"Stone”. A classic bike film. Literally made for bikers, by bikers.
Or rather “bikies”, as Stone was an Australian bike flick, rather than the usual American fare. The standard uniform of cut-off denim jackets, long hair & beards may be the same, but instead of long forked Harleys, the Ozzies embrace the latest ‘70s Japanese technology. Kawasaki Z900s, kitted out with nose fairings & custom paint jobs are the order of the day here. Their superior handling & performance, compared with the Hollywood bikers’ Harleys, means the cast & extras of Stone get to indulge in endless wheelies, burnouts & chases around the back streets of Sydney.
The story centres around the fictional “Grave Diggers” motorcycle club, led by The Undertaker. The club members are all Vietnam & Korean War veterans. Disillusioned with straight laced society & unable to fit in on their return to Oz, they lead a life of debauchery, drunkenness, drug taking, casual sex & violence. The gang are on a run & stop to heckle a politician giving a speech & one of the club members wanders from the main group. While high on drugs he witnesses an assassin murder the politician. Soon the club’s members are being killed off to wipe out any possible witnesses. Clean living, middle class, blonde haired, blue eyed Police motorcyclist, Stone, is assigned to find the killer & is allowed to go under-cover as a Grave Digger club member. He has to overcome the bikies’ distrust & gain their respect through a series of races & challenges. Eventually he comes to feel a grudging admiration for them & their way of life.
The Diggers suspect their rivals, The Black Hawks, who ride a variety of nice chops & customs, leading to several violent confrontations. The killer uses their animosity to set up the remaining Diggers in a grave yard. Stone guesses the ruse and races to save the day on a very cool faired and tuned Zed. He uncovers a political conspiracy behind the politician’s death & gang killings & when the truth is revealed, has to choose between his career in the Police force & his newfound loyalty to the Grave Diggers.
Filmed in 1974, Stone was co-written, produced & directed by Sandy Harbutt, who also co-starred as club leader The Undertaker. This was his only film, but was an instant hit & is widely seen as a classic of it’s genre. The hippyish language & over-acted violence may seem dated now, but otherwise, Stone has survived the past 35 years or so remarkably well. In fact the plotline’s been borrowed for several subsequent Hollywood blockbusters. Ken Shorter, who plays Stone, was a real life ex cop & the rival gang, The Black Hawks, were played by a genuine Australian bike club. In a peculiar case of life imitating art, the fictional Grave Diggers’ club patch –a skull wearing an Australian Army slouch hat, was later adopted by the Australian Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club.
Stone was filmed a full five years before Australia’s other big bikie based movie, Mad Max & several Diggers went on to become members of the murderous Toe Cutter’s gang.
Hugh Keays-Byrne played both “Toad”, the Grave Digger who witnessed the assassination in Stone, & “Toe Cutter” himself.
Vince Gil was “Dr Death” in Stone as well as doubling as assistant director & later became “Nightrider” in Max.
Roger Ward appeared as “Hooks” in Stone & as the peroxide blonde psychopath, “Fifi” in Mad Max. He’d previously been in several episodes of Oz classic, Skippy the bush kangaroo.
Deryck Barnes also did time in the Skippy series before being cast as Dr Townes in Stone.
Even Harbutt the director was an ex Skippy star.
Ken Shorter went on from playing Stone the cop to appear in TV series, Holby City, The Bill & Casualty –but was also a member of the Skippy gang.
The film was distinctly low budget so rather than spend money on stage sets, real biker bars became the backdrops & the Digger’s communal home was the old wartime gun emplacements & forts of Sydney sea front.
The local biking community became extras for many of the mass fight scenes & over 400 of them turned out for the now famous highway funeral procession, with a coffin being carried at the head of the cortège aboard a racing sidecar outfit.
All in all, not a bad film. Very watchable and a must for Zed enthusiasts like me. Some good riding shots and a very well filmed race, with onboard & following bike footage, as Stone races a Digger to gain respect, on a Norton Commando.
I’d best leave it there to allow viewers to enjoy the ending.