1888, and in the Australian mountains around Snowy River, eighteen-year-old Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) lives with his father (Terence Donovan) as they try to get a farm up and running. One night over dinner they hear their horse whinny in the stable, and wonder what the matter is, so Jim ventures outside to find out and sees the horse isn't reacting to dingoes, it's the wild animals of its kind that it is causing it to get excitable, led by the black stallion. This gives Jim an idea: seeing as how they are struggling to get by, why not build a corral for these wild creatures and break them, then sell them? Essentially create a horse ranch? His father agrees - unluckily for him.
The Man from Snowy River began life as a poem from around a hundred years before the film came out, written by Banjo Patterson who also penned the Australian national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, so naturally it was a huge hit there when it was released, indeed had their local film industry been on its feet before the nineteen-seventies there's a guarantee it would have been translated to the big screen decades before. And with very few changes, probably, as this was a resolutely old-fashioned Western of a type that could appeal to family audiences, so nothing much in the way of violence, any sex was kept offscreen, and only the occasional swear word was allowed through.
To add to its international prospects, the producers cast a Hollywood star in show off dual roles, although like the genre, he was a leading man associated with yesteryear, Kirk Douglas. While he felt he remained leading man material, and nobody was about to convince him otherwise, he was no longer the draw he had been and getting his name above the title in efforts like this which Hollywood was not churning out anymore was the best he could do - he would make a comeback there in Tough Guys a few years after this, but it was agreed his best days were behind him thereafter. So you did have to make allowances for the double trouble of a star whose ego wouldn't quit.
Actually, he did add some wattage to what was fairly routine fare, though you could tell he was a supporting player who happened to be playing in two (gimmicky) supporting parts for the purposes of the story. At least he could be content with essaying a little range, as one twin brother was the head of the Harrison ranch at the foot of the mountains, while the other was the more agreeable estranged sibling Spur who sported a beard and a shaggy mop of hair (all the better to be doubled when circumstances needed two Kirks in the scene) and overacted significantly more, enough to comprise a third twin should one have been necessary. However, Jim was really the protagonist, and his dual desires to tame the horses and Harrison's daughter Jessica (Sigrid Thornton) were most important.
Burlinson, receiving an "introducing" credit, was perfectly adequate if a little uncharismatic, though anyone would look underplaying next to Kirk, and had a nice rapport going with Thornton in that you would not object if their characters rode off into the sunset at the end. It didn't quite conclude that way, though there were no surprises, except that this was a Western that refused to resort to gunfights, which marked it apart from the American model. The Aussie Western was a curious beast, from hits like The Overlanders to Quigley Down Under and even the more socially conscious works, it walked and talked like a Hollywood example, but you could tell it was not quite operating in the same territory, certainly geographically; closer than the Europeans got in the sixties and seventies, but still proudly Antipodean for all that - it was more than the accents that would give away their provenance. That landscape helped, this was a handsome-looking picture, though there was a touch of the Australian children's TV serial about it. Directed by the other George Miller, incidentally. Music by Bruce Rowland.
The nineties saw him offer medical drama Lorenzo's Oil (he was once a medical student) plus curious sequel Babe: Pig in the City and in the 2000s he enjoyed the international success of the animated Happy Feet and its sequel. In 2015 he successfully revived his most celebrated franchise in Mad Max: Fury Road. Not to be confused with the other Australian director George Miller.