The Planter's Wife (1952 film)

The Planter's Wife is a 1952 British drama film directed by Ken Annakin, and starring Claudette Colbert, Jack Hawkins and Anthony Steel. It is set against the backdrop of the Malayan Emergency and focuses on a rubber planter and his neighbours who are fending off a campaign of sustained attacks by Communist insurgents while also struggling to save their marriage.[1]

The Planter's Wife
Original British film poster
Directed byKen Annakin
Produced byJohn Stafford
Written byGuy Elmes
Peter Proud
Based onnovel Planter's Wife by Sidney Charles George
StarringClaudette Colbert
Jack Hawkins
Music byAllan Gray
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byAlfred Roome
Pinnacle Productions
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors (UK)
United Artists (USA)
Release date
18 September 1952 (UK)
26 November 1952 (USA)
Running time
88 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film was retitled Outpost in Malaya in the United States.[2]


During the Malayan Emergency, communist terrorists attack an isolated rubber plantation, killing the manager. This concerns neighbouring planter Jim Frazer, who is struggling to produce rubber under constant attacks. Jim is having domestic difficulties with his American wife Liz, who is planning to take their son Mike to England and not return. British Inspector Hugh Dobson urges Liz to come clean with Jim.

Jim gives a lift to Wan Li, a Chinese man, the uncle of a little servant girl injured in the attack on Jim's neighbour. After Wan Li goes to the police, the communists murder him. Mike is almost bitten by a cobra but a mongoose kills the snake.

A bandit attacks Liz and corners her, but she shoots him with a pistol. Jim takes her home. When she awakes the plantation is under attack. Jim fights off the communists with the help of his friend Nair. Liz decides to stay in Malaya.[3]




The movie was based on a 1951 novel Planter's Wife. It was originally known as White Blood.[4] This was the name given to liquid rubber as it is tapped from trees. However the title was criticised by the Colonial Office and overseas distributors because it could be interpreted as referring to racial discrimination, so it was changed to The Planter's Wife.[5]

The film was co-financed by the NFFC and the Rank Organisation. The producer, John Stafford, was freelance.[6]


To encourage a receptive American audience, Pinewood Studios head Earl St. John sent Annakin to Hollywood in November 1951 to select an American actress for the female lead. Annakin interviewed Norma Shearer, Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland and Claudette Colbert. Though all the actresses expressed satisfaction with the script, none wanted to leave their film and television commitments in Hollywood for an extended overseas location shoot except for Claudette Colbert.[7] Claudette Colbert was paid £20,000 to play the lead.[8]

The role of Jim Fraser was meant to be played by Michael Redgrave but in December 1951 Jack Hawkins was cast instead.[9] In January 1952 Antony Steele joined the cast.[10]

Indian dancer Ram Gopal was given his first dramatic role as the overseer.[11] Child actor Peter Asher – who later went on to a successful career as musician, singer (as half of the 1960s' "Peter & Gordon" duo) and record producer – plays the couple's son, Mike. Among the Burmese, Indian and Malay extras was Khin Maung, a noted Burmese painter.[12]


Colbert left for England in February 1951 and stayed there three months.[13]

Director Ken Annakin and a team gathered anecdotes from planters, policemen and soldiers in Malaya and shot second unit sequences there as well as Singapore and Malacca but for safety reasons during the ongoing Emergency, much of the filming was done in Ceylon. The majority of the film was shot in London at Pinewood Studios.

Colbert impressed Annakin with her detailed technical knowledge of lighting and camera work and confided in Annakin that she had never been called upon to do real action scenes in Hollywood and quickly became adept in small arms use.[14]

To shoot the cobra vs mongoose fight, the room set was built in a Ceylon zoo. When several of the local mongooses ran away from the cobra, the zookeeper said "Ï'm afraid our Singhalese mongooses are not used to fighting; I'll have to get you some North-Indian variety". Imported from Madras, the Indian mongoose engaged in a true fight to the finish with the cobra.[15]


Box office

The film was the sixth most popular movie of the year at the British box office in 1952, after The Greatest Show on Earth, Where No Vultures Fly, Son of Paleface. Ivanhoe and Mandy. It was followed by The Quiet Man, World In His Arms, Angel One Five, Reluctant Heroes, The African Queen and The Sound Barrier.[16][17][18]

However, despite Colbert's presence, the film only took £32,000 in the United States.[8]


The critic from the Daily Worker called it "the most viciously dishonest war propaganda picture yet made in Britain."[19]

The Los Angeles Times said "the atmosphere is more plausible than the melodrama."[20]


Ken Annakin later said he was "quite proud" of the film.[21] The success of the movie led to Rank's head of production Earl St John to commission another colonial war film, about Britain's struggle against the Mau Mau, Simba.[6]


  1. PLANTER'S WIFE, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 19, Iss. 216, (Jan 1, 1952): 155.
  2. Hollywood Notes The Christian Science Monitor 9 Sep 1952: 7
  3. "THE PLANTER'S WIFE". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 11 March 1953. p. 29. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  4. "Anthony Steele on the way up". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 26 January 1952. p. 7 Supplement: SUNDAY MAGAZINE. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  5. "U.K. honor to Jane Wyman". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 10 May 1952. p. 7 Supplement: SUNDAY MAGAZINE. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  6. Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press. p. 44-45.
  7. p, 61 Annakin, Ken So You Wanna Be a Director? Tomahawk Press 2001
  8. "WHAT'S NEWS IN THE MOVIE WORLD". Sunday Times. Perth: National Library of Australia. 28 November 1954. p. 39. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  9. Looking at Hollywood: Fred Allen's Loyalty Takes Him to Coast Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 20 Dec 1951: s2.
  10. Lalo Rios Will Star in 'Ring;' Eve Arden Set as Douglas Partner Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 8 Jan 1952: B7.
  11. "WANT MALAYAN STARLET". The Northern Standard. Darwin, NT: National Library of Australia. 6 June 1952. p. 6. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  12. "FILMS' CHAMPION MOTHER". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 28 August 1952. p. 7 Section: Women's Section. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  13. Drama: Victor Mature Costars With Esther Williams Los Angeles Times ]28 Nov 1951: A8.
  14. p.64 Annakin
  15. p. 64 Annakin
  16. "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL". The Sunday Herald. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 28 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  17. U. S. STARS TOP WORLD IN BRITISH FILM POLL New York Times 27 Dec 1952: 5.
  18. Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32 no. 3. p. 259.
  19. "Douglas Brass's". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 22 September 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  20. Colbert in Difficulties in Malaya Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 8 Dec 1952: B11
  21. Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema by the Actors and Filmmakers Who Made It, Methuen 1997 p 26
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