Wake In Fright (1971)
Director: Ted Kotcheff.
Starring: Donald Pleasence ('Doc' Tydon), Gary Bond (John Grant), Chips Rafferty (Jock Crawford), Sylvia Kay (Janette Hynes), Jack Thompson (Dick), Peter Whittle (Joe), Al Thomas (Tim Hynes), John Meillon (Charlie), John Armstrong (Atkins), Slim DeGrey (Jarvis), Maggie Dence (Receptionist), Norm Erskine (Joe the cook), Owen Moase (First controller), John Dalleen (Second controller), Buster Fiddess (Charlie Jones).
British teacher at isolated school with menacing locals
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The landscape looks like desert. There is a railway track and telephone poles, but there is only one small building in the area of nothingness. Then the camera does a 360 degree span of the entire area. At the very last we see one more building. It looks like someone's house. The railway station is nothing but a raised platform with a clock and a sign saying Tiboonda.
The white house turns out be be the local school. All the kids are just waiting and waiting for the teacher to speak. He finally says that the kids can be excused. Everyone rushes out except for two boys and a girl. One of the students shouts that they will see the teacher next year.
The teacher goes across the railroad tracks and the road to the other building in the area that looks like a deserted tavern with some rooms to rent. The teacher grabs his two packed suitcases and leaves his room. The next time the teacher is seen he is asking for a beer at the bar. The bartender Charlie asks the teacher if he will be wanting his old room when he returns for the next school year? The teachers says: "Where else would I stay?" The train whistle blows, the teacher has to down the rest of his beer and Charlie says he will see teach in six weeks. The teacher runs to the station. The train only has a few cars. Our man gets on the caboose. A group of men are drinking, playing music and singing.
Some of the school children rush out to the track to wave goodbye to their teacher. Teacher sits down and remembers his girlfriend. He has a flashback to him and his girl at the beach. The train stops at a station with the named Bundanyabba. The taxi driver asks him if he is staying long? Just tonight.
The teacher goes into an inn where the woman receptionist sits behind glass and does business through a window hole cut out in that glass. He asks if they have a reservation for a John Grant? He also tells her that he's only staying for one night because he is flying out to Sydney in the morning. The receptionist says he has to pay the bill now. The cost is $4 dollars. It's really hot today and the receptionist put drops of water on her forehead to have them evaporate via the electric fan blowing in her face.
John goes into a really huge bar that is packed with men. All the bartenders are women and the manager is a fellow. They sell so much beer here that they have their own dishwashing machine. To fill the glasses they line up the beer glasses in two single files next to each other and just move the beer hose from one glass to another. Quite a few of the men give the newcomer a quick look-over. John goes over to lean against one of the walls. A fellow who says his name is Jock Crawford comes over to him and starts talking away. He asks quite a few questions of John (who he will call Jack) and they they exchange names. Jock asks if John would like another beer? So John has to down his beer in order to have Jock fetch him another.
Jock says John used the term slave to refer to himself and he wants a bit more information about the slave remark. John says that when they sign up to teach in the outback they have to deposit a $1,000 bond and then go wherever the educational system tells them to go. Jock says he guesses they know what their doing. He downs his beer and then looks at John as if to ask why aren't you downing your beer? So the second time, John has to down his beer as if he were in a drinking contest. (I guess they don't "sip" beer in the outback saloons.)
Jock is going to get him another beer, but John bolts away saying no thanks, he will be running along now. Jock stops him with his big hand on John's shoulder, buys him another beer and moves to another position where he talks with John some more. John asks him if the police are very busy here and Jock says not really. They do a lot of looking around to spot possible trouble before it starts. They do have, however, a few suicides now and then. Jock is not used to city folk and is a bit on the slow side of understanding a joke from John. About the suicides every year, John says well, at least that's one way to get out of town and it just leaves Jock dazed and confused. So John has to explain the joke. Now Josh says that he likes a man with a sense of humor.
