Quigley Down Under

Quigley Down Under

Theatrical release poster by Steven Chorney
Directed by Simon Wincer
Produced by Stanley O'Toole
Alexandra Rose
Megan Rose
Written by John Hill
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography David Eggby
Edited by Peter Burgess
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
17 October 1990
Running time
119 minutes
Country Australia/United States
Language English
Budget $18 million[1]
Box office $21,413,105

Quigley Down Under is a 1990 Australian-American western film starring Tom Selleck, Alan Rickman and Laura San Giacomo, directed by Simon Wincer.


Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) is an American cowboy and sharpshooter with a specially modified 1874 Sharps Buffalo rifle with which he can shoot accurately at extraordinary distances. He answers a newspaper advertisement that asks for a man with a special talent in long-distance shooting, using just four words, "M. Quigley 900 yards," written on a copy of the advertisement that is punctured by several closely spaced bullet holes.

When he arrives in Australia, he gets into a fight with employees of the man who hired him, who are trying to force "Crazy Cora" (Laura San Giacomo) onto their wagon. After he identifies himself, he is taken to the station of Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman), who informs Quigley his sharpshooting skills will be used to eradicate the increasingly elusive Aborigines. Quigley turns down the offer and throws Marston out of his house.

The aborigine manservant knocks Quigley over the head and Marston's men beat him and Cora unconscious and dump them in the outback with no water and little chance of survival. However, they are rescued by Aborigines. Cora now reveals that she comes from Texas. When her home was attacked by Comanches, she hid in the cellar and accidentally suffocated her child while trying to prevent him from crying. Her husband had then put her alone on a ship to Australia. Now Cora consistently calls Quigley by her husband’s name (Roy), much to his annoyance.

When Marston's men attack the Aborigines who helped them, Quigley kills three. Escaping on a single horse, they encounter more of the men driving Aborigines over a cliff. Quigley drives them off with his deadly shooting and Cora rescues an orphaned baby she finds among the dead Aborigines. Leaving Cora and the infant in the desert with food and water, Quigley rides alone to a nearby town. There he obtains new ammunition from a local German gunsmith, who hates Marston for his murdering ways. Quigley also learns that he has become a legendary hero among the Aborigines.

Marston's men are also in town and recognize Quigley's horse. When they attack, cornering him in a burning building, he escapes through a skylight and kills all but one of them. He sends the injured survivor back to Marston to tell him that Quigley is coming. Quigley returns to Cora and the baby, which she has just saved from an attack by dingoes. At first she had tried to stop it crying, but then told it to make as much noise as it liked as she gunned the animals down. Back in town, she gives the baby to Aborigines who have arrived to meet up with them after Quigley tells her that the child has 'a right to happiness'.

The next morning, Quigley rides away to confront Marston at his station. At first he shoots the defenders from his location in the hills but is eventually shot in the leg and captured by Marston's last two men, Dobkin and O'Flynn. Marston, who has noticed that Quigley only ever carries a rifle, decides to give him a lesson in the "quick-draw" style of gunfighting. As the two face off, Marston makes the first move, but is beaten to the draw by Quigley, who shoots Dobkin and O'Flynn as well. As Marston lies dying, Quigley refers to an earlier conversation, telling him, "I said I never had much use for a revolver; I never said I didn't know how to use it."

Marston's servant comes out of the house and gives Quigley his rifle back, then walks away from the ranch, stripping off his western-style clothing as he goes as the other two Aborigine servants also leave. Some time later, an army troop arrives to arrest Quigley for murder until they notice the surrounding hills are lined with Aborigines, having been gathered by the former manservant, and decide to withdraw. Later he and Cora book a passage back to America in the name of Roy Cobb, Cora’s husband, since Quigley is still wanted. On the wharf she reminds him that he once told her that she had to say two words before he would make love to her. Smiling broadly, she calls him "Matthew Quigley" and the two embrace for the first time.



John Hill first began writing Quigley Down Under in 1978, and both Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood were considered for the lead, but by the time production began in 1980, McQueen was too ill and the project was scrapped.[2] In the mid-1980s Tom Selleck heard of it and UAA got involved; the film was almost set up at Warner Bros with Lewis Gilbert as director but it fell over during pre-production. Simon Wincer then became director, who felt a good story had been ruined by numerous rewrites from people who knew little about Australian history, so he brought on Ian Jones as writer. They went back to the original draft, re-set it from the 1880s to the 1860s and made it more historically accurate.[3]

The film was made by the newly formed Pathe Group, then under Alan Ladd, Jr. It was Ladd's enthusiasm for the project which helped get it financed.[3]

