Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Quigley Down Under

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at one of the many movies in my collection.  This week, we get to a fondly-remembered western from 1990, Quigley Down Under.  This is dated in my notes at November 2, 2012. 

So, I've got the new iPhone, and I was goofing around on iTunes, and I was very delighted to find the soundtrack for Quigley Down Under. Always liked the main theme from this film. It's a very classic Western theme.

I remember seeing this movie on video when it was first released on video, and really quite enjoying it.  In this film, Tom Selleck plays the quintessential cowboy.  It's a very basic Western plot, but with such a likeable lead, and with the novelty of an Australian setting, you can't help but like it.

Perhaps I remember this movie the most because of a friend of mine in high school named Travis.  Travis was about the only other movie geek there was, and he'd frequently boast that his uncle had a Laserdisc player, the crem-de-la-crem of home entertainment systems in the early 1990s.  He'd always boast about this one scene in the film where Quigley demonstrates his rifle, and how his uncle would crank up the volume on his home theatre sound system, and the sound of that gunshot was magnificent.  So, when I saw Quigley Down Under in a discount bin for $10, I naturally wondered what that gunshot would sound like through my 900W surround sound system.

Reading it up online, the film does have an interesting production history.  It was originally being developed in the 1970s as a vehicle for legendary action star Steve McQueen.  When McQueen passed away, the project just kind of languished for a while.  Apparently Clint Eastwood even showed interest for a while.  But then, as famously pointed out in a Simpsons episode, Australian culture became a bit of a fad in the USA in the late-1980s, and the project was resurrected.  Tom Sellick still had a large degree of star power thanks to Magnum P.I., and he signed on to star.  Simon Wincer signed on to direct, fresh after winning a boatload of awards for resurrecting the Western genre with his epic miniseries Lonesome Dove.  With all this behind it, the film finally hit theatres in the fall of 1990.

It`s Australia in the 1880s, and fresh of the boat is an American cowboy by the name of Matthew Quigley.  Quigley answered an ad looking for "the best sharpshooter in the world," and that brought him to Australia's Western territory courtesy of the cattle baron Elliot Marston, played by Professor Snape himself, Alan Rickman.  Of course, back at this time, he was still best known as "the bad guy from Die Hard." 

Once Quigley and Marston meet, we get the scene that my buddy Travis always raved about.  Quigley demonstrates his sharpshooting skill by unveiling his customized rifle.  Apparently, among Western fans and gun enthusiasts, this rifle has become the stuff of legend.  Probably because Quigley has a brief monologue describing how it was customized, and most said, "Yeah...that could work."  Sellick kept the ones used in the film for himself, and official replicas made by firearms manufacturers fetch a high price.

Anyway, one of Marston's men rides off to a distant hill, and drops a bucket.  Much to Marston's amazement, Quigley is able put three holes in it.  Marston hires him on the spot.  Marston is also tickled pink, because he's fascinated with stories of the American West, and is amazed to be speaking to a real, live, American cowboy, who's actually been to Dodge City!  However, over dinner that night, we learn of Marston's villainy.  Marston's parents were killed by Aborigines, and now he finds the Aborigines are encroaching on his massive ranch.  Marston hired Quigley for one reason:  pick off the Aborigines that stray too close to his land.  Appalled at this job to be little more than a cold-blooded murderer, Quigley throws Marston out of Marston's own house!  But Marston's men overpower Quigley, and they abandon him in the Outback to let Australia kill him. 

I should probably take a moment now to mention our heroine and subplot...another American stuck in Australia by the name of Cora.  She's not quite right in the head, and has picked up the nickname Crazy Cora.  She constantly refers to Quigley as "Roy."  Played by Laura San Giacomo, who was a bit of an indie darling in cinema at this point thanks to her breakout role in sex, lies, and videotape.  Abducted by Marston's men to be *ahem* entertainment for the ranchhands, they soon tire of her mentally unbalanced antics, and decide to ditch her in the Outback alongside Quigley.

So the two are abandoned in the Outback, where they wander around in the desert for a bit until their found and nursed back to health by the Aborigines.  During this time, Cora has a moment of lucidity and she tells us her backstory.  She tells the tale of how she's originally from Texas, and one night, while her husband Roy was away, their home was attacked by Comanches.  She hid in the root cellar, but her infant son was crying and was going to give away their position.  So, she held her hand over her baby's mouth to silence him, and accidentally smothered her baby.  When Roy came home, he was horrified at what she'd done.  Roy calmly buried their son, took Cora to the nearest port town, and put her on the first boat out of the country.  His final words to her:  "No one wants a woman who'd kill her own son to save herself."  Probably the reason for her insanity, too, as no doubt, such a traumatic experience would...break someone. 