By the time Jock goes to get the seventh or eight round of beers, John is feeling pretty relaxed. John sees a large group of women having a celebration of their own in a corner of the huge barroom. The lights go low and everybody gets up except John. Jock gives him a nudge and indicates to John that he must stand at this time.
Everybody turns toward on a bronze wreath with the saying over it: "Lest we Forget." They are honoring their fallen soldier heroes. When the salute is finished, the lights go on and everyone returns to what they were doing. Quite a few blokes are busy at the slot machines.
Jock and John leave the bar of the Imperial Hotel and walk over to another bar. Jock is going in but John laughs and says if he drinks anymore without getting something to eat, he is going to pass out. "Well, , it's easy to see you're not a Yabba man!" declares Josh. John laughs at this remark and says no he's not, but Jock sure is the epitome of a Yabba man. Jock gives in and says he's taking John to a place where he can get a real good steak.
The place is very informal. There are picnic tables set out with picnic type patterns of a white and red pattern. Jock tells the cook to put on a steak for his friend. While, they are waiting, Jock takes John into a backroom. The room is filled with men who are gambling. The men encircle a "thrower" who throws two coins way up into the air. Men bet on whether the result in two heads or two tails (one head and one tail is considered no result. The men make bets with each other and then they all lay down their money. Depending on whether it's tails or heads, the individual takes their own money and their winnings or they lose everything.
John goes to get his steak. Jock sits him down at a table and then says he has to take off now. John sits across from a man already at the table. His name is 'Doc' Tydon. He makes the comment: "All the little devils are proud of hell." John is shocked to hear a critical word spoken of the town of Yabba. Doc adds: "Well, it could be worse. Supply of beer could run out."
After dinner John starts gambling in the back room. John wins twice in a row, grabs up his money and heads out for his hotel room. He spreads the money on the floor and stands back to admire it. He's very happy about the amount he won. John decides to go back for one more spin. He wants to win $1,000 dollars so he can get out of teaching.
John runs back into the gambling room. He will be the thrower now. He puts $400 dollars on heads. The two coins come up tails and now John has lost everything he had won earlier. Jock comes around again and John asks him if the place here will cash a check for $290 dollars? Sure. So John cashes it and puts all the money on heads. The other men get a good laugh at seeing John return to the gambling room after already having lost $400 dollars. Doc is the thrower. He tosses the coins up and its tails. So now John is broke and has a hang-over.
John checks out and then goes to the labor exchange, but the place is closed today. John walks around the hot city with his heavy suitcases. He goes into a bar and buys a beer with his last dollar. A man asks him if he likes the Yabba and John says no, the place is bloody awful. This makes the local mad, but he decides to buy the newcomer a beer anyway. John says no thanks, he's nursing this beer. The guy persists and John blows his stack saying that he's broke and cannot afford another beer, so please just let him drink his beer in peace. The fellow shoots right back at John saying that he didn't ask John to buy another beer. He said that he was buying a round of beer using his own money for the two of them, not John's money.
The fellow otherwise is good natured about it. He asks for another round and tells John that his name is Tim Hines. The next scene is of the two fellows playing pool. Tim asks and finds out that John is neither a Mason or a member of the Buffalo Lodge. So, he asks John, what is he going to do? They both say: "Poor old John."
Tim takes John with him. Tim's wife come in and sees John. They stare at each other for awhile. Then they say hello. John apologizes for showing up out of the blue but Tim more or less insisted he come. Janette, his wife, says that's what he usually does. Janette doesn't look happy. She looks more catatonic than anything else.
John is about to fall asleep and spill his drink in his lap, until two men in a car come roaring up to the house with the horn blowing fiercely. The guys are big and they are a pair of rowdies. They shake hands with John. When Janette comes in the men whistle at her. Dick goes over to say hello and gets real close to her. She tries to ignore him. He even blocks her from returning directly to the kitchen. John doesn't like what he sees and says that he is going to leave now. Tim won't hear of it. He gives John a beer, tells him to sit down and to stop worrying.