The firearm used by Quigley (Selleck) is a custom 13.5 pound (6 kg), single-shot, 1874 Sharps Rifle, with a 34-inch (860 mm) barrel.[4] The rifle used for filming was a replica manufactured for the film by the Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company of Big Timber, Montana.[5] In 2002 Selleck donated the rifle, along with six other firearms from his other films, to the National Rifle Association, as part of the NRA's exhibit "Real Guns of Reel Heroes" at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.[6]

The movie was filmed entirely in Australia. Scenes were filmed in and around Warrnambool and Apollo Bay, Victoria.[7]

Although several scenes of the story depict violence and cruelty toward and involving animals, a film spokesperson explained that no animal was harmed, and special effects were used. For example, Quigley and Cora are reduced to consuming "grub worms" (actually blobs of dough) for survival. A pack of dingoes attacks Cora, and she finally saves herself by shooting the animals. Those animals were specially trained, and were actually "playing" for that scene, which was later enhanced by visual and sound effects. Several scenes involve falling horses; they were performed by specially-trained animals and were not hurt. When a horse falls off a cliff, the "horse" was a mechanical creation. The film's producer stated that a veterinarian was on the set whenever animals were being used in filming.[8]


Critical responses were mixed, with Quigley having a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, arguing that it was a flawed but respectable neo-western, and particularly praising San Giacomo's performance: "[T]his may be the movie that proves her staying power. [...] She has an authority, a depth of presence, that is attractive, and her voice is deep and musical."[10]

The film, however, was not a financial success in theaters, roughly recouping its budget.

The film, and more specifically the protagonist's skill with his rifle, has led snipers to refer to the act of killing two targets with a single bullet as 'a Quigley'.[11]


Award Category Subject Result
London Film Critics' Circle Award British Actor of the Year Alan Rickman Won
Motion Picture Sound Editors Award Best Sound Editing - Foreign Feature Tim Chau Won
Frank Lipson Won
Political Film Society Award Human Rights Nominated

Quigley Sharps rifle

Quigley says of his gun:

"It’s a lever-action, breech loader. Usual barrel length’s thirty inches. This one has an extra four. It’s converted to use a special forty-five caliber, hundred and ten grain metal cartridge, with a five-hundred and forty grain paper-patched bullet. It’s fitted with double set triggers, and a Vernier sight. It’s marked up to twelve-hundred yards. This one shoots a mite further."

Three fully functional .45-110 rifles matching the above description were built for the film in 1989 by the Shiloh Rifle Co. of Big Timber, Montana, United States. They also had a 15 14 inch length of pull to fit Selleck's tall frame, a full octagon heavy barrel with a blue finish, and weighed 13 12 pounds. Due to the weight, one of the rifles was sent back to Shiloh to be refitted with an aluminum barrel so it could be swung faster (as a club) in fight scenes.

Though Quigley calls it a lever-action rifle, this is actually an error. While it is operated with a lever, the Sharps rifle is actually a Falling Block Action, not a Lever Action.

After the filming concluded, Selleck kept all three rifles, and had two of them reconditioned by Shiloh Rifle Co. In 2006 Selleck donated one of the rifles used in filming to the NRA for a fundraising raffle. In March 2008 that rifle was sold for $69,000 through the James D. Julia auction house.[12]

An annual Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match is held in Forsyth, Montana (180 miles from Big Timber) on Father's Day weekend. The shoot is the largest of its kind in America, attended by around 600 shooters, with targets out to 800 yards.[13]

See also


  1. Greg Kerr, "Quigley", Australian Film 1978-1992, Oxford Uni Press, 1993 p323
  2. Persico Newhouse, Joyce J. "'Perfect Hero' Selleck Takes Aim at Action". Times Union. 18 October 1990.
  3. 1 2 Scott Murray, "Simon Wincer: Trusting His Instincts", Cinema Papers, November 1989 pp. 6–12, 78
  4. Sharp, Eric. "Shooting Star - Antique Black-Powder Rifle Still Scene-Stealer". Detroit Free Press. 18 June 2006.
  5. Names and Faces: "On Target". Orlando Sentinel. 6 August 1989.
  6. "Tom Selleck Donates Seven Guns To NRA National Firearms Museum". National Rifle Association
  7. GreatSouthCoast website
  8. AHA Film website Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. Quigley Down Under at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. "Quigley Down Under". Chicago Sun-Times.
  11. Harnden, Toby (13 March 2011). "Dead Men Risen: The snipers' story". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  12. "Firearms: Spring 2009 - Selected Highlights". James D. Julia. March 2008.
  13. "Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match". Montana Office of Tourism. 2010.
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