At the start of the film, Ferris is shown participating in the execution of Japanese prisoners of war. While in the source novel, Ferris is described as participating in the rape and execution of female Chinese traitors in the Traitor-Killing Camps located in the jungles of the Main Range.
The British High Commissioner of Malaya in 1953 (when the film was set) was General (later Field Marshall) Sir Gerald Templer. The character of Trumphey more closely resembles the next British High Commissioner of Malaya Sir Donald Charles MacGillivray.
Near the start of the movie, Ferris is allowed to pass through a Malayan People's Liberation Army road ambush. The insurgents are Malay not Chinese as indicated by their conversation - "Jangan tembak. Nanti." -Don't shoot. Wait.
The character of Ferris is partially based on John Davis, a former SOE officer who worked with Chin Peng during the war. In 1955, he was sent by the government to bring Chin Peng out of the jungle and escort him to Baling for a peace conference.
The character Dhana is described as half-Vietnamese, half-French yet her name is not Vietnamese (or French). It is a Hindi name meaning "wealthy". This might mean Dhana is actually half-Cham. Many of the Cham people of Vietnam are Shaivite Hindus.
The character of Dhana is based in part on the writer Han Suyin, an Eurasian physician who lived in Malaya during the Emergency. Her husband at the time, Leon F. Comber, was acting Assistant Commissioner of Police - Malayan Special Branch. Her works of fiction include "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" (later made into a movie starring William Holden) and "And the Rain My Drink" an autobiographical novel of her experiences in Malaya in the early 1950s.
In one scene filmed on the Genting Sempah highway, the MNLA ambush a rubber planter played by Maurice Denham. His car, an Aston Martin saloon, flies over a cliff and explodes in mid-air. Originally, the car was to blow up on impact with the ground but the explosives detonated early. As it was too expensive to film again, the scene stayed in the movie.
Filming was delayed when actual squatters took up residence in the Chinese squatter village set. After their removal, filming resumed and the Chinese squatters stayed to watch. When the village is torched, crying and wailing can be heard. This wasn't from the Malay extras but from the real squatters who just lost their new home.
Because the UK government deemed the script to be prejudicial to British interests, it refused to cooperate. Therefore, all British troops were portrayed by Australian troops who were, at the time, running operations along the Malaysian-Thai border.
The character Ferris is partially based on Frederick Spencer Chapman, a British officer and explorer, who worked behind enemy lines in Malaya during WWII. He later wrote of his experiences in his book "The Jungle is Neutral".
Michael Keon, author of "The Durian Tree" on which "The 7th Dawn" is based, was a journalist working as Australian Press Attaché in China during the Communist revolution. During that time, it was rumored that he operated as a spy for Western intelligence.
Certain aspects of the character Ferris are based on a rubber planter by the name of Haddon-Cave. His was the only rubber plantation to escape terrorist attack in Malaya. Haddon-Cave was suspected of collusion with the MNLA by General Templer. When Templer investigated, he found the actual reason for the planter's immunity from attacks was, as Haddon-Cave put it, "we have the best damned security perimeter in the country". Templer was forced to agree.
The author, Michael Keon, during his stay in Malaya, met with three communist MPLA members. One he referred to as Ng, a pseudonym. This person bears a strong resemblance to Ng, the character in the novel and the movie.
Michael Keon, the author of the book the movie is based on, was the former brother-in-law of Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines. He was also reportedly a personal friend of Mao Tse Tung.
The general plot of "The 7th Dawn" is very close to a UK serial "A Place of Execution". The book "The 7th Dawn" is based on is "The Durian Tree". In this novel a durian tree is to be the place of execution of Candace Trumphey.
Durians appear in this film as danger signs three ways. Dhana is arrested when a grenade is found in a hollowed out durian. Candace surrenders herself to Ng at a durian tree. And Ng plans to execute Candace near another durian tree. In Malay, durian means 'thing with thorns' - they kill numerous people each year when they ripen and fall on unwary heads.
William Holden, a noted Japanophile - someone preoccupied with Japanese culture, plays Major Ferris who, at the start of the movie, stops the execution of Japanese POW's by the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army leader Ng (played by a Japanese actor).