A little later John goes into the kitchen and asks Janette if he can help her? The next we see of them is that Janette and John are talking in the living room while Janette strokes her German shepherd dog. He tells her he's unhappy about his situation. He wants to go to England and maybe become a journalist. Janette asks John if he has a girl and he shows her a photo of his girl Robin down at the beach in her bikini. Robin looks pretty.
Dick doesn't like seeing John talking with Robin and asks Tim what's the matter with John? He seems to prefer talking to women than to drinking with men. Tim dismisses the idea that there's anything wrong with John. He tells Dick that John is a school teacher. (As if saying, what else could one assume from a male school teacher? PLC)
Janette and John are out on the porch. John recites some poetry to her. She goes over to the door and tells Tim that John and she are going for a walk. Tim doesn't pay much attention, but Dick is sure awake to the idea. Doc arrives and joins the group of men.
Out in the woods Janette lays down on the ground ready for action. John is a bit nervous, but soon starts kissing her. Things get really heated up, but then John starts throwing up. Janette finishes herself off with her fingers between her legs while John chokes and coughs. They both go back to the house. The guys proceed to get stinking drunk and really rowdy.
John awakens on a board bed near to the ground and with a pillow. He doesn't know how he got here. He's in Doc's place and Doc is busy fixing breakfast. He sees John and tells him that he really got drunk after his little episode with Janette. He tells John not to worry about it, because they have all had their little episodes with Janette. Doc's open talk about sex and Janette bothers John a bit. He keeps pulling away from Doc. Doc notices this and says that perhaps John is a "little Puritan" like most of the people out here. Most people consider Janette a slut, but he doesn't see anything wrong with a woman granting a man her sexual favors.
Dick and Joe come driving and blaring the horn up to Doc's place. Doc and John jump into the car. Doc has his rifle and the other fellows have theirs. Joe really drives fast and the guys shoot their rifles out the windows randomly. They really speed through the desert. The greyhound dog is let out and he chases after the kangaroos. The dog catches a kangaroo. The men chase the kangaroos with their car. Joe kills one of the kangaroos by running the car right into it.
They go to a bar and sit outside on the porch and drink beer. They see a fox running away from them and all four men start shooting at the fox. John is the one whot hits the fox, killing it. Now the men go killing kangaroos during the night with a spotlight. They start slaughtering the kangaroos left and right. John looks like he's enjoying the killing as much as the others. They go on killing kangaroos for a long time with many starts and stops of the car. The scenes are pretty disgusting.
Joe goes out and fights a wounded kangaroo, catches him around the neck and slits his throat. They next send John out to kill a small kangaroo. He grabs the animal by the tail. He can't manage to get to the throat so he has to stab the kangaroo over and over and over again until it dies. Now Johnny is greeted as a conquering hero. The guys get really drunk and laugh their heads off.
The next thing they do is throw rocks and bottles at the tavern where they ate and drank earlier. The owner comes out and the guys stop throwing the missiles at the place. The owner serves them beer in the middle of the night at the outside tables. Dick and Joe are horsing around wrestling with each other. Doc is talking to John who he calls Socrates. John leans to his left side and the chair and he crash to the floor. Doc asks the two wrestlers where did Socrates go?
In the horsing around, Dick actually hits Joe a bit too hard. Now Joe calls Dick a bastard and comes after the much smaller man. He really starts beating Dick badly. Doc tries to stop Joe, but Joes just shoves him down on the floor. Now Doc gets up grabs a chair and starts swinging at anything around him. He is really damaging the place. The two men are still fighting. They roll down the steps and keep rolling when they hit the ground. John is still unconscious on the porch. The owner comes out and pushes Doc off the porch and onto the two wrestlers. Doc starts wrestling with Joe.
