cowboy hat and everything!
There’s not much more to say, really – by now, you’ve either pounced on the “patronizing bit of historical revisionism” aspect and gone “Oh, I am not seeing this”, or continued on from “y’know what” and are going “hmm, bring me this… Quigley”. Or maybe neither of those. Basically, Quigley Down Under is not going to be everyone’s cuppa, but if you like old-fashioned Western-type heroics, or Australia, or Tom Selleck’s mustache, or all three, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.
(Oh, and just to get it out of my system – dagnabbit! Rootin’-tootin’ criminitly dad-gum yee-haw hootenanny! Consarned ding-busted tarnation, by cracky! Dad-blast! Jee-hosaphat!
OK, I’m done.)
- Quigley’s outfit appears to be loosely modeled after that of the Vigilante, a Golden Age cowboy-themed hero from DC Comics. It’s pretty subtle, but when he’s got the bandanna pulled up, the resemblance is quite uncanny.
- Quigley’s rifle was custom-made specifically for Tom Selleck. Three of them were made for the film (all three of which he kept afterward), and the company that made them still offers replicas of the gun to their customers (albeit at a hefty price).
- Due to the character’s sharp-shooting in the film, killing two targets with one bullet has entered snipers’ parlance as ‘a Quigley’.
- Steve McQueen was originally going to play the title role back in 1980, but he fell ill before shooting could start, so the film was scrapped for a decade.
- The movie is scored by Basil Poledouris, who also did the score for Conan the Barbarian. The two have little in common except for their extreme stick-in-the-headishness.
Quigley: Don’t know where we’re goin’, but there’s no use bein’ late.
Crazy Cora: Just because the road is rocky doesn’t mean your spirits should get rocky, too.
Marston: Some men are born in the wrong century. I think I was born on the wrong continent.
Quigley: Lady, you are about a half a bubble off o’ plumb, and that’s for sure and for certain.
Crazy Cora: Look out, Roy!
(She swings with an oar, misses her target and hits Quigley)
Quigley: Kid, next time she talks like that, pee all over the dress.
Major Ashley Pitt: In our experience, Americans are uncouth misfits who’ve been run out of their own barbaric country.
Quigley: Well, Lieutenant…
Major Ashley Pitt: Major.
Quigley: Major. We already run the misfits outta our country. We sent ‘em back to England.
Dobkin: Move, you gutless bloody wonder.
Marston: No man knocks me out of my own house!
Crazy Cora: Y’know, if we’re lost, you can tell me.
Quigley: We’re lost.
Crazy Cora: I can take bad news, just tell me straight.
Quigley: I don’t know where the hell we are.
Crazy Cora: No sense takin’ time to make it sound better than it is.
Quigley: Reckon we’re goin’ in circles.
Crazy Cora: Flour things up, I’ll see right through it, so tell me honestly – are we lost?
Quigley: Nope! I know exactly where we are.
Crazy Cora: That’s good, ‘cause frankly, I was gettin’ a little worried.
Marston: Oh, by the way, you’re fired.
Quigley: I’m new here, so I ain’t rightly certain. Is everybody in this country as butt-ugly as you three?
Crazy Cora: What are they, Koala bears?
Quigley: Kangaroos, I reckon.
Crazy Cora: Well, whatever they are, Roy, nature sure played an awful trick on ‘em.
Marston: An experimental weapon with experimental ammunition.
Quigley: You could call it that.
Marston: Let’s experiment.
(Quigley and Cora are being offered live grubs)
Quigley: I don’t eat things that are still movin’.
Crazy Cora: Gonna shoot it first?
Crazy Cora: Anyone who believes in magic is crazy.
Marston: Let Australia kill him.
Crazy Cora: Don’t worry. On a new job, it’s quite common for things not to go well at first.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Magnificent Seven
- Just about anything set in Australia