The Seekers

THE SEEKERS, a good-looking if tone deaf adventure from 1954, lays claim to be the first major international film shot in New Zealand. Part of it, anyway, the rest was done on pretty obvious sets back in England. Jack Hawkins and Glynis Johns star as colonial settlers in the 1820’s, hoping to co-exist peacefully with the resident Maori tribes. Migrating to the US a year it was rechristened as Land of Fury.

After a preliminary visit as a sailor convinces him of New Zealand’s beauty and bounty, and after proving brave and honorable to the local Maoris, ‘Philip Wayne’ (Hawkins) returns to homestead accompanied by his bride ‘Marion’ (Johns) and genial friend ‘Paddy Clarke’ (Noel Purcell). Per the usual European motif, Marion offers Christianity (albeit in a much gentler way than Max Von Sydow’s ‘Abner Hale’ would later do in Hawaii), and per the internationally shared Susceptible Male Syndrome, Philip falls under the spell of ‘Moana’, who bringeth forth Nature, Wild & Sensual Variety. More immigrants follow, then troubles arise, culminating in a miniature Alamo when one of the less-welcoming tribes attacks the little colony.

Ken Annakin directs it well enough, and ace cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth does justice to both the location work done at Whakatane in the eastern Bay of Plenty on the North Island and the well-lit if artificial studio sets.

The script however is lacking, and even though there are Maioris cast as extras—and in one main supporting role–Inia Te Wiata, a Maori opera singer, playing a chief—it’s still a p.c. minefield of simplification and misrepresentation under the guise of benevolence. Essentially a British Western, one of a slew of movies in the 50’s that featured hardy English colonists battling the indigenous peoples of the lands the Crown claimed; Malaya and Kenya in the era the film was made, and for this tale stepping back a century and out into the far South Pacific. It doesn’t help—other than fodder for male gaze and mana for camp—that Moana is impersonated by sex bomb Laya Raki, a German dancer. Her gyroscopic mating hoochie coochie is one for the books, on par with other 50s ‘native’ numbers done by the lissome likes of Debra Paget, Anita Ekberg and a host of other make-up assisted maidens from the wrong continents.

That nonsense aside, William Fairchild’s script (or the editing of it) comes from a novel by John Guthrie that ran 313 pages, and the subplot chocked storyline is scrunched into an abbreviated running time of just 90 minutes. With more care and expense it had the makings of a rousing 3-hour epic. Hawkins is fine, but Johns character is wafer-thin, giving the lovely and charming actress little to do. Purcell provides the humor relief, Kenneth Williams is on hand to be naive and ill-fated and Francis De Wolff snarls as the White blackguard of the story who smuggles shrunken heads.

Funny, you don’t look Maoirish…

Somehow, the voluptuous Laki, 26, gets away with a quick nude scene: the censors may have thought she was actually “a native” and thus made a boo boo–the grateful kind, we rum dogs hasten to add from the barricade. The action at the finish is pretty good, but there’s ludicrous stuff on the way there, including Purcell falling into a boiling mud pit and not bearing seared alive. The ubiquitous William Alwyn handles the music score. Anecdote-rich Ken Annakin has some amusing stories about the production in his entertaining autobio “So You Wanna Be A Director?”







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