Monthly Film Bulletin, March, 1978, p. 39-40
Australia/U.S.A., 1969 Director: Philip Leacock
Cert--AA. dist--Columbia-Warner. p.c.--SHP (Sydney)/Motion Pictures International/North American TV (Los Angeles). p--Louis F. Edelman. assoc. p/p. sup--Arthur M. Broidy. asst. d--William Owens. sc--Richard Fielder. story--Lowell Barrington. ph--Wilmer C. Butler. Panavision. In colour. ed--Anthony Bukley. a.d--Dennis Gentle. sp. effects--Milton Rice. m/m.d--Bob Young. songs--Kit Denton. cost--Wendy Dickson. make-up--Dan Greenway. sd. ed--Tim Wellburn. sd. rec--Paul Ennis. stunt co-ordinator--Al Wyatt, horsemaster--John Shaw. l.p--Beau Bridges (Adam Beecher), Jane Merrow (Bess), John Mills (Sir Philip MacDonald), James Booth (Bart Dyson), Andrew Keir (Sergeant O'Shea), Tracy Redd (Duchess) , Peter O'Shaughnessy (Barrett), John Warwick (Croydon), Harry Lawrence (Muir), Katy Wild (Millie), Mark McManus (Nobby), Tim Eliott (Morgan), Stewart Ginn (Williams), Harold Hopkins (Cosh), Tom Oliver (Stacey), Helen Morse (Maggie), Doreen Warburton (Fat Anne), Judith Fisher (Hetty), Alexandra Hynes (Agnes), Clarissa Kaye (Matron), Peter Collingwood (Chaplain), Kenneth Goodlet (Corporal Rains), Alexander Hay (Dr. Martineau). 8,150 ft. 91 mins. Original running time--115 mins.
The Sydney penal colony, 1840. Adam Beecher, an American sailor transported to Australia after being unjustly convicted in Liverpool, is flogged after an escape attempt fails. But he is later able to gain an audience with the governor, Sir Philip MacDonald, who selects him as a a guinea pig in a liberal scheme he is developing to allow convicts to become homesteaders. This, however, requires his being married, and he selects as a less than willing bride an Irish convict, Bess, who has been a servant to--and been abused by--the unprincipled local magistrate Barrett. Accompanied by the avuncular Sergeant O'Shea, the couple establish a log cabin and Adam attempts to become a farmer, although he is still planning another escape attempt. Bushranger Bart Dyson, an escaped convict, offers to smuggle him out of the country, but in fact arranges his recapture as part of a plan to prevent Adam disclosing Dyson's activities. Sir Philip intercedes on Adam's behalf, however, and the homestead plan continues, with several other convict couples helping in a community spirit. Meanwhile, Bess, who has hitherto refused to have sex with Adam, finds herself in love with him. The happy situation is shattered when Dyson and his gang attack the settlement, destroying it, and leading to the vindictive Barrett imposing a death sentence on Adam for escaping, when in fact he was pursuing Dyson to bring him to justice. Sir Philip is able to intervene at the last moment and grant Adam a pardon. Bess learns that he will use his freedom to return to America, but when she goes back to the homesteaders' settlement, she finds Adam waiting for her.
The scene-setting first reel of Adam's woman implies an historical recreation of some power and ambition. The crushing brutality of an early nineteenth-century penal settlement is succinctly and starkly suggested--a column of men in irons, the flogging block, a woman chained by her ankle as she scrubs a floor--the images augmented on the soundtrack by the recitation of individual prisoners' case histories and by snatches of convict ballads. Unfortunately, once the plot gets underway, any ambitions rapidly disappear: for one thing, despite the practiced authority of John Mills' performance, the governor's matey liberalism can only appear a hopeless anachronism. But judged simply as an outdoor action picture, the film is sluggish and stilted. Though cuts in the British release version may account for the lack of narrative flow, Philip Leacock must be held responsible for the unimaginative use of landscape and the failure to impart an authentic sense of hardship to the pioneering sequences, which certainly reflect his stint as executive producer on the Gunsmoke TV series more than his initial background in documentary. Nor is much made of the sentimental relationship between the ill-matched couple which, on the strength of Leacock's earlier British and American work, one might have expected to be better developed. As it is, neither Beau Bridges nor Jane Merrow are more than adequate, and it is left to James Booth, as a stereotyped but full-blooded villain, to bring a few moments of vigour to the prodeedings.