I have a soft spot in my heart for the Western genre, both literary and cinematic varieties, and “Quigley Down Under” is chocked full of classic components that have long kept Westerns popular in the United States. Directed by Simon Wincer, the film opened in 1991 and achieved modest box office success. The film stars Tom Selleck, Laura Giacomo, and Allan Rickman, and is an irregular take on the American Western genre by taking the stage to Australia. Now, I want to preface the rest of this post with an important reminder: this film is entirely cliché, but it is exactly the kind of cliché that reminds us of a time when our suspended disbelief was less cynical and more child-like. So, approach it with an open mind, and remember that this film is meant to entertain, not educate, but there are some important lessons about humanity embedded in its lining, should you choose to acknowledge them.
Set in 1860’s, the film chronicles sharp-shooting Matthew Quigley’s (Selleck) arrival in Australia in response to a job add posted by Elliot Marston (Allan Rickman) seeking a shooter with superb long-distant striking power. He meets Crazy Cora (Laura Giacomo) immediately upon his arrival while she is being hassled by a group of men, and he reacts in his classic “save the day” style, attempting to rescue her from her attackers before realizing they are Marton’s men with whom he is supposed to return to the ranch. Marred with confusion and a ‘shoot first, aim later’ mentality, this ordeal marks the beginning of a dizzying chemistry between Tom Selleck and Laura San Giacomo as they become unlikely partners in the struggles to come. As he demonstrates several times throughout the film, Quigley prefers demonstrating his talents rather than verbally describing them, and he responds to Marton’s add by sending the newspaper clipping to him riddled with a tight cluster of perfectly rounded bullet holes and a simple message: “Mathew Quigley: 900 yrds.” The mystery that shrouds Quigley’s back-story is constant throughout the film leaves much to the imagination about his former life in America. It is revealed shortly after Quigley’s arrival at the Marston Ranch that Elliot’s need for a long-distance shooter is for exterminating the local Aborigine population. He attempts to provide context for his reasoning by detailing his tragic family history and his hatred for the native population (both Aborigine and Native American) in a bone-chilling speech he gives at the dinner table whilst being served by an elderly Aborigine man. His need, he says, stems from the natives cunning ability to “manage to stay out of rifle range.” In the first of many stunning displays, Quigley responds to Marston’s request with throwing him through a plate-glass window, once again showing the audience versus telling in the form of a heated speech that the answer to Marston’s proposal is a definite ‘No.’ From here we see the story of their small-scale war unfold, and Matthew Quigley’s unwavering good nature is never in question. If this were a different kind of story, Quigley would surely carry the title of ‘Knight,’ as he perpetually proves himself to be the protector of the weak throughout the film.
Like Marston, Cora also has a troubled past that includes an unfortunate encounter with native peoples, only the fatality and resulting devastation occurred by her own hand. Cora handles the bulk of the mental devastation throughout the film whilst doing some very heavy emotional lifting. We watch her experience a series of breakdowns throughout the film, the symptoms of which include memory loss, fits of rage and calling Quigley by the name of her husband ‘Roy’ for much of the film. It always amazes me the lack of emotional breakdowns we see in films of the old west considering that death and violence (rather than taxes) were the only certainties of life in that era.
My favorite scenes in this movie are the ones that take place with Quigley, Cora, and the Aborigines, which are heartwarming representations of the beauty of discovering new people and cultures. They save each other in several situations, and it sends a positive message about seeing past the exterior of a person and understanding what is in their heart.
All in all, this film entertained me immensely, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in a classic story about good versus evil with a heaping side of love story.
Let’s end this post with an ode to Tom Selleck, the mustache aficionado with a timeless chivalry that could quite possibly melt even the most impassive feminist heart. Your tall, masculine form that encases your honest and integrity driven heart has been inspiring ordinary women for decades, and it seems you defy the laws of mortality with your ever-improving good looks. Cheers, mustache man!