Tetsurô Tanba, who plays Ng, would later become a religious leader in Japan with a cult following. Ng is a military/political leader with a cult-like following. One character, Ah Ming, describes him as "a god".
This is the second time William Holden has played a member of Force 136 Special Operations Executive. The first being his famous role in "The Bridge on the River Kwai". In that movie Force 136 was renamed Force 316.
Capucine was cast as Dhana due to her romantic relationship with executive producer Charles Feldman. This was initially opposed by Holden, producer Karl Tunberg, and director Lewis Gilbert. They were overruled by Feldman. Later in the shoot, Holden began an affair with Capucine much to the displeasure of Feldman.
The movie was filmed entirely in Malaysia at the Forest Research Institue of Malaysia at Kepong and Bukit Laggong, Lake Gardens, the railway station and the clock tower in Kuala Lumpur, the beach at Port Dickson in Negri Sembilan, the jungle of Ulu Gombak, Pudu Gaol, and the trunk road between KL and Negri Sembilan.
This film and the book it is based on end in a similar fashion as the 1959 novel "Sun in the Hunter's Eyes" by Mark Derby: the protagonist chasing the antagonist, who has kidnapped a young woman, through the Malay jungle while avoiding MPLA communist/terrorists.
In the source novel, Candace is the main character. Ferris, outside of a few social encounters, only appears in the final third of the book. Dhana only appears in two scenes - the bicycle ban protest and her trial.
The python seen in the film was supplied by a US Army Medical Research Team studying jungle conditions in Malaysia. At one point, the tame snake became agitated by the crew and lights and struck out at the first person that crossed its path. That was William Holden who was not seriously injured.
In the source novel, Ng is a paranoid sociopath who kills everyone who helps him capture Candace - more than a half dozen English, Sikh, and Chinese. He also kills two children and their teacher who were about to discover his location.
In his book "The Jungle is Neutral", Frederick Spencer Chapman, the inspiration for the character Ferris, called Chin Peng, the inspiration for the character Ng, a "true friend". They spent most of the war together in the Malay jungle fighting the Japanese occupation troops.
Ferris is described by Trumpey as an American who served with the 8th Australian (Division). The 8th Division was destroyed as a fighting unit by the third month of the Pacific War and most its men were killed in action or taken prisoner by the Japanese.
The village that the British burn is Malay, not Chinese. The villagers are Malay, as is the architecture. The village school's sign is also in Arabic script which, in a modified form, is used in Bahasa Melayu (Malay language).
Chin Peng, the inspiration for the character of Ng, was only 20 years of age when WWII ended. Three years later he became the Chairman of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). The actor who plays Ng, Tetsuro Tamba, was 42 when he made this movie.
The helicopter used throughout the movie is a Bristol Type 171 Sycamore, the first British-designed helicopter to fly and serve with the Royal Air Force. It began operations in 1953 and served in the Malayan Emergency.
This movie bears a superficial resemblance to a 1953 British TV series "A Place of Execution". In a British colony in Asia, a suspected terrorist has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. The terrorist group kidnaps the British governor's daughter, Caroline, and threaten to kill her if the execution proceeds. Her lover, Ferrell, rescues her just in time.
In one scene a flag is seen folded on a table. This is the Malayan National Liberation Army flag - a red field with a gold star in the upper left corner. It is very similar to the flag used by the Viet Minh and the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam.
The character of Dhana is partially based on Sybil Kathigasu, a Eurasian Malayan nurse, who supported the MPAJA during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. She is the only Malayan woman to ever be awarded the George Medal, a civil decoration presented to those performing acts of bravery.
At the time this movie was being filmed, Malaysia was fighting two wars - the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation and the Sarawak Communist Insurgency. A few days after the film's release, Indonesian troops started to infiltrate the Malay State of Johor south of the Kuala Lumpur area where most of the movie was shot.
Less than four years after the release of this movie, MCP Chairman Chin Peng, the inspiration for the character of Ng, restarted the communist insurgency in Malaysia. The Second Malayan Emergency lasted from 1968 until 1989.
At the time this movie was set, Michael Keon, the author of the source novel, was a journalist covering the Chinese Civil War. In 1948, Keon was west of Beijing when he and another journalist came under fire. Erich Wilberg, the other journalist, was killed. It was rumored at the time that the communists intentionally targeted Keon due to some negative reports.
