Wake in Fright (1971)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 3-Nov-2009

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Booklet-32 page
Audio Commentary-Ted Kotcheff & Anthony Buckley
Interviews-Crew-with Director, Ted Kotcheff
Theatrical Trailer-International Trailer - Outback
TV Spots-Who Needs Art? (1971) Segment on Wake In Fright
TV Spots-ABC's 7:30 Report - Rediscovery & Restoration of the film
Interviews-Cast-Ken G. Hall interview about Chips Rafferty
Featurette-Restoration Comparison
Deleted Scenes-From the 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood (Wake in Frig
Teaser Trailer-Madman Propaganda
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 104:32 (Case: 92)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ted Kotcheff

Madman Entertainment
Starring Donald Pleasence
Gary Bond
Chips Rafferty
Sylvia Kay
Jack Thompson
Peter Whittle
Al Thomas
John Meillon
John Armstrong
Slim DeGrey
Maggie Dence
Norm Erskine
Case Custom Packaging
RPI $34.95 Music John Scott

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "May you dream of the Devil and wake in fright." ... an old farmers curse.

    It's rather ironic that two of the best films made about the isolation and harshness of the Australian outback were made in the same year - and by foreign directors. In 1971, British director, Nicholas Roeg transformed the James Vance Marshall novel, Walkabout into a compelling and visually stunning piece of cinema. The other film to accurately capture the landscape and cultural elements of outback Australia was also a literary adaptation. Wake In Fright (aka Outback for the US market) is based on the 1961 novel by Kenneth Cook and was directed with great insight by Canadian director, Ted Kotcheff.

    The very fact that I can write a DVD review for Wake In Fright is in itself a small miracle. The film was lost and virtually forgotten by all, but film buffs for decades. The saving grace for this film began some years ago when Wake In Fright editor, and now film producer, Anthony Buckley, made a promise to Bobby Limb (well-known Australian TV personality and NLT Productions principal) that he would attempt to locate and resurrect the film. In association with the US company, Westinghouse, NLT Productions were a production partner of Wake In Fright. Sadly though, Bobby Limb and his fellow NLT partners would not live long enough to see the fruits of Anthony's commitment.

    Honouring this challenge would prove to be far more time consuming and problematic than Anthony could have ever imagined. In 1996 he started a worldwide search for original film material relating to Wake In Fright, but it would take many years for this search to return any significant results.

    In 2002 original film material, was found in the US. This is where the search should have ended, however more complications would soon follow. Negotiations with CBS began with the aim of reaching an agreement to return the damaged celluloid to Australia for assessment and restoration. The resolution of this matter was only met with more disappointment when the footage turned out to be a very poor, heavily edited television version of the film - and was subsequently unusable.

    Further laborious investigation by Anthony Buckley and various film bodies finally resulted in the discovery of the complete original negative of Wake In Fright. Incredibly, the film was found in waste bins at the Iron Mountain Vaults in Pittsburgh, USA. The bins were marked for "imminent destruction" and would have certainly been destroyed if not for this timely intervention.

    In September 2004, the original film elements of Wake In Fright (268 cans) arrived at the offices of the National Film & Sound Archive in Canberra for the lengthy and challenging restoration process - but that's another story.

    Work began in early 2006, in a joint collaboration between the National Film & Sound Archive and Atlab/Deluxe. Understandably, the quality standard of the original film material was poor. Colours had faded badly and emulsion scratching was quite heavy. Traditional photochemical methods were tested, but the results weren't as promising as first hoped. Further tests using an advanced, frame-by-frame digital restoration technique proved far more successful, delivering amazing colour and depth to the image. Subsequently, digital restoration became the selected technique and the process finally commenced in early 2007. Naturally, many sound elements also had to be re-established. The full restoration of Wake In Fright was completed in January 2009.

    Wake In Fright opens with a 360 degree panorama shot of the hot and dusty outback town of Tiboonda. It's the end of the school year and the bonded teacher, John Grant (Gary Bond ) is packed and stands on the small train platform. John doesn't seem to fit this harsh and barren landscape. He is an educated and respectable young man, who has had enough of this dust and relentless heat to last him a lifetime. He now has six weeks of leave and importantly, six weeks of pay in his wallet. In a couple of days he will be reunited with his girlfriend in Sydney - plenty of time to wash away the months of accumulated dirt and grime.

    The first part of his long journey is a train trip to the mining town of Bundanyabba ("The Yabba"). An overnight stay there would provide him time to relax with a good steak dinner and a few cold beers before moving on to Sydney in the morning.

    On his arrival at The Yabba, John is taken to a hotel, where he meets local off-duty policeman, Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty in his final role). After too many beers, a steak dinner and plenty of conversation, John loses his entire six week pay packet in a game of two-up.

    The following morning John wakes in his hotel room with no money and isolated in unfamiliar surroundings. At the hotel bar John is befriended by Tim Hynes (Al Thomas), who kindly offers to take him home for a few more beers and some dinner. John is introduced to Tim's sexually oppressed daughter, Janette (Sylvia Kay) and some other unsavoury locals. They instantly spot John's innocence and vulnerability and decide to take him on a hellish journey.

    Over the next few days, the eccentric alcoholic doctor, Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasence), together with wild roustabouts, Dick (Jack Thompson in his first screen role) and Joe (Peter Whittle) will attempt to siphon the innocence and common decency from the young teacher.

    Apart from the main players already mentioned, Wake In Fright also boasts excellent small cameo performances from John Meillon, Slim DeGrey, Maggie Dence and John Armstrong.

    While the film won broad critical praise on its initial cinema release, it struggled to find an audience in this country. Much of this reason lay in its bold and confronting depiction of the darker side of Australian culture. Another aspect was the kangaroo hunting scene, which was - and still is, a deeply disturbing scene for many people. (A producer's note in the final credits explains the filming of these scenes. The kangaroo scenes are also discussed at some length by Ted Kotcheff in the extras on this DVD).

