The 7th Dawn

In The 7th Dawn (1964), a terrorist uprising in post-World War II Malaya tests the loyalties of three former wartime comrades: an apolitical American, Ferris (William Holden); his Eurasian mistress, Dhana (Capucine); and a fanatical Malay-Chinese named Ng (Tetsuro Tamba), who also loves Dhana. After leading Malay guerillas against the Japanese in World War II, Ferris, Dhana and Ng part ways. Ferris becomes a wealthy rubber farmer in Malaya, residing with (though occasionally unfaithful to) Dhana, now a beloved schoolteacher and political activist. Ng leaves to study in Communist Moscow and returns to Malaya eight years later as a terrorist leader determined to bring immediate independence to his people and drive out the British Colonists at any cost. Aware of the bond between Ferris and Ng, the British Commissioner, Trumpey (Michael Gooddliffe), asks for Ferris’s help; the reluctant farmer refuses to divulge Ng’s whereabouts but he visits with the chief terrorist at his hidden jungle base and unsuccessfully attempts to negotiate a peace. The British Residency is subsequently bombed and in retaliation the colonists burn down the Malay village where Dhana teaches. She is livid over the treatment of the natives and is similarly fed up with Ferris’s infidelity—she catches him straying with the Commissioner’s smitten young daughter, Candace (Susannah York).

Torn between causes, the teacher briefly considers joining with Ng but Ferris dissuades her, promising to pay her the respect and attention she deserves. When the authorities discover grenades in Dhana’s bicycle basket, she is arrested and sentenced to be hanged in seven days unless she turns over Ng; she refuses, and Ferris is faced with the choice of saving his true love or honoring his relationship with Ng. Motivated by her infatuation with Ferris, Candace turns herself over to Ng in hopes that Dhana will be released. Ng seizes the opportunity and announces that she will be executed if Dhana is hanged, though Trumpey and the British plan to proceed with their execution. With complications mounting, Ferris ultimately chooses Dhana’s life over Ng’s; he travels to the jungle compound and succeeds in rescuing Candace and capturing the terrorist. As Dhana’s time continues to run out, Ferris escorts Candace and Ng back to civilization, in hopes that the latter will testify that Dhana is innocent. When the terrorist breaks free and attempts to murder Ferris, Candace intervenes, shooting Ng in the back—before he dies, he confesses that he planted the grenades on Dhana, hoping that her death would make her a martyr and cause a revolt. Ferris and Candace fail to make it back to the coast in time to prevent Dhana’s hanging. Candace professes her love for Ferris, but he blames himself for Dhana’s death and leaves Malaya alone, never to return.

Adapted by Karl Tunberg from Michael Deon’s novel The Durian Tree, The 7th Dawn was released just as the Vietnam War was unfolding, and the sensitivity of the film’s subject matter was heightened as a result. While some critics scoffed at the notion of setting a melodramatic love story against a deadly (and timely) political conflict, director Lewis Gilbert (who would go on to helm 1967’s You Only Live Twice, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker) spends considerable screen time developing the relationships between the lead characters, allowing them to resonate through immaculately staged action sequences. The bond between Ferris, Dhana and Ng is convincingly established during an early goodbye scene they share at a train station, and despite occasionally clichéd dialogue, their love for one another successfully pays off the story’s final tragedy.

The film’s production overcame its share of challenges: William Holden’s rampant alcoholism initially led him to turn down the role of Ferris, but a brief stint in rehab helped change his mind. Although he was hospitalized for excessive drinking after the production wrapped, his illness could not diminish his onscreen chemistry with Capucine, the French Model with whom he was having a scandalous affair at the time. While Tunberg had felt that the casting of Capucine as a Eurasian was a crucial misstep, her saintly performance grounds the second half of the film when it becomes a race to save her character’s life. Her work was well regarded by critics as an important step in her evolution as an actress.

In addition to strong supporting performances from Tetsuro Tamba and Susannah York, the film is elevated by vivid location photography by Oscar-winner Frederick Young (Lawrence of Arabia). While many critics pounced on the excessive close-ups of Capucine’s face, most reviews acknowledged the scenery as one of the film’s true stars. The sweltering Malay jungles become an immersive backdrop for the film’s action sequences, which include a prolonged, explosive battle between the British and the Malays, and Ferris’s climactic machete fight with Ng.

