THE 7th DAWN was elaborately filmed on location in Malaysia, with a major star (William Holden) and two beauteous love interests (Capucine and Susannah York). It has intrigue, action, romance, politics and is sweat-steeped in atmosphere, yet the 1964 film was neglected on release, flopped at the tills and remains unheralded today. Too bad, as it’s mostly commendable.
Former comrades and impassioned lovers commingle with colonialist repression and communist payback during the ‘Malayan Emergency’ of the early 1950s.Holden brings his career-perfected, completely believable world-weariness to his role as a planter torn between sides. The actors real-life infatuation with Asia (second only to his love for Africa) informs his performance, along with the toll alcoholism had written into his visage in the years since he’d hiked through another tropical jungle in The Bridge On The River Kwai. The guy had seen it all, done it all; it shows, it hurts, it’s compelling.
His real-life affair with the gorgeous Capucine give their scenes together added heat; the troubled French actress was never more striking. Blue eyes aglow, York is fresh, sexy and energetic, while Tetsuro Tamba provides stoicism as the chief revolutionary. Michael Goodlife and Allan Cuthbertson deliver exemplary Brit backbone, the first with dignified seriousness, the second with cutting pseudo-superiority.
Lewis Gilbert directs efficiently, and Frederick Young handles the camera, which means there is a good accounting of Malaysia’s alluring beaches, jungles and plantations. Young immediately went onto more exotic location work in Lord Jim. Strong production values and a thoughtful script by Karl Tunberg (Ben-Hur) packs the 123 minutes with incident. It was based “The Durian Tree”, a 1960 novel written by former journalist Michael Keon.
Some flaws show up. Riz Ortolani’s score comes on occasionally overbearing, mostly in the latter part of the feature. The climactic fight between Holden and Tamba isn’t well-handled. The film did terribly at the box-office, a gross of $2,300,000 only coming in 99th place for the year. It’s much better than that sorry fate would indicate. *
With Sydney Taffler, Maurice Denham and Beulah Quo.
* Other films about the place and time include The Planter’s Wife/Outpost in Malaya, from 1952, with Claudette Colbert and Jack Hawkins and 1957s Windom’s Way, with Peter Finch.