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Rewi's Last Stand

Rewi's Last Stand (Rudall Hayward, 1925) Maori War Films Ltd, wr. Rudall Hayward from history, dp Frank Stewart; Frank Nemo, Nola Casselli, M. Millington, Eric Yates, Edmund Finney, Chief Abe (Rewi Maniapoto); the last stand of Rewi Maniapoto at the Battle of Orakau in 1863; remade in 1940 as a sound film by the same director; NZ

Martin & Edwards:
[Only portions of the film remain.] Maori War Films Ltd (Directors: Henry Hayward, L.A. Eady, W.W. Wright and Phil Hayward). Location: Rotorua. Distributor: New Zealand Picture Supplies. Rating: G, 24 July 1925. 35 mm. Black and white. Silent. 8000 ft.
Director and producer: Rudall Hayward. Scenario: Rudall Hayward. Source: James Cowan FRGS, The New Zealand Wars, vol I and The Old Frontier. Director of photography: Frank Stewart with special scenes by Edwin (Ted) Coubray, J. Makepeace. Continuous printer: Edwin (Ted) Coubray. Editing: Rudall and Hilda Hayward. Settings: Edward Armitage, Jack Goessi, Cecil Todd. Furnishings and antiques supplied by Andrews & Clark, G. and W. Alexander. Composer: Marcella Doreen, accompanying Maori melody ‘Mere’.
Frank Nemo (Dr Wake), Nola Casselli (Cecily Wake), M. Millington (Miss Jessica Wake), Eric Yates (Colonel Grey), Edmund Finney (Kenneth Gordon), Fred Mills (‘Colonel Dobby’), Cadia Taine (Mrs Wake), Wightman McCombe (Sir George Grey), Chief Abe (Rewi Maniapoto), Chief Mita (Hitiri Paerata), H.J. Bentley (The Hon. Mr-a cabinet minister), Mr Alexis (Von Tempsky), Chas Archer (General Cameron), W. Surrell (Lieutenant-Colonel McDonnell), Miss Tina (Takiri), with unidentified Maori cast as Rangi (a small Maori boy), Mako (a fighting chief of the Maniapoto), Te Waro (a tohunga or priest).
During 1863 the New Zealand Wars had become serious enough to take the full attention of the governor, Sir George Grey. In the Waikato area a corps of forest rangers, under the command of Gustavus Von Tempsky and attached to the 40th Regiment, became renowned for its ability as a successful fighting unit. Newly arrived from England and working as a clerk, the young Kenneth Gordon is attracted by the regiment’s reputation and joins up as a recruit, an action which forces him to part from his new acquaintance, the beautiful Cecily Wake. Out in the field, Ken Gordon leaves camp in order to find von Tempsky and his lieutenant (then sergeant), McDonnell, who have gone on a scouting expedition, but he becomes lost in the bush and is posted by his unit as a deserter. In the course of his wanderings, Gordon rescues a young Maori woman, a rangtira named Takiri, from drowning. Shortly afterwards the pair are captured by a taua, a war party of Maori, and Gordon is kept prisoner. He plans to escape and return to his unit with substantial information, but on finding that Takiri s young brother, Rangi, has disappeared, he goes with her to find him. Their search leads them to the Orakei pa, the fortified post the Maori have been building at Kihikihi, near Te Awamutu, where the presence of a pakeha (a white man) so enrages the paramount chief, Rewi Manipoto, that he is tied up and thrown into a rua, or dugout pit.
The British attack the pa and the battle rages for three days, after which the Maori abandon the fortification, and Ken Gordon, with Takiri, attempts to rejoin the British. Takiri, however, is shot, and dies in Gordon’s arms. He eventually rejoins his unit, the charges of desertion are dropped, and he is reunited with Cecily.
Less than 30 minutes of Rewi’s Last Stand remains. That footage, however, gives some indication of the vitality and dramatic intensity of this major historical reconstruction. It is based firmly on James Cowan’s highly Eurocentric but factually well-researched description of the events leading up to the siege by the British of Orakei Pa during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. Director Rudall Hayward’s balanced portrayal of Maori and their British attackers is unusual and rare in the cinema of New Zealand, as is his portrayal of the battlefield from the point of view of both parties in the combat.
His direction, together with Frank Stewart’s photography, is economical and sound, with solid narrative control, an intelligent and creative presentation of image and classical assemble editing. On an important technical note, this was the film in which Edwin Coubray built a continuous printer which could do lap dissolves. Coubray notes, ‘I think I accomplished some of the first lap dissolves in New Zealand.’
The narrative is held together by the simple device of a young colonial male, fresh from the mother country, England, becoming embroiled in the conflict between the indigenous people, the Maori, and the colonists, who were largely British. He undergoes the rites of passage required of a male, and in a singularly New Zealand turn of the narrative, forms a relationship with a young Maori woman of chiefly rank which gives him a view of Maori quite different from that of most of his fellow colonials.
In the program notes from its screening at the Strand Theatre in Auckland, Henry Hayward, father of the director, says, ‘We believe that every unit of our great Empire should provide its quota in helping to make British pictures for British people, and that is solely why this little New Zealand producing company has made Rewi’s Last Stand. ’
Rewi’s Last Stand was remade in the late 1930s by Rudall Hayward as a sound feature. In its U.K. release, which is now the only extant print, it is titled The Last Stand. SE

References and Links

Martin, Helen & Sam Edwards 1997, New Zealand Film 1912-1996, OUP, Auckland.

Image: poster for the 1940 film.

Garry Gillard | New: 21 June, 2020 | Now: 21 June, 2020