Release Date(s)1964 (January 11, 2022)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: D-
The 7th Dawn is an overlooked 1964 adventure film set during the Anti–British National Liberation War (aka the Malayan Emergency) in what was then still known as Burma. The story follows three friends who fought against the Japanese in Burma during WW2. After that war ends, their paths diverge, with Ferris (William Holden) becoming a successful rubber plantation owner, while Ng (Tetsuro Tamba) becomes a radicalized communist revolutionary after going to Moscow to receive an education. Torn between the two is Dhana (Capucine), who becomes the head of the local schoolteacher’s union. Their uneasy relationship is disrupted when Ng’s Malayan National Liberation Army clashes with the British colonial forces; both Ferris and Dhana find themselves drawn into the conflict in different ways, with the daughter of the British Commissioner (Susannah York) caught up in the action.
The screenplay for The 7th Dawn was written by Karl Tunberg, based on the novel The Durian Tree by Michael Keon. As adapted for the screen, the three main characters end up symbolizing the entire spectrum of the revolutionary ideal, with Ferris as the anti-revolutionary, Dhana as the peaceful revolutionary, and Ng as the committed violent revolutionary. The film itself tries to skate a line between those extremes—while it’s openly critical of British imperialism, it condemns the communist revolutionary forces as well. It’s a remarkably cynical adventure film; ultimately, interventionism, non-interventionism, and anti-interventionism are all equal failures.
In practice, thanks to the casting of William Holden in the lead role, The 7th Dawn ends up as an unintentional riff on The Bridge on the River Kwai, with Holden once again playing an American who escapes a conflict in the jungle, only to be reluctantly sent back into it at the behest of the British. Both films end with their own version of “Madness!”, but while the end of the journey in The 7th Dawn may be less destructive, it’s far more bleak. Unsurprisingly, Holden is perfect for the role of Ferris, since he could play this kind of reluctant cynic in his sleep. The underrated Capucine also does nice work as Dhana (though she’s saddled with some unfortunate brownface makeup). She plays Dhana with an understated kind of dignity that provides a nice counterpoint to the oiliness of Ferris.
Director Lewis Gilbert was a versatile filmmaker, equally at home making action-adventures like this one, or postmodern comedies like Alfie. He doesn’t shy away from the darker elements in The 7th Dawn, either thematically or practically. The film has some surprisingly violent moments, starting with the shock of cold-blooded executions at the beginning of the film, and the even bigger shock of the complete indifference to it displayed by his nominal heroes. That violence is set ironically against the beauty of the backgrounds, as Gilbert shot the film on location in Malaysia. His comfort in handling both large-scale action and location shooting may have been instrumental in securing the gig to direct You Only Live Twice just three years after this film, where he would reunite with cinematographer Freddie Young, title designer Maurice Binder, and actor Tetsuro Tamba. Gilbert’s work on three installments for the Bond franchise has overshadowed many of his other films, and unfairly so, as The 7th Dawn capably demonstrates. It’s a fascinating look at a forgotten period of Southeast Asian history.
Freddie Young shot The 7th Dawn on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray version is framed at 1.66:1, which works well (though the packaging incorrectly lists it as being 1.85:1.) Kino describes it as being a “brand new 2K master,” and while there’s no information regarding the elements that were used, the source appears to be an interpositive. It’s reasonably detailed, with prominent but even grain, and only light damage such as occasional speckling. There are abundant optical dissolves for scene transitions, but those were cut into the film, so the leading and trailing shots aren’t affected by the generational loss. The color balance looks natural, with good contrast and deep black levels. A few minor flaws aside, this is a fine transfer of a visually beautiful film.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. It’s a solid if unremarkable track, generally clean if a bit thin and lacking in bass, but with clear dialogue. The lush score by Riz Ortolani is hampered a bit by the limited fidelity and lack of bass, but those limitations are inherent to the elements.
The following trailers are included:
- The 7th Dawn Trailer (HD – 2:55)
- The Devil's Brigade Trailer (SD – 3:47)
- The Revengers Trailer (HD – 2:10)
- Breezy Trailer (HD – 2:27)
- 21 Hours at Munich Trailer (HD – 2:35)
- The Earthling Trailer (HD – 3:11)
- Freud Trailer (HD – 3:22)
- Gold Trailer (HD – 3:56)
- The Silent Partner Trailer (SD – 1:55)
- Loophole Trailer (HD – 1:27)
While it would have been nice to get a few more extras such as a commentary track, finally getting The 7th Dawn on Blu-ray is practically a special feature of its own. Kino Lorber continues to offer an outstanding slate of neglected films in high definition, and this release is no exception.
- Stephen Bjork