powered by AFI
William Holden was a brilliant actor with charisma to spare, and was, by all accounts, a dear friend to many people in Hollywood. But he was also a prodigious drinker, and was reportedly hitting the bottle hard when he appeared in Lewis Gilbert's The 7th Dawn (1964). Holden did little to generate positive publicity for what turned out to be an exotic political thriller that's designed to be reminiscent of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), two previous Holden hits. And -- somewhat amazingly, given his off-screen antics - Holden's performance IS one of its highlights.
He plays Ferris, a post-war Malaysian plantation owner who used to be a mercenary. Ferris' comfortable life is turned upside down when a fellow ex-mercenary, Ng (Tetsuro Tamba), is recruited to lead a Communist uprising against the reigning government. When it's discovered that Ferris has close ties to Ng, the government arrests Ferris' girlfriend, Dhana (Capucine). Ferris is then forced to juggle his dual loyalties with both Ng and Dhana. Bouts of action and romance ensue, as expected, and Holden looks great while running through the jungle.
In Golden Boy, his biography of Holden, author Bob Thomas suggests that the actor was in need of a serious drying out long before he reached the Malaysian jungle to shoot The 7th Dawn. Holden was in Paris, filming Paris When It Sizzles (1964), when producer-screenwriter Karl Tunberg showed up to try to convince him to appear in The 7th Dawn. Tunberg knew that Holden's participation would all but guarantee financing, and could also mean a hit picture.
Tunberg's first meeting with Holden, however, was a preview of the actor's tendency to go on drunken binges. As Tunberg approached the enormous gates in front of the Parisian mansion where Holden was staying, he heard a strange cry, almost like that of a wild animal. Tunberg looked around, but didn't see anything. Then he heard the cry again. Glancing up, he saw an obviously intoxicated Holden hanging from the top of the gate, swaying around like a monkey. Holden then climbed down, and invited his shocked guest into the house to discuss the script.
During their conversation, Holden made an alarming announcement: "I'm sure you put a lot of work into it, and it's a beautiful script," he said. "But you see, I'm not going to do any more pictures. I hate being an actor. I hate the bastards who run the business. I hate everything about it. And now I'm going to bed." Luckily for Tunberg, the actor entered a hospital and managed to quit drinking long enough to generate some enthusiasm for his chosen line of work. Another visit to the hospital before he started filming The 7th Dawn (the earlier attempt was only a brief stop gap measure), and Holden was ready to go.
But Tunberg faced another problem. He was not happy with the casting of Capucine, a former Paris model, as the Eurasian agent for the Communists and was convinced she would ruin the picture. Capucine was having an affair with the film's executive producer Charles K. Feldman who was trying to force her on Tunberg, director Lewis Gilbert and Holden. "At a meeting in Holden's suite at the Connaught Hotel, the three men vowed to make a stand against Feldman," according to author Bob Thomas (in Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden). Holden called Feldman and said, "Charlie - Karl, Lew, and I are agreed that Cap isn't right for the role. If you insist on her, we'll all take a walk. Understand?" Tunberg then departed for Japan to find other actors for the film but learned through news reports while he was there that Capucine had been cast. Gilbert had backed down and Holden had gotten drunk again.
Finally it came time to film The 7th Dawn but things only went smoothly for a while. During a very tough shoot that involved dangerous filming in the jungle, Holden started drinking heavily again, and made no attempt at all to hide the fact that he and Capucine, were having an illicit romance (the actress had just split up with Feldman). Holden was married at the time, not that it seemed to bother him very much. America's gossip columnists were more than happy to sort through the debris, but Holden's career survived, and The 7th Dawn was a minor hit.
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Producer: Karl Tunberg, John Dark
Screenplay: Karl Tunberg (based on the novel by Michael Keon)
Music: Riz Ortolani
Cinematography: Frederick Young
Editor: John Shirley
Production Design: John Stoll
Art Direction: Herbert Smith
Set Decoration: Josie MacAvin
Makeup: John O'Gorman
Cast: William Holden (Ferris), Susannah York (Candace Trumpey), Capucine (Dhana), Tetsuro Tamba (Ng), Michael Goodliffe (Trumphey), Allan Cuthbertson (Cavendish), Maurice Denham (Tarlton), Sydney Tafler (C.P.O.), Beulah Quo (Ah Ming).
by Paul Tatara