Ned Kelly, the legendary Irish-Australian bank robber and antihero icon, whose bones were recently recovered, was largely unknown to audiences beyond Down Under until 1970 when rock star Mick Jagger played him in an eponymous movie.
The film, despite boasting gorgeous cinematography of Australia’s glorious bush country, is widely regarded as a disappointment. One of the biggest problems was the casting of the Rolling Stone front man in the lead role (a decision that sparked fury in Kelly’s living descendants).
Not only was Jagger not Australian, but also he wasn't even of Irish descent; and he was much shorter and slighter than the big, burly, muscular Kelly.
Irish Australians were especially aghast at Jagger’s fake and unconvincing brogue.
The film also featured a soundtrack of folk-country songs augmented with a rock-and-roll beat which jarringly contradicted the film’s late 19th century ambience.
In its review of the film, The New York Times wrote: “Unfortunately, [director Tony] Richardson's direction and script… do not delve too deeply into character [of Ned Kelly]. Nor are the principals' motivations projected with relevance to untutored American viewers… With intrusive, explanatory songs by Shel Silverstein sung by Waylon Jennings, [the film] emerges as somewhat pretentious folk-ballad fare that often explains little more than its action.”
The filming of the Kelly saga was reportedly plagued by injuries to cast and crew, fires on set, and (perhaps as a omen), the attempted suicide by Marianne Faithful, Jagger’s then-girlfriend who was supposed to get a part in the movie.
The film was so poorly conceived that even its director and lead star dismissed it, and failed to show up at the opening in London.
Nonetheless, Jagger was reportedly hurt by the criticism of his performance, and he effectively ended his career as an actor.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.