(George Miller, 1979)
This remains a tremendous oddity. Released at the tail-end of the series of "oz-ploitation" movies of the 1970s, it's exploitation roots are clear and part of its charm. It is full of unique idiosyncrasies, some of them supplied by Australian culture, others part of the narrative. Miller was still finding his voice, so there are plenty of clunky, clumsy, crude moments and scenes. But his genius as a visual storyteller is still more than evident.
The action scenes are largely terrific - visceral, brutal, exhilarating, and with a directness which is bracing, even shocking. Miller's style is so precise and powerful, it gives otherwise dull scenes a charge, even when the acting and dialogue is a little questionable. And it often is questionable. Scenes of Max (Mel Gibson) at home with his wife, sharing cute stories while Brian May's score ladles on the syrup can be hard to take. But then there is that weird factor. Max's wife plays the saxophone at home, for fun. His buddy Goose - the plot's sacrificial lamb, his fate a horror-movie death by fire revealed expressively during Max's visit to his hospital bed through gurgling sound effects, a single shot of a charred hand and Gibson's horrified reaction - enjoys a night with a bad nightclub singer. A stalk-through-the-woods sequence is revealed to be misleading (with a Boo Radley-esque figure) until it isn't. The chief of police waters plants topless, chewing on a stogie. The Toecutter's biker gang feel like they've come from another movie altogether, each of them chewing scenery, gurning, playing with props, each seemingly set on stealing the limelight from the others (no surprise to learn they were all Shakespearian stage actors, since their scenes feel much like an out of control improv session).
Against all this the splashes of horrific violence feel almost hallucinatory, and their impact is only increased. Gibson is all raw charisma and youthful beauty here, but you can see the star he would become. And yet Miller is the real star.