The village the British destroy in the film is suspected of collusion with the MPLA. When the fire sets off an explosion, this is proved to be correct. Elements within the village belonged to a civilian organization called the Min Yuen that supported the communists by providing supplies and intelligence information.
In the film, Dhana is accused of violating the Emergency Regulations. Specifically, she is charged with violating Articles 17C and 17D (possession of arms, ammunition or explosives) which carry a death sentence.
One inspiration for the character of Ferris is Jeffrey Watts-Carter, an Australian rubber planter in Malaya. In April of 1951, Watts-Carter was arrested and charged with consorting with communists, a violation of the Emergency Regulations that brought a death sentence if convicted. Due to highly questionable evidence and testimony, he was acquitted and seven outstanding charges were dismissed.
This is the second instance where Chin Peng has inspired a movie antagonist. In 1952's "Outpost in Malaya", also known as "The Planter's Wife", the character of Ah Siong was based wholly on Chin Peng. He meets a similar fate in both movies.
At the time this movie is set, John Davis, an inspiration for the character Ferris, was training Ferret Force, a counter-insurgent unit consisting of civilians who were ex-members of Special Operations Executive Force 136. During WWII, Davis and the Ferret Force members had worked with Chin Peng, the inspiration for the character of Ng. Now, they were targeting Chin Peng and his MRLA.
The battle scene in the movie is very similar to the Malay Emergency's Operation Termite. In July of 1954, RAF bombers, SAS paratroopers, and heliborne ground troops attacked two MRLA camps in the Kinta and Raia valleys east of Ipoh, Perak. The operation was a resounding success.
Inspiration for the character Ferris was found in South African Boris Hembry who was a rubber plantation owner in Malaya during the Emergency. Hembry, during WWII, was a member of Freddie Spencer Chapman's stay behind party operating in Japanese occupied Malaya.
Contrary to popular belief, this film was not intended as an analogy to the Vietnam War. The source novel was published in 1961, well before the US sent military advisors to South Viet Nam and years before combat troops were sent.
In "The 7th Dawn" three of the four main characters are former Special Operations Executive (SOE) members (Force 136). The director of this movie, Lewis Gilbert, directed two other movies involving SOE personnel - "Carve Her Name with Pride" and "Operation: Daybreak".
One inspiration for the character of Ferris was Richard Noone, an anthropologist and former member of SOE's Force 136. He worked with the MPAJA during WWII and later formed the Malayan Scouts, an heritage unit of the Special Air Service.
In the film, Ferris walks from his estate near Kuala Lumpur in central Malaya to MRLA headquarters. In reality, at the time the movie is set, MRLA headquarters was located in northern Malaya near the town of Gerik making the walk near impossible.
The character of Cavendish is based on Nicol de Gray, the police commissioner of Malaya at the time the film is set. Gray was the police commissioner In Palestine during the insurgency there and was well known for his hardline, counter-guerrilla techniques and policies.
In the film a Gloster Meteor aircraft is seen attacking the MRLA camp. At the time the movie is set, there were no Meteors in Malaya. The RAF were still using de Havilland Hornets, a propeller driven airplane, at the time.
This is the fourth time William Holden has played a soldier operating behind enemy lines. The other films are The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Devil's Brigade, and The Horse Soldiers. In The Bridges at Toko-Ri, he portrays a naval pilot who is shot down behind enemy lines and must defend against a North Korean attack.
This is the third time William Holden has played a man romantically involved with a Eurasian woman. The other films are Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing and The World of Suzie Wong. In The World of Suzie Wong, the female character is never described as Eurasian but is played by Eurasian actress Nancy Kwan (in the play she is played by Eurasian actress France Nuyen).
For many scenes, the production required numerous Western extras. This presented a problem in post-colonial Malaysia. The solution was the recruitment of Australian army and British RAF personnel along with any available and willing civilians.
At the start of the film, Trumpey, in his capacity as ranking British Army officer, accepts the surrender of Japanese forces in Malaya. Michael Goodliffe, who portrays Trumpey, was in fact a commissioned officer during WWII. He was captured at Dunkirk and spent five years as a POW.
