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For the Term of His Natural Life (1927)

A convict, wrongfully accused and sent a harsh prison colony, attempts to escape.



(novel), (adaptation)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sylvia Vickers
Dunstan Webb ...
Maurice Frere
Jessica Harcourt ...
Sarah Purfoy
Arthur McLaglen ...
Katherine Dawn ...
Mrs. Vickers
Gerald Kay Souper ...
Marion Marcus Clarke ...
Lady Devine
Arthur Tauchert ...
Warden Troke
Beryl Gow ...
Sylvia Vickers as child
Compton Coutts ...
Reverend Meekin
Mayne Lynton ...
Carlton Stuart ...
Commandant Burgess
William O'Hanlon ...
The Crow
Arthur Greenaway ...
Lord Bellasis


Based on the Australian classic by Marcus Clarke, the story of convict Rufus Dawe was based on fact and reflects that of many convicts of Australia's early days. Rufus Dawe has been wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit, and sent to the harsh penal colony of Van Diemen's Land, Australia - for the term of his natural life. In his attempts to escape the colony forever, he falls in love with a warden's daughter, Sylvia, confronts his sinister lookalike John Rex, and the evil convict Gabbet. American director Norman Dawn's movie adaptation strays from the original book but retains a strong visual style, especially in climactic crowd scenes. It is notorious as the movie that was meant to launch Australia into the world movie market, but instead cost investors thousands after the coming of sound stymied its potential for overseas success. Written by Camille Scaysbrook <verona_beach@hotpop.com>

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Adventure | Romance




Release Date:

4 June 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Életfogytiglan  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Gabbett's escape from Port Arthur and subsequent cannibalistic behaviour is based on the story of the escape of the convict, Alexander Pearce, from Macquarie Harbour. Pearce's story has been told in two films, Van Diemen's Land (2009) and The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2008). See more »


On two intertitles, Van Diemen's Land is misspelled as 'Van Dieman's Land'. See more »


Featured in 40,000 Years of Dreaming (1997) See more »

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User Reviews

A remarkable film; a landmark in Australia's film history
6 February 2002 | by (Perth, Western Australia) – See all my reviews

I have seen 'Term' several times now, and, while it is not the usual 'megaplex' kind of release, it is nonetheless a film which should be experienced. Admittedly, the narrative could have been more engaging; but at least it is a faithful reproduction of the original text, even if it did retain irritating Victorian plot devices, and the astoundingly unquestioned use of 'coincidence.'

There are truly out-of-the-ordinary settings, and some lush lighting, too. I loved the gothic touches. It is obvious that Norman Dawn had a very photographic eye. At times, though, it seems that the film is wanting us to notice the spectacle, rather than the characters (or at least, being engaged by their experiences).

As an Australian committed to the integrity and development of Australian culture and identity, of course I resent the employment of non-Australians in the film, but the Americans WERE adequate (it must be said). And George Fisher as Rufus just gets better as the film progresses.

If you like your film experiences to be pre-digested, with a straightforward narrative and offer no challenge, then don't bother with 'Term.' But if you can turn off your expectations of what a film should be, and watch with fresh eyes, you will find 'Term' to be an insight and an appetite-whetter.

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