MGM has released director Lewis Gilbert's 1964 film The 7th Dawn on DVD- albeit, through their new burn-to-DVD program. Gilbert discusses the movie in an exclusive interview with Matthew Field in Cinema Retro issue #18. The movie has long been on the "wanted" list of retro film fans who had to be satisfied with trying to catch it on periodic showings on Turner Classic Movies. This is a thoroughly engrossing, adult drama with an unusal setting and story background. The movie begins on the final day of WWII and centers on three disparate friends: an American named Ferris (William Holden), a French woman, Dhana (Capucine) and a Malaysianm, Ng (Tetsuro Tamba) who have led guerilla forces against the Japanese occupation in Malaya. The three close friends a jubilant in victory, after having suffered from fighting in the jungle for extended periods. At the end of the war, Ng goes off to Moscow to pursue communist political training. The apolitical Ferris stays behind, with Malaya now under British occupation. He thrives as a local rubber plantation owner, and Dhana is his lover, despite her frustration with Ferris' womanizing. The story advances to 1953, with Malayans now impatient for independence from England, which is easing toward granting their demands, but at a snail's pace. Ng returns to Malaya to try to instigate communist-inspired violent uprisings. To his sympathizers, he is a freedom fighter. To the British, he is a terrorist and the most wanted man in the nation.
Ferris is shaken from his cynical desire to remain removed from the political situation when Dhana is framed and charged by the British for assisting the terrorists. She has a choice: lead the authorities to Ng's hideout in the jungle or be sentenced to death. Dhana, who has always been as attracted to Ng as she has to Ferris, refuses to give him up. Ferris is faced with the ultimate dilemma: betray his best friend by capturing him and turning him into the British, or face the prospect of his lover being executed. Adding to the complications is the presence of Candace (Susannah York), the comely young daughter of the British governor who is also in love with Ferris and who concocts a scheme that might save Dhana, despite the fact that it places her own life in danger.
The 7th Dawn is a superb movie on every level, although it was not particularly successful on its initial release. Unlike most of the simplistic, special-effects driven action films of today, this movie deals with basic human dilemmas such as the meaning of friendships and the price of loyalties. The four leads are outstanding and Holden, in particularl, gives one of the most impressive performances of his career. York and Capucine give touching performances, as well, and Tamba (who would go on to star as 'Tiger' Tanaka in Lewis Gilbert's 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice) is particularly impressive as a man who is torn between political ideology and his affection for his friends. The political drama is played out in an engrossing manner, as one witnesses the bumbling, if sincere attempts by the British bureaucrats to try to win the hearts and minds of the locals through tragically misguided methods. The film builds to a harrowing conclusion as Ferris and Candace venture into the jungle in an attempt to capture Ng before the death sentence can be carried out against Dhana. The last half hour of the movie is especially riveting and packed with suspense and Gilbert's direction is truly impressive. The film benefits from the lush landscapes photographed by Freddie Young and a beautiful musical score by Riz Ortolani.