The title of this movie, The 7th Dawn, is referencing the deadline Ferris is under to save Candace and Dhana. It also has a biblical meaning. At the start of the seventh day, Earth received new guardianship. From this, conflict soon arose. A few on the production staff were against this title due to this implication.
When Karl Tunberg arrived in Paris to show William Holden the script for The 7th Dawn, he found Holden drunk, swinging from atop a massive, iron gate. Holden proclaimed he was finished making movies. Tunberg left seemingly defeated.
When William Holden traveled to Southeast Asia to do this film, he changed his plans so he would be on the same flight as Indonesian President Sukarno. He thought this flight would be safer. Not two years later, Sukarno was deposed in a coup d'etat.
In one scene, Dhana is surrounded by her students. They are holding books entitled "Belajar Sambil Bekerja" - learn by doing (working) in Bahasa. This parallels Mao Tse Tung's orders to his men "learn by fighting".
In the film, Ferris is credited with discovering a hidden, jungle valley during WWII. Freddie Spencer Chapman, the inspiration for Ferris did, in fact, discover a valley that was later used by the Chinese communists as a home base.
This is the fourth time a character's nationality was changed to accommodate William Holden. In Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and The World of Suzie Wong, the original characters were British. In The 7th Dawn, Ferris was originally Australian.
Maurice Denham plays the only male character without a history of military or police service. In fact, Denham is the only actor in the film to have served in combat units for the entirety of WWII, the Buffs and the Royal Artillery.
Tetsurô Tanba plays Ng, the leader of the Malay Communist Party (CPM) who grew up poor and orphaned in a squatter camp. On the other hand, Tanba was a member of the Japanese aristocracy and his father was the personal physician to Emperor Hirohito.
In the film, the British government asks Ferris to go into the jungle and convince Ng to surrender. In reality, after the failure of the Baling peace talks, John Davis, the inspiration for Ferris, was tasked by the British to gain permission from Chin Peng, the inspiration for Ng, to accompany him back to his jungle camp. His mission was to convince his friend that his cause was hopeless and surrender was the only option. Chin Peng politely refused Davis's request.
Chin Peng, the inspiration for Ng, unlike his fictional persona, survived the war and passed away at the age of 88 in Bangkok, Thailand on 16 September 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of Malaysia (Malaysia Day).
The song "The Seventh Dawn" is the second time Paul Francis Webster wrote the lyrics for a William Holden movie. The first time was his Academy Award winning song "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" for the same titled film.
The illustrator for the theatre poster was Howard Terpning, famous for his Native American artwork. Three years after working on "The 7th Dawn" poster, at the request of the USMC, he became a civilian combat artist in South Viet Nam. For one month, he lived with an infantry unit and went out on patrols into the jungle. Six of his paintings now hang in the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
The film's Korean title, "Jo'k Kwa Baek" (Red and White) is a play on words. The Sino-Korean character for "Jo'k" means red, but the Korean hangul characters can also mean enemy. "Baek" means white and is used in combination with "In" (people) to form the Korean word for Caucasians.
In the film, Ng speaks very good English. Chin Peng, the inspiration for Ng, studied English at the Anglo-Chinese Continuation School run by the Methodist Church in Singapore. He left after six months to work for the communist underground.
Four people associated with this film were awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBEs) - Lewis Gilbert (CBE), director; Freddie Young, cinematographer; Maurice Denham, "Tarlton"; and Chin Peng, inspiration for Ng and communist/terrorist.
The inspiration for the character of Ng is Chin Peng, a nom de guerre. His real name was Ong Boon Hua. The surnames Ng and Ong share the same Chinese character in Teochew dialect - meaning "yellow" in English. The Teochew people originated in Guangdong province, but most immigrated to Southeast Asia to include Malaysia.
This is the third time William Holden has played a Major in films. The other two times are in "The Horse Soldiers" and "Toward the Unknown". In "The Bridge on the River Kwai" he held the artificial rank of "simulated Major".
In 1998, Chin Peng, the inspiration for the character Ng, traveled to London and reconciled with his friend John Davis, the inspiration for the character Ferris. They spent their time together talking about "the good old days" in the jungle fighting the Japanese and avoided discussing politics.