Olive Films // 1964 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 16th, 2011
"A Strange Land Sleeps Like a Beautiful Woman -- So Still, So Mysterious, So Untouched...Until The First Light of Dawn Awakens the Passions of Men and the Furies of War!"
Man, World War II screwed up everything. Suddenly there were all these counties under colonial rule that wanted their independence. One of those countries was Malaya, which dealt with an "emergency" for over a decade after the war as insurgents tried to take over the government at the expense of the British that culminated in eventual independence and the formation of Malaysia. It's against this backdrop that The 7th Dawn takes place, borrowing freely from historical fact to create a small-scale epic about love, friendship, and capitalism. As a manufactured-on-demand product, this DVD offers fans a chance to see a fine performance by William Holden just a few years before his late career triumphs in The Wild Bunch and Network.
As The 7th Dawn opens, the Japanese have just surrendered, and the people of Malaya are ready to stop fighting. Major Ferris (William Holden, The Wild Bunch), Ng (Tetsurô Tanba, You Only Live Twice), and Dhana (Capucine, The Pink Panther) have been fighting against the Japanese in Malaya, but with the war at an end, Ng is off to Russia to complete his studies, while Ferris and Dhana are going to settled down to manage a growing rubber plantation. A few years later, the insurgents are targeting rubber barons, all of them except Ferris. The colonial government suspects that Ng is responsible and charges Ferris with stopping him. Things become complicated when Dhana is convicted of conspiring with the insurgents and is sentenced to death. To save her, Ferris must deliver Ng in seven days.
I love a big Hollywood epic, but sometimes the better films are those that use big, historical events as a backdrop for more personal stories. That is certainly the case with The 7th Dawn, a film that is remarkably frank in its dealings with sex and race for its time. At the center of the film is the age-old story of brothers being on the wrong sides of a war. In this case Ferris is the reluctant brother who wants to avoid conflict, while Ng is the militant one who desires independence. The film is further complicated by the fact that the British admit that they're going to be leaving, and in essence the insurgents have already one. However, to ensure an orderly turnover, the British want the terrorism stopped. Ng, distrustful, refuses to back down. It's a deliciously complicated bit of storytelling, where audience sympathies are firmly divided between the likable but laidback Ferris and the militant but suspicious Ng. The film doesn't quite reach for Greek tragedy in its depiction of friends turned foe, but it does provide some compelling drama and a decent amount of action.
The film, made in 1964, is surprising for its racial and sexual frankness. Three years before Bonnie and Clyde opened the floodgates, The 7th Dawn does a pretty good job of riding the line of presenting genuine race-blindness in Ferris, and the film deals sympathetically with the tension between the British colonial rulers and the insurgent forces (though its tagline is laughably archaic). The film is also remarkable for the fact that Ferris lives with but refuses to marry Dhana, and the appearance of a naked (though masked by waves) Susannah York is surprising. The film also flirts with a number of romantic triangles involved Ferris, Ng, Dhana, and York's character Candace.
All these characters are ably played by the actors. I've loved William Holden forever, and he continues his winning streak here. His Ferris is tough and sympathetic, capable but vulnerable. Capuchine is given the job of playing the aloof Dhana, and she brings a haughty sexuality to her role as protester. Tetsurô Tanba plays Ng with ferocity and single-mindedness that is admirable, while the young York brings a sweetness to her young ingénue.
The 7th Dawn is manufactured as a print-on-demand DVD, and this is perhaps the only way a long-forgotten catalog title like this one would see a release. An opening title warns that the "best source material available" was used to make the transfer, but the film looks in surprisingly good shape. The bold Technicolor jungles look good, and the whole thing looks wonderfully filmlike. Sure, a more thorough restoration would recover some detail and texture, but for a title like this the film looks remarkably good. The picture is slightly window-boxed on the sides. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono keeps dialogue audible, and no serious hiss or distortion is present. There are no extras available, just a menu with the option to play the film.
The only real negative for The 7th Dawn is the fact that it's a bit long. I liked the story well enough, but its languid pace feels a little off.
The 7th Dawn is an interesting piece of film history, sure to be of interest to fans of any of the actors or those who enjoy a different kind of war picture.
It doesn't take seven dawns to realize this film is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Olive Films
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated