The low-budget American biker flick came into its own in the 1960s, and with a few exceptions, was pretty much played out by the end of the decade. Easy Rider is considered to be the crowning achievement in the genre--a transformative bit of filmmaking that managed to turned an otherwise exploitative flick into art. After Easy Rider, biker flicks in America quickly gave way to other types of B-movies, but in Australia, in the early 1970s, one of the best biker films of all time was just getting ready to come out. Produced, directed, co-written by and starring Sandy Harbutt, Stone, while not nearly as well known in America, remains a seminal entry in the biker genre.
The action starts at a political rally, when Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a member of the Grave Diggers motorcycle club witnesses the assassination of a local politician. Of course the fact that Toad was so stoned out of his mind when he saw the killing that he probably wouldn't be able to tell the killer from a large plate of scrambled eggs makes no difference at all; and the killer still starts systematically knocking off the Grave Diggers to cover his trail. Enter Stone (Ken Shorter), a motorcycle-riding, long-hair loner cop who decides to join the Grave Diggers with the hope he can protect them from more murders, and find the killer. Some of the gang is apprehensive, but their leader, The Undertaker (Harbutt), agrees to let Stone ride with the Grave Diggers. It isn't long before Stone begins to fit in with the others, so much so that his girlfriend begins to worry about him. But as the killer begins to close in on the Grave Diggers, Stone must come to grips with the fact that even though he sees himself as part of the gang, he's still a cop sworn to uphold the law, which is something that goes against everything the Grave Diggers stand for. Eventually, Stone must make a decision as to what he will do, and which path he will chose.
Stone is an ambitious film that is not without its flaws, but still manages to overcome those shortcomings. Clearly, this is a movie that was produced on a very small budget, which shows most often in the performances. None of the actors are outright terrible, but at the same time, none of them are taking the craft of acting to new creative heights. By and large, this is better-than-most acting found in biker movies.
As a director, Harbutt has a raw, gritty style that lends itself to the subject matter. Biker flicks are at their best when they have a down and dirty quality to them, lending to the notion that somehow the movie about those living outside the norms of conventional society was produced under similar circumstances. And Stone definitely has that feeling, which is probably why it is so popular among motorcycle enthusiasts.
The film also succeeds in the way Harbutt and co-writer Michael Robinson develop the Grave Diggers as more than the standard, one-dimensional bikers often found in films of this nature. Stone plays as if the writers studied the genre films that came in the previous decade, and decided to take things to a slightly different level. As portrayed in the film, the Grave Diggers are Satan-worshipping outlaw bikers, who all happen to be Vietnam veterans. Harbutt and Robinson present the gang as its own society that lives by a set of moral conduct that makes sense to them at a time when the moral conduct of the world they came from made far less sense. This creates a dynamic tension between the character of Stone and the rest of the Grave Diggers, who represent the moral conflict that is tearing our hero apart.
Stone was a huge hit in Australia, and has become a bonafide cult classic in its native country. Here in the United States the film remains relatively unknown, but this two-disc release provides a great opportunity for audiences to discover this exploitation gem.