Six-Gun Reviews is back. This week Jonathon Dabell looks at a film which is more semi-western that bona fide western: The Adventurers (1951), a South African-set British offering starring Jack Hawkins, Peter Hammond and Dennis Price.
Should The Adventurers be included in our Six-Gun Reviews feature at all? I have agonised over this question for a while, and the reason for this is that the film is not strictly a western movie. For a start, the phrase “western” refers to the “Old West”, as in the pioneer lands that immigrants and inhabitants of America moved across as their great nation was being forged. This film is set in South Africa, so automatically it is not in any way connected with the Old West. However, looking at the structure of the film – the characters, the themes, the design, the storyline and the plot devices – I’m satisfied there is enough here to call this a western. Just about. More properly, it can be considered a ‘western offshoot’.
Relatively little-known in the cinematic landscape of 1951, Jack Hawkins and Dennis Price take the lead roles in this unusual but slow-going South African-set adventure. Oswald Morris’s photography and Cedric Thorpe Davie’s score seem somewhat primitive, making The Adventurers feel like something from the ’30s rather than the ’50s. Having said that, there are occasional pleasures to be had from a viewing of the film, not least of which is the charismatic performance of Hawkins. It’s also intriguing to note the obvious parallels between this and Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, which it closely resembles plot-wise (though certainly not in terms of quality and impact).
In 1902 two Boers are travelling across the veld, blissfully unaware that the Boer War has officially ended. One of them is the resourceful Pieter Brandt (Jack Hawkins), who dreams of returning to the woman he loves. The other is young Hendrik Von Thaal (Peter Hammond), who just wants to live beyond his tender years. When Hendrik is slowed down by a serious foot injury, the pair decide to split up… but whilst travelling alone Brandt stumbles upon a dead man clutching a pouch containing a fortune in diamonds.
Several days later, Brandt makes it back home and discovers that the war is over. He also discovers that his lover Anne (Siobhan McKenna) has long since given up hope of him ever returning, and has married a devious Englishman named Clive Hunter (Dennis Price). Brandt is devastated and his first reaction is to consider drinking himself into oblivion. Later, though, he comes up with another option. He encourages Hunter to join him in returning to collect the diamonds, which he rather cleverly buried soon after finding them (in case he was captured).
Young Hendrik, foot now fully healed, turns up and joins the expedition; a fourth member enlists too in the shape of wily bar owner Dominic (Gregoire Aslan). As they trek across the scorching wilderness it becomes increasingly apparent that none of the diamond-seekers can be trusted, and some might be prepared to go to the most treacherous of lengths to increase their personal share.
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Adventurers is the pacing. The character interaction, the tensions within the group, and the vast empty locations are all quite well moulded into the story. But the pace is terribly lethargic, with long-winded build-up scenes and laboured plot developments.
The performances are generally competent if nothing more. Hawkins generates by far the best characterisation as Brandt – he’s a fine actor, eminently watchable, and he stands out above the pack here. Price is OK as the arrogant Hunter, Aslan adopts lots of shifty sideways glances to indicate the sly nature of his character, and Hammond breezes by on youthful innocence. The worst of the key performances comes from Siobhan McKenna – for someone who is unhappily married and desired by several of the men involved in the story, she has neither the personality nor the sex appeal to make her character’s background convincing.
By setting the story in post-Boer War South Africa, the film has a welcome sense of freshness and uniqueness. It is, in essence, a western as has already been noted… but since the action is shifted to an unconventional setting the film gains marks for trying to be different. Overall it is not an especially successful film, but it’s intriguing enough to deserve a look at the very least.
MoM Rating: 5.5/10