New Zealand/UK | 1981 | Directed by Mike Newell
Logline: The true story of Stanley Graham, a poor farmer, who shot dead seven men during a WWII arms surrender, then hid in the surrounding bush land, whilst a manhunt was launched.
Despite the B-movie title this is a highly competent production with a compelling narrative and excellent acting. The movie is based on the book Manhunt – The Story of Stanley Graham by Howard Willis, and was written for the screen by Andrew Brown. Englishman Mike Newell was given the director’s chair, and is often the case when an outsider directs a movie in a country not of their own they pick up on local nuances, idiosyncrasies and foibles a local director might oversee.
Newell’s career would go on to greater artistic heights and commercial success, most notably Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco, but he’d been directing British television and the odd feature since 1964. Bad Blood is a much under-rated study of small town prejudice and the thin ice of vengeful violence. Stanley Graham (Jack Thompson) was a ticking time bomb, whose wife Dorothy (Carol Burns) fanned the flame that lit the fuse.
The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is the setting; a prehistoric-looking landscape of harsh hinterland and a rugged mountain range known as the Southern Alps. The small farming community of Koiterangi, Kowhitirangi, was rocked to its core when Graham, an embittered man, and his paranoid wife, find the pressure of being ridiculed by the locals all too much. When an acquaintance of Graham’s, who happens to be part of the local constabulary, tried to enforce the surrender of Graham’s rifles, the farmer loses the plot.
Several police arrive at Graham’s cottage to seize his weapons and Graham opens fire killing three men. He panics and flees into the bush. Later he tries to get back into his house, but it’s been commandeered and subsequently he is badly wounded by gunfire. His wife and two kids are left to fend for themselves. Despite his savage reaction, there is a universal empathy with the cruelty set upon Graham and his family.
Jack Thompson delivers a powerhouse performance as Graham (which he acknowledges as one of his finest films). Also of very high calibre in the acting department is Martyn Sanderson as Les North, a farming colleague of Graham’s, and Carol Burns, as Graham’s hardened wife Dorothy. Mind you, almost the entire cast is a who’s who of the then top shelf Kiwi stage and screen actors; Michael Haigh, Donna Akersten, Marshall Napier, Ken Blackburn, John Bach, John Banas, Alan Jervis, Dulcie Smart, Miranda Harcourt, Dorothy McKegg, Bruce Allpress, David Copeland, Ian Watkin, Peter Vere-Jones, Desmond Kelly, and Kelly Johnson (who starred in the international Kiwi success Goodbye Pork Pie). Many of these actors are from my home town of Wellington, which makes me curious as to why my father, who’s acted with all these people, wasn’t cast.
In 1990 a similar event occurred also in the South Island of New Zealand, in a small fishing community near Dunedin called Aramoana. A lone gunman – also unhinged, but much more so – went berserk and killed thirteen people before eventually being gunned down by the Special Tactics police marksmen (back then called The Anti-Terrorist Squad). The crime shocked the country, just as Graham’s murderous spree did back in 1941. A dramatisation of the Aramoana massacre called Out of the Blue is a well-made movie, but a more speculative perspective, whereas Bad Blood is ultimately a more honest portrayal of a similar crime that shook an otherwise quiet, peaceful country.