Ignore the tag to my immediate left–Quigley Down Under is so much better than that terrible copy.
One of the more interesting premises for Westerns in the last thirty years has got to be the premise behind Quigley Down Under:
A Wyoming sharpshooter responds to an ad in the newspaper and winds up in Australia–which was undergoing its own frontier experience very similiar to the US’s Old West, complete with mass murder of the natives.
This last point is very important later on.
Basically, Quigley can shoot with pinpoint accuracy from a distance of just over 1200 yards–which is pretty goddamn impressive NOW. Back in the 19th century that was the equivalent of being pyrokinetic.
Along the way, Quigley picks up the deranged Cora, played with an effusive energy by Laura San Giacomo in an early role. She insists on calling him Roy and seems to think they have some kind of relationship.
Quigley has been on a boat from America for three months, and catches a wagon for several days’ ride into the interior to the ranch of Elliot Marsdon, played by consummate bad guy Alan Rickman–it’s kind of amazing how Rickman’s career in the 80’s was comprised of getting beaten up by American action stars, but it worked for him and he’s still cruising along now, so more power to him. I freaking LOVED him as the snide Sheriff of Nottingham in the Costner version of Robin Hood. Pure camp.
Here lies the gruesomeness behind what seemed to be an otherwise light-hearted film: Marsdon’s plan is to have use Quigley’s sharpshooter skills to kill the Aborigines that have been attacking his ranch–you know, the indigenous people who have been put off their native land and were slaughtered just for being there in the first place.
Let it sink it. I’ll wait.
Quigley is understandably horrified by the plan.
Marsdon’s fawning fascination in Quigley’s personal experience with the American West grosses him out further. He puts Marsdon through a window, and Marsdon has his thugs beat Quigley and drive him to the middle of nowhere and leave him for dead. Some fool has brought along Quigley’s super badass experimental rifle, an 1874 Sharp’s Buffalo Rifle, which Quigley quickly retrieves and uses to make the guy very dead.
There are a handful of things that make Quigley Down Under stand out as a worthy watch: one is Tom Selleck’s somewhat rakish perfomance. Although a total good guy through and through, there are little hints that he wasn’t maybe the guy in the white hat his whole life. He has a moment where he almost leaves Cora behind, and threatens a dying man with torture. Despite being sold as a leading man, I never really found Selleck attractive, but he has a definite charm and a disarming smile that made the character really come to life. He was just a cool guy, and made for a well-conceived, realistic hero.
The other thing that makes QDU stand out is the movie’s main conflict, and the dark subject matter explored as European expansion meant relocation or death for native peoples.
There’s a particularly gruesome moment when a small group of Aborigines, including women and children, are straight up driven over a cliff to die on the rocks below.
This isn’t fiction, or some filmmaker’s conceit.
That kind of monstrous shit really happened–the history of every nation is written in red ink, any student of history knows that, but seeing it in action, even dramatized, is enough to make one sit back and reflect on the human condition as a whole. You don’t need to stand on a street corner and scream about it, but instead let that consideration inform your decisions going forward in life. The world would be a better place, I like to think.
But we were discussing a movie.
The other gem of the film is Lara SanGiacomo’s performance as Crazy Cora, who was shipped to Australia by her husband as a punishment for a simple accident. The event left her mad, prone to erratic behavior, and insistent on calling Quigley ‘Roy.’ Her depiction of someone mentally unbalanced is refreshingly real; someone with real mental problems doesn’t hold up a little sign or provide some other shorthand to let you know when they’re crazy, so you don’t know to dismiss what they’re saying until the sign goes back down. You just have to put up with them and hope for the best.
The movie suffers, to be sure. A slightly corny ending, old school one-dimensional villains, and it isn’t sure if it wants to wander into comedy territory at times, despite dealing with some pretty heavy shit.The costumes and acting hold up well, and don’t seem dated despite the movie being 20 years old.
It’s still one worth catching though, if you find yourself on a Saturday night with a bowlful of popcorn and two hours to kill.
Quigley Down Under is available on Instant Watch.