The love story at the heart of the film is given considerable weight by Riz Ortolani’s lush music and his work was praised by Variety’s critic as “a good background score with some airplay potential.” Voiced on strings over rich brass, Ortolani’s main theme creates an aura of compassion and nostalgia for the two leads, evoking a strong sense of history between them, and occasionally doubling as a theme for Dhana’s longing for peace in Malaya. While Ortolani acknowledges the locale with pentatonic passages and a pervasive Asian-sounding electric harpsichord, the majority of the score’s suspense and action material is derived from the composer’s jazz background, with agitated trills and wailing brass reflecting Ng’s and the Malays’ rage toward the British. This material is at its most effective when Ortolani directly juxtaposes it with the main theme, sometimes interrupting the tune with unexpected swells of dissonant brass, hinting that Ng’s methods will ultimately betray Dhana to her death. The album contains arrangements of the score’s major set pieces and also features stand-alone renditions of the main theme that were recorded specifically for the record.

1. Opening Titles—7th Dawn
The opening credits unfold over tracking shots, many of which are stylistically filtered through a rippling river surface; the Malay imagery includes golden shrines, floating candles, and Native farmers at work. Wailing brass, percussion accents and a bitter Asian string melody begin the score with an air of anguish for the oppressed people of Malaya. The disparity in range between the introductory brass chords suggests the opening downward octave leap of the warm main theme, which is given a pure reading once the film’s title card appears. In the film, the cue runs slightly longer, with an opening string sustain under text thanking the people and government of Malaysia for their help in making the film.
2. Fire in the Native Village
This album track is comprised of two separate cues. The first consists of contemplative strings, ethnic percussion and timpani portamenti for a sequence late in the film in which Ferris (William Holden) and Candace (Susannah York) escort captive terrorist leader Ng (Tetsuro Tamba) back through the jungle to the coast.
The second cue (beginning at 0:42) is heard earlier in the film: After the British Residency is bombed, Ferris and Dhana (Capucine) fail to convince the British Commissioner, Trumpey (Michael Goddliffe), not to retaliate against a Malay village that has been supplying the terrorists with arms and food. Tortured strings rise as weeping native children surround Dhana, before fitful percussion and trilling brass underscore the British soldiers torching the village. A biting ostinato supports shrieking chromatic brass as the troops flee the smoking village, with Dhana and the Malays watching helplessly as the houses goes up in flames. In the film, this cue features a slightly alternate build of percussion and trilling as the village is burned.
3. The 7th Dawn
This album arrangement of the main theme for strings and electric harpsichord is largely unused in the film. A similar (but truncated) rendition of the theme is heard (without electric harpsichord) after the burning of the village, when Ferris tracks down Dhana at a hotel; she is distraught over both the brutality aimed at the Malays and Ferris’s attraction to Candace, but the melody offers consolation as Ferris commits himself to her and makes her promise not to join with Ng.
The scene transitions to Dhana riding her bicycle through a Malay street to another rendition of the love theme (2:21), this one colored with mallet percussion. A dissonant muted brass stinger interrupts the tune when she is confronted by the military police, who arrest her when they find grenades in her bicycle basket.
4. The Trial
Two more cues are combined from different junctures in the film: In court, Dhana refuses to offer information on Ng’s whereabouts. She is found guilty of conspiring with terrorists and is sentenced to death by hanging. A devastated outburst of brass and strings underscore Candace glancing over to catch Ferris’s reaction to the judge’s decision. The love theme is reprised when Dhana shares a warm look with Ferris as she is escorted from court.
Later in the film, Candace attempts to save Dhana by offering herself as Ng’s captive. A descending half-step figure, moving in parallel fourths (0:39), builds suspense as the commissioner’s daughter travels through the jungle in search of the terrorist leader. She stops to observe a monkey climbing a tree when Ng and his men suddenly surround her to a reprisal of the ascending chromatic brass from “Fire in the Native Village.” This cue is revisited later in the film when Ng’s notices are posted throughout Malaya—the memos state that Candance will be executed the same day as Dhana.
5. Paradise Club
The album returns to earlier in the film for Candace joining Ferris at a nightclub. A festive source cue plays as they flirt and dance together; they are interrupted when British authorities arrive to inform Ferris that Dhana has been arrested for terrorist activities.
6. The 7th Dawn—Variations
This album arrangement of the main theme features electric harpsichord, rolling marimba and (eventually) lush strings.
7. Battle in the Jungle
An arrangement of combat music incorporates material from the battles in the film’s third act. Militaristic percussion clashes with aggressive brass triplets as the British launch an attack on Ng’s hidden base. The terrorists evacuate the compound while simultaneously attempting to fend off the soldiers with a barrage of gunfire and missiles. Gnarled brass cries out as Ng cuts down a bridge (to prevent the British from following him) and escapes into the jungle with his captive, Candace. The action ostinato from “Fire in the Native Village” is heard as Ferris arrives on the scene just in time to catch a glimpse of Ng and Candace amid the chaos. The battle wages on as he chases after them while dodging explosions.