Doc and John are let off at Doc's place. Doc starts shooting his own place up with his rifle blasting away. Now Doc wrestles John down onto the ground. John wakes up in the morning and pushes Doc off him. Johan starts to leave and Doc tells him that if he's going, don't forget to take the rifle that Joe and Dick gave him. John looks a terrible sight walking with his rifle in the streets of Yabba. He's dirty, unshaven, he has no shoes on and his clothes are absolutely filthy. He goes to the bar at the Imperial Hotel. There Jock buys him some more beers.
Jock tells John that he was supposed to leave Yabba on Saturday. "What went wrong" John says something very vague. "Oh, I got involved." He asks Jock where he can get a shower and shave?
John starts walking along the road. He gets rid of the books he was carrying, ditching them along the road. He gets a ride on a huge truck. He shoots a rabbit, cooks it and eats it. The next day John gets a ride of some 50 miles. The guy stops at a bar and invites John in for a drink. John says no and the guy gets offended. John tells the fellow that he has given up drinking for awhile. The guy asks him why he won't have a drink with him? After all, he gave John a ride of some 50 miles length. John expresses his amazement at the people in the outback insisting that he drink with them. He says in the outback if you kill and rape that's not so bad, but if you refuse to drink with someone, you are a bloody criminal. The fellow dismisses John as a crazy man and goes into the bar alone.
John walks over to a truck that has writing on it that says it's out of Sydney. John goes into the motel to see if he can get a ride from the truck driver. He finds the driver drinking on the porch. He asks for the ride, but the driver wants a couple of dollars. John offers the man his rifle in exchange for the ride. The fellow tells him, okay, but John will be riding in the back. That's fine with John, as long as he gets to Sydney.
The trucker parks and gets John out of the back of the truck. John looks around and finds himself back in Yabba. He says to the driver: "I thought you said you were going to Sydney." The driver says that John told him he wanted to be taken to a city and Yabba is a city. For the mix-u, the driver returns the rifle to John.
John starts walking and starts having a series of flashbacks of some of the unpleasant experiences he had in Yabba. He starts running and bursts into Doc's place ready to shoot the man. Doc isn't there and John starts crying a bit. Now John places the barrel of his rifle into his mouth. He doesn't like the taste of it and so puts the barrel up to his temple. Doc comes in and says hey, when John pulls the trigger.
John survives the shot. He's in the hospital now. Jock visits him. He is going to have John sign a statement that the gun shot was an accident. Doc is at the hospital to pick John up when he is released. He drives John to the railroad station. John gets on the train without saying anything to Doc. On the train a fellow gives John a beer. John accepts it gladly.
John gets off at Tiboonda Station. There sitting on the porch is bartender Charlie, relaxing with a beer. John walks over to Charlie, who asks him if he had a good holiday? The teachers says: "The best." John goes to his room. Charlie gets a huge grin on his face and almost, almost starts laughing.
"The hanging scenes depicted in this film were taken during an actual kangaroo hunt by professional licensed hunters. For this reason and because the survival of the Australian kangaroo is seriously threatened, these scenes were shown uncut after consultation with the leading animal welfare organizations in Australia and the United Kingdom." But some of the terrible scenes were staged. I didn't like watching the slaughter and the slitting of the throat.
Good film. Enjoyed it. I was hoping to see a film showing something equivalent to our American rednecks. But it didn't turn out that way. The yokels in Yabba did a lot of redneck type things, but they were missing the special cruelty the American rednecks have -- a cruelty honed out of racism and the racist culture of the South and other rural places in the USA. I was expecting to see an explosion of violence at any point in Yabba, but there was none other than the upsetting scenes of the kangaroo hunting slaughters. There was no real hint of expectant violence in the film. The yokels weren't mean and nasty. They actually helped out our hero John when he was down and out. The yokels sometimes laughed at John, but they never threatened to kill or even hurt John. Coming from the apartheid South I was sure there was going to be trouble. There is definitely racism in Australia, but I figure it never reached the depths of hatred and depravity that it reached in the American South.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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