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THE SEEKERS
DVD region 0. Odeon Films.

The SeekersCinema exotica was all the rage in the 1950’s, and this 1954 yarn – also known under the rather more dramatic title Land of Fury - is a solid example of the genre – a mix of action adventure and travelogue as plucky British settlers try to build a new life in the wild jungles of New Zealand while dealing with their Maori neighbours.

Jack Hawkins is the typically rugged (Philip Wayne), who we first encounter stumbling into a sacred burial cave while on shore leave. Along with mate Paddy (Noel Purcell), he’s capture by the Maoris and forced to undergo a trial by challenge. When he wins, he’s adopted into the tribe and given land by the chief Hongi Tepe (Inia Te Wiata). This comes in handy when, arriving back in England, he’s tricked into smuggling shrunken heads only to be caught by customs and convicted in court. Deciding that there is no life for him back home, he returns to New Zealand with new bride Marion (Glynis Johns) and is soon leading a band of settlers. But things start to go wrong as events strain the relationship between the Maoris and the new settlers – Wayne has an affair with the chief’s wife, Moana (Laya Raki) and one settler, Wishart (an unlikely Kenneth Williams) accidentally kills a Maori during a fight. Things come to a head with a climatic battle that is straight out of a Western, leading to an unexpectedly apocalyptic finale.

The Seekers is a lively romp, and one that thankfully avoids, for the most part, the sort of casual racism you might expect from a film of this nature and from this time period. While one Maori tribe is angry and bloodthirsty, the tribe of Hongi Tepe are treated with a remarkable level of respect for the most part. There’s an element of the ‘noble savage’ at times that grates slightly, but this is mostly a story where the races live peacefully and respectfully side-by-side.

The SeekersShot in Eastman colour, the film has that mix of vivid colour and graininess that Hammer fans will be familiar with, and while Hawkins seems a bit stiff by modern standards, he makes a solid, if rather flawed, hero. You can’t help but forgive him for being seduced by the ridiculously exotic Laya Raki though – she positively oozes sex appeal while sitting still, and her seductive dance routine is something to behold. Sensibly, director Ken Annakin has her running around wearing as little as possible most of the time, and she even has a brief topless scene that I can only assume was for a continental edition of the film – it’s hard to imagine the censors at the time allowing it through.

It’s strange seeing the youthful Kenneth Williams playing a straight role after years of Carry On movies, but he’s surprisingly strong as the headstrong young man who’s foolish actions lead to disaster, and Glynis Johns is stoic and refreshingly unhysterical – in the final battle, it’s not surprising that, rather than cowering in the corner like so many movie heroines, she’s on the roof firing a rifle.

For fans of jungle adventure, The Seekers delivers the goods effectively. With some impressively rough and tough fight scenes, plenty of spectacle and an uncompromising sense of authenticity, its DVD release is most welcome.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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