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 very good.
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’d seen and 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. York is fresh, sexy and energetic, blue eyes aglow, while Tetsuro Tamba provides stoic indomitability 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, while Freddie 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 (with several of the characters based on real people) pack the 123 minutes with incident.
Only Riz Ortolani’s score comes up occasionally overbearing, mostly in the latter part of the feature. The film did terribly at the box-office, coming in 103rd for the year. It’s much better than that sorry fate would indicate.