8. The 7th Dawn (Love Theme)
This unused pop-song rendition of the main theme features nostalgic lyrics (by Paul Francis Webster) for mixed chorus and accompaniment from electric harpsichord, rhythm section and strings.
9. Dhana’s Torment
Two separate cues are again combined to form this album track, the first of which occurs slightly earlier in the film, before the second half of “The Trial” is heard. For Ferris’s sake, Candance visits Dhana in her prison cell and implores her to turn Ng over to the British. Dhana refuses as her bond with Ng is too strong, and she asks Candace to help Ferris forget about her after she is executed. Low register flute, marimba and strings trade off between a coy descending line and the love theme as Dhana watches her leave. A brief pause between the descending flute gesture and the melody accents the moment Candace is struck with the idea to turn herself over to Ng.
The second cue comes from even earlier in the film—just after the second half of “Fire in the Native Village”—as Dhana is devastated by the burning of the Malay village. The unison string line of the “Opening Titles” is recalled and developed into a tormented version of the main theme as Dhana leaves Ferris behind and runs hysterically through the jungle. The cue ends as Ng intercepts her and embraces her.
10. The Duel
The album jumps ahead to the film’s climactic action: Ferris and Candace attempt to bring Ng back to civilization in time to prevent Dhana’s execution. Ng agrees to help Ferris slash through the jungle brush until they see the coast, but he appears to go back on his promise to behave when he sucker-punches Ferris and makes a break for it. The resulting machete fight between the two men is scored with a percussive development of the action ostinato figure, replete with brass stabs, trills and swells. Just as Ng is about to kill Ferris, Candace fatally shoots the terrorist in the back. Before Ng dies, he confesses that he climbed a tree and saw the coast; he did not actually break his word and his honor is restored, though Ferris is furious when he also admits to planting the grenades in Dhana’s basket.
11. A Night in Malaya
An unused, delicate version of the love theme is performed on electric harpsichord, rolling marimba, glockenspiel and strings. The tune gives way to a cue heard early in the film, when Ferris intends to negotiate a truce between the British colonists and the Malay terrorists; pentatonic chattering on electric harpsichord and strings is featured for a montage of Ferris traveling through jungle to find Ng. The cue ends just as Ng’s men ambush him.
12. Prison Prayer
This conflicted arrangement of the love theme for solo violin over string trills is featured to varying extents in three separate scenes of Dhana in prison. Its first usage is for Ferris visiting her before her trial, when she refuses to turn over Ng, telling Ferris, “We are what we are. We can’t shame ourselves for a price.” A subsequent brief reading of the theme unfolds as Malays pray for Dhana outside the prison. The material’s lengthiest statement is for Dhana, still in her cell, watching her final dawn arrive. A more typically optimistic version of the theme (1:20) is reached as she prays to God for love and peace. In the film, the cue’s fateful closing bars are replaced by violent material from “Dhana’s Torment” when the sun finally emerges and signals her doom.
13. The Governor’s Ball
A mellow jazz source cue spotlights saxophone and trumpet as Candace eagerly awaits Ferris’s arrival at her father’s ball. When he shows up they dance to the tune before the party is disrupted by a bomb-tossing terrorist.
14. Jungle Attack/Ferris Meets Candace
After Ferris’s initial failed attempt to ease the tension between Ng and the colonists, he travels back through the jungle to a reprisal of the pentatonic material from “A Night in Malaya.” Suspenseful brass stabs and string sustains were dialed out of the film for Ferris emerging from the jungle and finding Candace’s fancy car parked next to his overturned jeep. Also unused in the film is a subsequent lush rendition of the love theme, meant to underscore Ferris’s first encounter with a bikini-clad Candace on his beach property.
15. Closing Theme
Ferris fails to make it back to the coast in time to stop Dhana’s execution. He visits Candace at Trumpey’s mansion to tell her he is leaving Malaya, never to come back. Candace professes her love for him but he feels unworthy—he was too selfish to give Dhana a stable life and instead she found a cause to die for. After their exchange, Trumpey walks Ferris out, explaining that Dhana’s death has resulted in hate and bitterness among the Malays. The love theme is reprised in all its glory, offering hope for peace as Trumpey gets into his helicopter and Ferris turns to face Candace. They wave their final goodbyes to one another and the theme proceeds to run its course through the end titles. The album offers a final sneer of pessimistic, dissonant brass that does not appear in the film. — 

From the original United Artists LP…

The Seventh Dawn marks the American film debut of the brilliant Italian composer Riz Ortolani. Ortolani, a tall, energetic man in his thirties, swept into worldwide prominence with his scoring of motion picture Mondo Cane and his composition “More,” which became the most-recorded song of 1963. Charles K. Feldman’s exciting and colorful production, The Seventh Dawn, proves to be the ideal vehicle to showcase the talent and imagination of this impeccable musician…