16 July 2018



'That's some sweet country out there.'

'They're gonna hang you, boy. You think the law's gonna protect you? I AM the law.'

This is a magnificent Antipodean Western, set against the harsh and unforgiving landscape of the Australian Outback in the 1920s. The main topic is racism, although you certainly get a good idea as well of exactly how tough it was to live in that dry, arid dusty place in those times.

It looks even drier and dustier than any of the Westerns set in the 'Murican Wild West, and everyone in the film looks sweaty, dirty and thirsty all of the time. Water is probably a commodity more valuable than gold in a place like that.

I had to swig down about a litre of the stuff after I finished watching this film, lol, and I was hot to begin with as our almost unprecedented little Irish heatwave is still going strong. If this pattern of uncomfortably hot summers keeps up, no more will we Oirish be able to laughingly remark to ourselves and the tourists: 'Last Summer? Yes, I remember it well, it was on a Tuesday...!'

Anyway, an unrecognisable Sam Neill (JURASSIC PARK, THE OMEN 3, THE PIANO, A CRY IN THE DARK) plays white-bearded old Fred Smith, a gentle, Bible-reading rancher who one fateful day lends his 'man,' Aborigine Sam Kelly, to a new neighbour for a couple of days' work.

The new neighbour Harry March is, by general consensus, a nutter. He brutally rapes Sam's Aborigine wife Lizzie while Sam is off herding cattle on his, March's, instructions, although it's  Sam's young niece Lucy he has designs on initially. 'I wanted the other one but you'll do.'

He then turns all three of them off his land (talk about release the hounds), without feeding or watering them or paying them for the work they've done. What a jerk. They've done the work they were ordered to do but they have feck-all to show for it.

Harry is a veteran of World War One, a soldier who 'fought the Boche on the Western Front.' He still seems traumatised by what he saw and did there, but methinks that such a nasty, racist man would have to have been a bad egg to begin with.

He's disgustingly rude and racist towards Sam and his little family, not to mention the sexual assault against Sam's wife. He was cowardly enough to send Sam out of the way while he was doing it, too. When he's lent a young Aborigine boy called Philomac by another neighbour, he chains the boy to a rock out of sheer cruelty.

When Fred Smith beetles off to town for a couple of weeks, he leaves Sam and Lizzie in charge of the house. When a drunk and deranged Harry March barges round to Fred's house in Fred's absence, he's in a high temper indeed, looking for Philomac who's hopped it. 

Good for Philomac for not sticking around to put up with more of March's violent shit, although he's risking a fearful hiding when he's caught. He has a dog's life as a farm-boy, but luckily he's smart enough to see when there's a chance to afford himself some advantage.

For some reason, on this particular day Harry thinks that Sam and Lizzie are harbouring the runaway Philomac. He starts shooting holes clean through Fred's front door. Afraid for his and Lizzie's lives, Sam grabs up one of Fred's shotguns and shoots Harry dead.

Terrified because he's killed 'a whitefella,' a member of the 'superior' race, he and Lizzie go on the run. The viewer knows that it was totally self-defence, but are there any witnesses to the shooting who can testify to that fact...? If there aren't, then the future looks bleak for Sam and Lizzie, who's now very much 'in the family way' thanks to a certain not-so-friendly neighbourhood rapist...

Bryan Brown (GORILLAS IN THE MIST, THE THORN BIRDS), who's now seventy-one years old just like his co-star Sam Neill (I didn't know Sam Neill was that old!), plays the tough-as-old-boots Sergeant Fletcher whose job it is to find Sam and bring him in for trial. Well, good luck with that, lol. Fletcher might be as tough as a very tough thing but Sam knows the terrain like the back of his hand.

Fletcher says ta-ra for a bit to his barmaid sweetheart Nell who runs the town's one watering-hole (she's nearly as tough as Fletcher by the looks of her), and sets off with a small posse to catch the runaways. After two weeks of solid searching, the posse turns back, leaving Fletcher with a decision to make.

Does he risk his own death crossing the driest of dry, barren terrain all by himself just to carry out his commission, or does he call it a day and head back to town, where Nell will be waiting for him with a cold pint and a warm bed? It's up to him...

The posse bit reminds me of one of my favourite Westerns, BANDOLERO. The late great George Kennedy plays Sheriff July Johnson. He's chasing Dean Martin and James Stewart, as two bank-robbing brothers called Dee and Mace Bishop, across bandit country with his faithful Deputy Roscoe Bookbinder.

Of course, what makes the chase interesting (even more interesting than the bloodthirsty bandits whose terrain they're trespassing on) is the fact that July is hopelessly in love with the female hostage the Bishop brothers have taken along with them for the ride. 

Maria Stoner is played by the utterly gorgeous and busty Raquel Welch. 'I think she's going to stack up all right,' James Stewart was heard to remark about her before filming started. And I bet she did, Jimmy, I just bet she did...

Back to SWEET COUNTRY, anyway. Matt Day is excellent, not to mention handsome, as the Judge who comes to town to hear the case. Although, as the only guy in the film under seventy (barring the cheeky little Philomac!), he already has an edge in the romantic stakes, lol.

I love that the townspeople (there's about three of 'em...!) are watching a silent movie based on the adventures of the notorious Ned Kelly Gang on a big screen out in the open. They're enchanted with it, probably because cinema was very much in its infancy in those days and was still a massive novelty. They're like babies ooh-ing and aah-ing at Christmas tree lights. Well, if they think that this is good stuff, just wait till they discover the magic of Charlie Chaplin...!

By the way, while we're on the subject of entertainment, do you know what the town doesn't have? A brothel! What kind of self-respecting frontier town doesn't have a selection of bored, disease-ridden prostitutes for the sweaty, toothless, inbred inhabitants to jiggle up and down on for two minutes on a Saturday night while a crusty olde-timer bangs out a few tunes downstairs on the old joanna? A mighty poor one, I'd say, wouldn't you, fellers? 

They used to ship girls and women in to towns like that for that very purpose in the old days, I believe, but this town is so far off the radar that it was probably never even on the mailing list to begin with, lol. Never even heard of Facebook, I'll bet.

The judge and Fred Smith are the only two people in the film who treat the Aborigines like human beings. Which is disgraceful, as the Aborigines were there first, surely? To hear them referred to dismissively as 'blackstock,' as if they're cattle, or as 'blackfellas,' is painful.

Will equality and compassion for one's fellow man, regardless of his colour, win the day, or will the yobbos who clamour to 'hang the black bastard' get their ignorant way? Can compassion and sympathy even flourish in such a barren, arid landscape?

In the special features, there's a brief interview with Anni Finsterer who plays Nell, Fletcher's bosomy moll, in the film. She makes an interesting point when she says that the characters are tough and the similar toughness of the harsh, unforgiving landscape reflects this back at them in a conversation that never seems to end.

Good on ya, girl. I couldn't have put it better myself. Well, maybe I could if I exerted myself, but I'm tired now after writing this and dying of thirst again, thinking of all those acres and acres of dry scrubby Outback. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Pass me a tinnie, mate, and throw a couple-a dingoes on the barbie. We're not going anywhere for a while...

SWEET COUNTRY is available to buy now on DVD and BLU-RAY courtesy of THUNDERBIRD RELEASING. Interviews with the cast and crew are included as special features.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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