Mad Max: How The US Cut Ruined Toecutter’s Unforgettable Villain

The original Mad Max featured an unforgettable villain in the form of Hugh Keays-Byrne’s psychotic gang leader Toecutter, but unfortunately, the US release of the movie destroyed his uniquely effective brand of onscreen evil. Released to rave reviews in 1979, the original Mad Max was a raw and brutal revenge thriller from young Australian director George Miller, which introduced the world to Mel Gibson as its title character.

Tense, slow, and shockingly violent, this intense crime thriller was a far cry from the campy post-apocalyptic action of the Mad Max franchise’s subsequent entries. But as different as the original Mad Max may have been from later films in the series, the original did feature recently deceased screen legend Hugh Keays-Byrne in a villainous role much like the later, more futuristic installment, Fury Road.

Unfortunately, the US release of the original Mad Max wasted the superb performance thanks to a regrettable decision by the movie’s editors. Keays-Byrne made the unusual choice to change his character’s accent from scene to scene to give the impression that Toecutter was insane. The admittedly odd choice works in the finished film, with Toecutter’s bouncing between Irish, Australian, and English accents making his actions seem even more genuinely volatile and erratic. As the movie is more realistic than the subsequent sequels, this detail goes a long way to livening up an otherwise slow-moving thriller. In an unfortunate mistake that director George Miller admitted he regrets, Keays-Byrne’s voice was overdubbed with a bad American accent in the movie’s US release.

 

This move was a shame, as the original Mad Max villain lost a lot of his depth thanks to the switch. Keays-Byrne’s interesting work in the role was lost on US audiences, who were instead offered an interchangeable villain in his place, although the movie did still serve as a star vehicle for Mel Gibson, whose natural accent was left un-dubbed. A member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Keays-Byrne modeled the character of Toecutter on Genghis Khan, figuring that the societal breakdown occurring in the movie would leave room for an ambitious and amoral figure like the infamous Mongolian warlord. With so much work going in behind the scenes, it’s a shame that not every edit of Mad Max preserved these efforts, as they definitely served to better the character.

Luckily, US audiences got an opportunity to see the veteran actor return to the Mad Max franchise, un-dubbed and as undeniably threatening as ever, with 2015’s sequel Fury Road. The critically acclaimed outing saw Tom Hardy replace Mel Gibson in the title role but Miller made sure to hold onto original villain Keays-Byrne’s services, enlisting the actor to play the unforgettably creepy cult leader Immortan Joe with the same zeal he brought to the terrifying Toecutter decades earlier. This time, however, audiences worldwide got to enjoy Keays-Byrne’s chilling Mad Max villain without unnecessary edits or alterations.

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