Back to the main plot, their time with the Aborigines approaches the idyllic until the Aborigines are attacked on day by Marston's men.  This leads to the film's midsection where Quigley and Marston's men have a series of skirmishes in the Outback.  I always kind of likened this to "Die Hard in the Outback," as Quigley and Marston do wind up playing a similar kind of cat-and-mouse game.  In one of their skirmishes. Cora manages to save an orphaned Aborigine baby. 

Eventually, Quigley and Cora decide it would be best to split up.  She'll set up a camp and look after the baby, and he'll ride to the nearest town for supplies and help.  While alone, though, Cora and the baby are attacked by dingos.  In her fragile mental state, Cora begins replaying the events of the Comanche attack.  When she goes to place her hand over the baby's mouth, she snaps out of it.  Instead, she picks up the guns, fights off the dingos, saves the baby, and earns a certain amount of redemption.

Meanwhile, while in town, Quigley happens to run into Marston's men, and Marston's men wind up burning down most of the town in an attempt to get Quigley.  With this being the last straw, Quigley decides to go on one last ride, take the fight to Marston, and end this once and for all.

With Cora left safe in the town with a kindly shopkeeper, and the baby returned to the Aborigines, Quigley goes off, and with his rifle, easily takes down most of Marston's men.  But Quigley is soon captured, and brought into Marston's compound.  Being enamored with the Western culture, Marston wants to end this in a good ol' quick draw showdown.  Marston expects to easily win, because throughout the movie we've seen him practicing his quick drawn, and whenever Quigley is offered the use of a handgun, he politely declines saying "he never had much use for one." 

The payoff to that gag comes in our showdown.  Quigley is given his revolver, Marston draws, but Quigley easily outdraws Marston and guns him down.  As Marston  lays dying, Quigley walks up to him.  Marston looks up at Quigley and seems to mumble, "But...but...."  And Quigley says, "I said I didn't have much use for one.  Doesn't mean I don't know how to use one."  Kind of chuckling as if he gets the joke, Marston dies.

With justice having been dispatched, Quigley goes down to the docks and gets on a boat back to the USA.  Her sanity seemingly restored, Cora joins him.  The end.

And that's it.  Once again, what makes this film so much fun is the character of Quigley.  He's got just the right amount of dry wit that the situation calls for.  I always wanted to see more of that character...some where in my piles and piles of notes, I think I jotted down the idea for "Quigley Up North," where he has to come to the Canadian Rockies for some reason.  Really didn't think past the title for that one.

Darn it, writing this one has been frustrating for me, becuase I know when I first bought the DVD a couple of years ago, I did write something very similar to a Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I hoped to consult those notes on writing this, but now I can't find them.  However, I did jot down a few thoughts on my blog, so for historical completeness, here's the notes from my blog:

"I also snatched out of the discount bin a little ol' western by the name of Quigley Down Under. It's one of those films that I always run into on late night TV and enjoy. Tom Sellick plays Matthew Quigley, an expert sharpshooter from the Wild West who accepts a job on a cattle ranch in Australia. When he arrives, he finds that the job is to murder the Aborigines who still live on the rancher's land. Naturally, Quigley tells the rancher to go eff himself, and it turns into kind of a "Die Hard across the Outback," as Quigley uses his skills to outsmart the rancher's henchmen and bring the rancher to justice. Professor Snape himself, Alan Rickman, plays the villanous rancher. It's also got a great music score from a legendary composer named Basil Poledouris.

So, why did I fish this one out of the discount bin? Well, back in high school, I had a friend named Travis. Travis was one of the few fellow movie buffs in my high school, and he's frequently loan me films from his vast VHS collection. He'd even regale me with tales of his uncle in Vancouver who owned a Laserdisc player...Laserdisc being the format of choice for home theatre enthusiasts in the late-80s/early-90s. "But the best film on Laserdisc has to be Quigley Down Under," Travis would tell me. "That part at the start of the film? Where Quigley first shows off his rifle? When my uncle cranks that up through his sound system...the whole room shakes!"

So whenever I spied Quigley Down Under in the DVD discount bins, I'd think, "I wonder how that rifle shot would sound pumped through my surround sound system and my 900W subwoofer?"

Travis, if you ever read this, it sounds damn fine.

No comments: