I watched all three of the original Mad Max movies this week, to get ready for Fury Road. I had never seen the original film before, and I hadn’t seen The Road Warrior or Beyond Thunderdome since the 1980s (and I saw The Road Warrior on television, so it was probably a somewhat censored version that I saw back then).
Suffice it to say that the original Mad Max wasn’t at all what I expected — it’s got a basically dystopian setting, yes, but in some ways it’s a regular cop movie, and not at all the apocalyptic sort of thing the sequels were — while The Road Warrior was wonderfully mythic and kinetic, and Beyond Thunderdome was interesting but a little too polished, a little too much like a big-studio movie (which, of course, it was).
Along the way, I was surprised to see the name Frank Thring in the opening credits of Beyond Thunderdome. Who was Frank Thring, you ask? Frank Thring was an actor who, about a quarter-century before this film, played Pontius Pilate in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur and Herod Antipas in the 1961 version of King of Kings.
Here he is as Pontius Pilate:
And here he is as Herod Antipas:
I was curious to see who he would be playing in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and what he would look like. And, well, here he is, as a character named The Collector, who works for Auntie Entity (the character played by Tina Turner):
The first time we see him, he is sitting at a desk, and he is the first person in any sort of “official” capacity that Mel Gibson’s character encounters in Bartertown:
Later, there is a scene in which Max fights off several of Auntie Entity’s minions, including The Collector, who swings an axe at Max and misses. Max replies by kicking the axe-handle up into The Collector’s crotch, causing him to wince in pain:
Somehow I don’t think Thring imagined he’d be shooting scenes like this some day, back when he was working on his Bible epics!
The scene is made even funnier, of course, by the fact that Gibson would go on to direct The Passion of the Christ nineteen years later. So this scene basically features the director of one hugely popular Bible movie kicking the co-star of two other hugely popular Bible movies in the balls (indirectly, perhaps, but still hitting him there).
Thring, incidentally, was Australian, as were most of the key creative personnel on the Mad Max movies. He passed away in Melbourne, his birthplace, in 1994.
Also, I highly recommend Juliette Harrisson’s fairly recent post on ‘Five Interesting Portrayals of Pontius Pilate’ over at the Pop Classics blog. She notes that Ben-Hur, via Thring, “presents us with an unusually human view of Pilate as neither wannabe philosopher nor cold Roman authority, but simply a rather snobby member of the elite who doesn’t understand the first thing about the people he’s governing and isn’t really interested. It’s probably one of the more historically accurate portrayals around.”