    In 1971 Wake In Fright was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and in a twist of irony, nearly forty years later the film would again return to the Cannes Film Festival. In May this year, the restored print of Wake In Fright had its World Premiere at Cannes in the retrospective program titled, Cannes Classics. Since then, the new print has screened retrospectively on cinema screens around the country and is now hopefully finding a whole new audience on DVD and Blu Ray.

    In my opinion, Wake In Fright is a true masterpiece of Australian cinema. It remains a confronting and controversial film, exhibiting some of the darker elements of our culture - elements, which are still relevant to this day.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


     A superb 32 page booklet is included in this DVD presentation. It covers in great detail the search for the film and the intensive restoration process that returned Wake In Fright to its original glory. I won't go into much detail about the process here, other than to say, this is one of the finest looking restorations I've seen in quite some time.

     Wake In Fright is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.88:1, which is 16x9 enhanced. This is virtually spot on with the correct ratio of 1.85:1.

    It's obvious that the quality of this transfer would be of the highest importance. To let this classic film down with a poor transfer after such an incredible journey would be simply unforgivable. Having said that, I'm glad to say the quality of this DVD transfer is remarkable. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Blu Ray edition to get a comparison between the two. Certain scenes exhibit some inherent softness, but generally the transfer is just superb. Sharpness levels are excellent. Blacks were strong, deep and noise free. Shadows revealed an outstanding degree of detail.

    Ted Kotcheff was careful to avoid the use of cool colours in the film. The palette is predominantly full of warm yellows, oranges, and reds. This is entirely successful in conveying the relentless heat of the Australian outback. All colours were beautifully balanced on the disc and appear natural on screen.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noticed in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were well controlled and film artefacts were non-existent.

    Unfortunately, there are no subtitles available on the DVD.

    This is a DVD 9, dual layer disc. The layer change was noticeable, but not overly distracting at 48:57.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     There are two audio tracks available on this DVD, English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s) and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s).

    Dialogue quality was fine throughout and there were no apparent issues with audio sync.

    The original score for Wake In Fright is credited to British composer, John Scott. He has been a prolific composer for film and television for many years. His score here is perfectly moody and compliments the action on screen without ever becoming overwhelming.

    The surround channels and subwoofer weren't used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    The main menu features subtle animation, a sample of music from the film and is 16x9 enhanced.

32 Page Booklet

    A beautifully presented 32 page booklet, containing colour photographs and articles relating to the recovery and subsequent resurrection of Wake In Fright.

Featurette - Interview with director, Ted Kotcheff   (22:20)

    Filmed earlier this year for the DVD and Blu Ray presentations, Ted Kotcheff discusses his recollections of the production. He covers many of the controversial aspects of Wake In Fright, as well as his experience working with the local actors. Various scenes from the film have also been incorporated around the interview.

Audio Commentary - Director, Ted Kotcheff and Editor, Anthony Buckley  

    Naturally, both men are incredibly proud of this film and it comes across in their entertaining and informative commentary. They discuss all aspects of the production and offer great insight into the making of the film. There are a few pauses to listen to dialogue, but generally Ted keeps up a steady pace relaying many interesting anecdotes.

International Theatrical Trailer (0:33)

    This trailer is under the US alternative title of, Outback.

Featurette - Who Needs Art? (1971) - Segment on Wake In Fright (5:46)

    This is a small black & white segment of an old ABC program about the arts in Australia. The segment relates directly to Wake In Fright, which was in production at the time. Look for an interview with a very young Phillip Adams.

Interview - Ken G. Hall Interview about Chips Rafferty (3:26)

    Filmed sometime during the early seventies, this piece features the legendary, Ken G. Hall discussing the work of Chips Rafferty.

Restoration Comparison (1:53)

    This gives an excellent comparison of certain scenes in the film. We can clearly see the differences between the original negative and the final restored print - very impressive.

Rediscovery & Restoration of the film - ABC's 7:30 Report (6:27)

    This is a segment from the ABC current affairs program, 7:30 Report. As the title suggests it covers the renaissance of Wake In Fright.

Not Quite Hollywood (2008) - Extended Scene of Wake In Fright (5:55)

The 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood is a tribute to an often under appreciated genre of Australian films know as Ozploitation. While Wake In Fright doesn't quite fit into the genre, it does feature in Not Quite Hollywood. This is the extended segment from that documentary.

Madman Propaganda

  • Romulus, My Father  (2:02)
  • Ten Canoes (2:05)
  • Look Both Ways (0:37)
  • My Brilliant Career (2:59)


        There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

    R4 vs R1

    NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

        At the time of this review there is no R1 version of Wake In Fright available.


         At the very beginning of the 1970's a few films assisted in the renaissance of the Australian film industry - Wake In Fright is one of those films. It captures our landscape with cruel, but sublime beauty and portrays elements of our culture with an eerie clarity. Wake In Fright is an undisputed classic of Australian cinema.

        Madman Entertainment has delivered the film to DVD with outstanding transfers and extras, in a beautiful presentation.


  • Ratings (out of 5)


    © Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
    Monday, December 21, 2009
    Review Equipment
    DVDJVC XV-N412, using Component output
    DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
    Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
    AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
    SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

    Other Reviews NONE
    Comments (Add)
    A true classic, lovingly restored - REPLY POSTED
    Opening scene - REPLY POSTED
    Just me? - REPLY POSTED
    Graham Kennedy in cameo role? -
    I was mistaken - REPLY POSTED
    Re Kennedy cameo - REPLY POSTED
    the non-existent Graham Kennedy appearance -