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The White Dawn (1974)

In 1896, three whalers are stranded in the Arctic North Canada and seek refuge with an Eskimo tribe. Gradually, they gain control with the Eskimo village and introduce gambling, booze, ... See full summary »


Philip Kaufman


James Houston (novel), James Houston (screenplay) | 2 more credits »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Warren Oates ... Billy
Timothy Bottoms ... Daggett
Louis Gossett Jr. ... Portagee (as Lou Gossett)
Joanasie Salamonie Joanasie Salamonie ... Kangiak
Simonie Kopapik Simonie Kopapik ... Sarkak
Pilitak Pilitak ... Neevee
Sagiaktok Sagiaktok ... Shaman
Munamee Sako Munamee Sako ... Sowaiapik
Pitseolai Kili Pitseolai Kili ... Sowaiapik's Wife
Meetook Mallee Meetook Mallee ... Ikuma
Seemee Nookiguak Seemee Nookiguak ... Avinga
Sakkeassie Sakkeassie ... Dirty Boy
Akshooyooliak Akshooyooliak ... Old Mother
Nilak Butler Nilak Butler ... Pance
Oolipika Joamie Oolipika Joamie ... Mia


In 1896, three whalers are stranded in the Arctic North Canada and seek refuge with an Eskimo tribe. Gradually, they gain control with the Eskimo village and introduce gambling, booze, theft, and their special variation of sex. In the beginning, the Eskimos accept it, but slowly the cultural tension starts growing. Written by Frank Christensen <fch@post4.tele.dk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

eskimo | arctic | whaler | custom | whale | See All (9) »


A True Story of an Artic Adventure. See more »


PG | See all certifications »



USA | Canada



Release Date:

21 July 1974 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Alvorecer Branco See more »

Filming Locations:

Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (TV premiere)

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


According to producer Irwin Winkler, this movie was the main factor in his decision to invite Director Philip Kaufman to direct The Right Stuff (1983). Portions of Henry Mancini's score for this film can be heard in the later film. See more »

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User Reviews

Encounters at the End of the World
24 July 2009 | by chaos-rampantSee all my reviews

Truth told there's something about the movie that doesn't work, something that stops it just short of fulfilling the potential promised by the setting, story, and talent involved. The problem is not that there's little of plot to speak of because this is the kind of movie that actually benefits from thin plotting but still something seems to be missing.

It could be that the movie follows in episodic fashion the life and misadventures of three whalers stranded in Arctic Canada who are saved from certain death by a group of Eskimos but does so without urgency, capturing an evocative snapshot of Eskimo life, perhaps very faithfully, but still in a very Discovery Channel kind of way. Sure, bears and sea otters are slaughtered for food, but it's that, natives trying to survive in their natural habitat the only way they know, not castaways desperately trying to survive in a hostile world the only way they can. We don't see the three fishes out of water struggling to survive, most everything (food, shelter, even women) is provided for them by the friendly Eskimos.

It could be that the movie is designed, conceived, as a mood piece yet is shot in a very generic by-the-numbers way. If Philip Kaufman captures no small amount of awe-inspiring shots of the glacial Canadian landscape where the movie was shot, it's because he had little more to do than point the camera at any direction around him to get them. You can imagine how much more potential someone like Werner Herzog could have milked out of a setting like this. The individual shots are good but the way they're strung together is mundane and workmanlike.

It could be that for a grim and visceral 'man in the wilderness' adventure, WHITE DAWN is really not very grim or visceral. Kaufman doesn't allow a sense of urgency frostbitten danger or impending doom to seep in. When the three whalers make a run for freedom with a stolen Eskimo boat only to find themselves stranded in the ice again, an Eskimo conveniently shows up to lead them back to safety. Misguidedly the emphasis here is on picturesque rather than bleak. Compare how the three whalers are treated by the friendly wife-sharing Eskimos to the gruesome fate that is reserved in the hands of Algonquin Indians for the Catholic missionaries in Bruce Beresford's BLACK ROBE and the difference highlights a lot of what makes WHITE DAWN a mostly lighthearted affair.

Still, not unlike Nicholas Ray's THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS, a lot of the small vignettes that show the whalers cohabiting with the Eskimos are a lot of fun to watch. Chief among the one where Warren Oates cons a man out of his two daughters in a knife-throwing betting contest. But unlike Ray's movie, THE WHITE DAWN hovers plot less, suspended between beautiful scenery and Eskimo customs, for a little too long.

Perhaps it's the combination of all the above reasons that makes WHITE DAWN an interesting watchable movie, one closer to a hit than a miss. Warren Oates as the grizzly scruffy third mate is a pleasure to watch, this is the kind of character he could play with eyes closed and that's pretty much what he does. And then there's the ending, which I won't spoil, that couldn't have come from anywhere else than typically disillusioned 70's American cinema.

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