MGM // 1970 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // May 18th, 2004
The true story of Australia's most legendary outlaw.
Petty thief Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger, Performance) has been released from prison after serving a three-year term. Reunited with his family, he finds himself at odds with crooked lawmen. After a vengeful officer wrongfully sends his mother to prison, Ned and his brothers resort to a life of crime. Starting with horse theft and moonshine, they soon move on to armed robbery. The persecuted poor of Australia turn the Kelly brothers into folk heroes, a modern-day Robin Hood.
Ned Kelly was directed by Tony Richardson, who won several Academy Awards for his comedy classic Tom Jones. Is Ned Kelly up to par with his earlier masterpiece? No, but it is miles better than most of his post-Jones pictures, especially the awful Laughter in the Dark. It marks a comeback begun with the overlooked The Charge of the Light Brigade. It is a film that at least attempts to give us an idea into why Ned Kelly became the infamous outlaw, which is more than I can say about the 2003 remake with Heath Ledger.
The Heath Ledger version is more about action than character. Richardson's film is the exact opposite. Our film begins with Kelly in prison, about to be executed for his crimes. This stretch of film, shot in black-and-white, sets us up for the back story. After he is hanged, the film boldly switches to color. The screenplay by Richardson and Ian Jones isn't completely coherent. There are a few too many things left unsaid. A unique solution helps overcome this liability. Cult poet/songwriter Shel Silverstein penned several songs, which were performed by the late, great Waylon Jennings. The songs are helpful in plugging up the holes left behind in the screenplay. Jennings's great delivery, with acoustic backup from Kris Kristofferson, helps sell them to the audience. I definitely want to buy the soundtrack album as I still remember the songs in my head, weeks after viewing the disc. They're that good.
Mick Jagger is effective as Kelly. Unlike many rock stars who venture into acting, Jagger has a genuine talent in front of the camera. He doesn't make Kelly a sympathetic figure; he knows deep down he is bad. Jagger invests Kelly with charisma and guile, which allows us to accept the idea that he became a popular figure. In the 2003 remake, Ledger is satisfied to play Kelly as an iron-hard tough guy. Jagger allows vulnerability to creep into Kelly. He may be a man with great pride and self-confidence, but he knows he is fallible.
MGM presents Ned Kelly in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. I still do not understand why MGM remains resistant in giving anamorphic enhancement to films with the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. However, harping about it is getting us nowhere, so let's move on. The image is quite good. Colors look lifelike and sharp. The image has some light grain, but it never overwhelms the viewer. Besides, the grain enhances the grittiness of the story. The image has few blemishes. This is the best Ned Kelly has looked in years.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix is offered here. It sounds terrific. The songs sound loud and clear, which is important. Dialogue is easy to understand, even with the characters' heavy accents. It's a nice mix that you can keep set at a single setting throughout the feature.
MGM usually includes at least one extra: the theatrical trailer. Sadly, we're running on empty here. I understand that the film is held in low esteem by most of the critical and popular public. What about the small handful of individuals such as myself who like the film? We strike out.
MGM is selling this disc for $14.95 retail. It's worth at least a rental. If you can find the disc for under $9.99, I'd recommend it as a blind buy.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated PG