While watching director, Steven Spielberg’s, 1971 film, “Duel,” I began thinking of another film that involved a truck driver and the vastness of the open highway, “Road Games.” Directed by Richard Franklin, (Hotel Sorrento) the engaging, stylish, part drama and part thriller movie was released on June 26, 1981, in Australia. Written for the screen by Everett De Roche, (Storm Warning) based on an original story that he co-wrote with the director, the 101 minute film has very often been compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”
While working on another project together, the director gave De Roche a copy of the screenplay for the Hitchcock film. After reading the script, De Roche made the suggestion to the director that the scenario contained within “Rear Window,” would make for a terrifically similar suspense film on the open roads of the Australian outback. While the film is certainly a derivative of the 1954 classic, it is not in any way a blatant rip-off, and does veer off into other cinematic territory.
Actor Stacy Keach (The New Mike Hammer) gives a very effective performance playing Quid, an American working as a truck driver, transporting meat to different locations in Australia. Along for the ride, keeping him company is his dingo, Boswell. Quid talks to himself a great deal and comments on his fellow travelers, usually in a humorous manner, as a way to help pass the time. As an aside, the actor had to learn how to drive a 16-gear semi truck for the role.
Stopping off at a hotel to get some rest, Quid is shut out, thanks to a man driving a green van who manages to get the last vacant room. The man is accompanied by a young female hitchhiker that Quid had seen earlier, but had not stopped to pick up. Instead of driving further that evening, since, as we learn from a conversation he has on his CB radio with his dispatch operator, he has already been up for two days straight, Quid stays parked outside the hotel and sleeps inside the cab of the truck. He wakes at 5:00A.M., and lets out his dingo, who wanders over to some garbage bags and starts pawing at one in particular. At the same time, Quid spots the man from the green van watching the garbage bags from his hotel window, as the garbage truck makes its way down the street. Quid becomes instantaneously suspicious of the individual, and will grow even more so, thanks to reports on the news about the murders of several young women. The killer is still on the loose. Quid’s feelings will be cemented a short time later, when he spots the guy in the desert and sees him digging a hole. As soon as the man spots Quid watching him with his binoculars, he grabs whatever he was going to bury, gets in his van, and speeds off in the other direction. Portrayed by Grant Page, (Mad Max) the man, who Quid refers to as ‘Smith or Jones,’ and his green van, will play a recurring role in the remainder of the film’s runtime.
Along the way, Quid picks up Jamie Lee Curtis’s (Terror Train) character of Pamela Rushworth. He nicknames the young woman ‘Hitch.’ While the free-spirited Pamela is a likable character, the duration of her screen time is brief. During the time that she does appear, a relationship starts to form between her and Quid. No sooner does Quid start to have feelings for ‘Hitch’, it appears that she has been abducted by ‘Smith or Jones.’ Initially, he is panicked at the prospect of what the killer might do to her, but starts to think, based on one visual and one bit of audio, that perhaps Pamela is interested in being with the man in the green van. Toward the conclusion of the film, Quid will know for sure whether ‘Hitch’ has been a willing or unwilling passenger of the man in the green van. Speaking of the ending, it is a tension filled one, which I won’t ruin for you. In addition to Curtis, actress Marian Edward, (The Wild Duck) provides a bit of comic relief, and then some, as Madeline ‘Frita’ Day. Credit must also be given to the excellent work done by cinematographer Vincent Monton (Thirst). He brings to life the Australian landscape by capturing both the desert vistas and the seemingly unending enormity of the continent.
The budget for the film was approximately 1.8 million dollars, which at the time made history for being the most expensive Australian film ever produced. The director and writer opted for restraint with this movie. I appreciated the creatively clever way the story was presented, as well as the wonderful suspense the director utilized, as opposed to excessive bloody imagery, gratuitous violence and shock value scenes. Franklin implies a great deal, but leaves many things to the viewer’s imagination as to what is not being shown on screen, and that can very often make for a rewarding film watching experience. In this blogger’s opinion, audiences who originally saw it in the theaters, and those who have watched it at home were, and are, the better for it.