Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Hour Before the Dawn (1944)

The Hour Before the Dawn is an interesting little World War II film. Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the 1944 film stars Franchot Tone and Veronica Lake (without her signature peek-a-boo hairstyle). At just 75 minutes long, the film is short, but still packs a punch. Although I feel the plot is not completely developed, the storyline and characterizations that exist are meaningful.

Franchot is Jim Hetherton, an English scholar who disagrees with the war. In a flashback, we see Jim as a young boy. He is learning to hunt, but accidentally shoots his loyal dog instead. It is made clear that this moment has defined his later values. An unapologetic pacifist, Jim is not a well-liked figure in his country. When he asks to be exempt from fighting, townspeople turn their back on Jim. He is called hurtful names and struggles to find a job. Although he understands the resistance, Jim is firm in his convictions.

Jim falls in love with and marries Dora Bruckmann, an Austrian refugee who works for his family. Although he only sees the good in her, it is evident that Dora (played nicely by Veronica Lake) is hiding her true identity. We soon discover that Dora is a Nazi agent, using the idealist Jim as she plots to help Hitler invade the English countryside.

This is one of my favorite characters that Franchot portrayed in his career. As he did in The Three Comrades, Franchot turns in an understated and sympathetic performance. I loved his thoughtfully stated speeches about peace both in his draft hearing and in his daily life. Although it is a rather simple and quiet film, it still holds a lot of suspense.

I have not been able to find his movie on DVD anywhere so far. I discovered it online on Youtube one rainy, lazy day and it was just what I needed. I'm not sure if this movie has ever been available (I couldn't find it on VHS either), so you might have to catch it if it ever pops up on television. Here's the link to the video I found on Youtube. It's not great quality (as you can see in my screencaps), but it works!

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