3 user 2 critic

For the Term of His Natural Life (1927)

A convict, wrongfully accused and sent a harsh prison colony, attempts to escape.


Norman Dawn


Marcus Clarke (novel), Norman Dawn (adaptation)




Cast overview, first billed only:
George Fisher ... Rufus Dawe / John Rex
Eva Novak ... Sylvia Vickers
Dunstan Webb Dunstan Webb ... Maurice Frere
Jessica Harcourt Jessica Harcourt ... Sarah Purfoy
Arthur McLaglen Arthur McLaglen ... Gabbett
Katherine Dawn Katherine Dawn ... Mrs. Vickers
Gerald Kay Souper Gerald Kay Souper ... Major Vickers
Marion Marcus Clarke Marion Marcus Clarke ... Lady Devine
Arthur Tauchert Arthur Tauchert ... Warden Troke
Beryl Gow Beryl Gow ... Sylvia Vickers as child
Compton Coutts Compton Coutts ... Reverend Meekin
Mayne Lynton Mayne Lynton ... Reverend North
Carlton Stuart Carlton Stuart ... Commandant Burgess
William O'Hanlon William O'Hanlon ... The Crow
Arthur Greenaway Arthur Greenaway ... Lord Bellasis


Based on the Australian classic by Marcus Clarke, the story of convict Rufus Dawe was based on fact and reflects that of many convicts of Australia's early days. Rufus Dawe has been wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit, and sent to the harsh penal colony of Van Diemen's Land, Australia - for the term of his natural life. In his attempts to escape the colony forever, he falls in love with a warden's daughter, Sylvia, confronts his sinister lookalike John Rex, and the evil convict Gabbet. American director Norman Dawn's movie adaptation strays from the original book but retains a strong visual style, especially in climactic crowd scenes. It is notorious as the movie that was meant to launch Australia into the world movie market, but instead cost investors thousands after the coming of sound stymied its potential for overseas success. Written by Camille Scaysbrook <verona_beach@hotpop.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


PLEASE GOD- TELL CRANKY BROWN WE'RE COMING Just one of the poignant, soul-stirring moments- when two little victims of a harsh penal system go over the cliff to eternity rather than submit to fresh horrors. (Print Ad- Brisbane Courier, ((Brisbane,Queensland)) 18 July 1927) See more »


Adventure | Romance


See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Rex's escape on the Osprey is based on the seizure of the brig, Frederick, by ten convicts after the closure of the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement. The convicts landed their captives on the shore and then set sail. Unlike Rex who is recaptured in the film, these convicts managed to sail the Frederick to Chile. See more »


On two intertitles, Van Diemen's Land is misspelled as 'Van Dieman's Land'. See more »


Version of The Convict Hero (1911) See more »

User Reviews

Too Damaged a Film to be Pleasant Viewing
25 February 2011 | by alonzoiii-1See all my reviews

This silent movie, an adaptation of a rip-snorting Australian novel from the 19th century, is a tough film to evaluate, because so much of it is missing, and that makes the exceptionally complicated plot very hard to follow. The story itself is a series of prisoner escapes and harsh sea voyages, linked together by a plot that relies on A Shameful Secret, A Noble Sacrifice, characters who Look Exactly Alike, and that favorite through the centuries, Amnesia. The book from which all this comes is a genuine page turner (with one of the scariest sea trips in literature) and well worth seeking out. But I don't see how anyone can even begin to follow this movie without either having read the book or at least having seen the miniseries.

If you do attempt this film, be prepared to do a lot of reading, as gaps in the plot are filled in by title cards, and some lengthy breaks in the action, where the lost bits of the film are represented by stills. This makes it tough to evaluate all the performances. There are some fairly good set pieces in the film, but, since the actual film goes missing in some real inconvenient spots, there is a lot of frustration involved with watching this.

Note that this reconstruction of the movie was attempted in the late 70s and early 80s, with the participation of the original director (who apparently directed from an annotated copy of the book, rather than a script) and is a true labor of love. This was truly Australia's most expensive silent movie. But it is only an approximation of what viewers saw in the 20s, and is mostly of historic interest. Maybe somebody will find a better copy of the film in their attic one of these days...

2 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 3 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.






Release Date:

4 June 1929 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

√Čletfogytiglan See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Australasian Films See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

We've Got Your Streaming Picks Covered

Looking for some great streaming picks? Check out some of the IMDb editors' favorites movies and shows to round out your Watchlist.

Visit our What to Watch page

Recently Viewed