Wake in Fright (A.K.A. Outback) (1971)

Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Kenneth Cook, Evan Jones, Ted Kotcheff
Produced by George Willoughby, Maurice Singer, Howard G. Barnes, Bill Harmon
Starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle, Al Thomas, John Meillon, John Armstrong, Slim DeGrey, Buster Fiddess, Tex Foote, Nancy Knudsen, Dawn Lake, Harry Lawrence

“When you stop drinking, you have to deal with this marvelous personality that started you drinking in the first place.”

–Jimmy Breslin, Table Money


Disdain to doubt to delight to discomfiture, then distraction eventuate from drink, wagers won and lost in two-up, drink, carom billiards in the society of a Freemason (Thomas), drink, aborted intercourse on his daughter (Kay), drink, loathsome lodging in the shack of an alcoholic general practitioner (Pleasence), drink, sunlit and spotlit roo hunts with the aforementioned doc and raucous cockroaches (Thompson, Whittle) in a battered Cadillac, drink, vagation, drink, and drink, and drink, and drink that upend the holiday of a snobbish schoolteacher (Bond), who’s circumstantially stranded in a remote mining town of New South Wales on his way to Sydney and his fiancee (Knudsen) there. Within a week, this conflux of intemperate pleasures and miseries drive as straight, swift, and sure to his nervous breakdown as bullet to bullseye.

Direction & editing

Many memorable shots are peppered through Kotcheff’s sweaty, blackly, brutally funny and flurrying flop, for which his style’s distanced, occasionally panoramic in its views of the vast, sun-scorched outback, and imposing in zooms and close-ups of subjects predatory and victimized alike. The outsider’s drunken disorientation and derangement flicker subjectively in rapid-fire montages cut as well by Anthony Buckley as disturbing scenes of abuse encompassing footage from an actual, licensed hunt, which aren’t for the squeamish.


Baritone Bond created his patronizing pedagogue with pungent and plausible exudation of contempt spoken and silent, wretchedness, disgust, social sadism, and terror at himself and his acquaintances in a part that might’ve elevated him to stardom. Equally enthralling is top-billed Pleasence, who thieves scenes by casual emphases of his roughnecked physician’s peculiarities, lascivity, and insight. In backgrounds or with their stars, everyone else here acts naturally; iconic Aussie Rafferty’s peremptorily friendly sheriff is counterposed to Thompson’s and Whittle’s brawling, boisterous poachers, all of whom feel uncomfortably real.


Lost and unseen for decades, Oz’s celebrated sleeper adapted from Cook’s novel is as gripping a psychodrama as a fictionalization of a crude yet efficient working-class subculture, wherein a leap from civility to savagery is but a score of swills away.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Withnail and I or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.