Pros:Richard Basehart, Oskar Werner, Story, Drama
Cons:A bit slow moving
The Bottom Line: A well done drama of wartime espionage against the Third Reich starring Oskar Werner and Richard Basehart
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Decision Before Dawn (1951)
How would you like a job with two potential outcomes - punishment if caught and oblivion if successful? Well that is the way that spies operate and Decision Before Dawn is a rare look at spycraft as practiced during the Second World War.
A product of the early ‘50’s the film gives a good look at some of the destruction of bombed out Europe presented in a semi documentary style. The American unit is headed up by Col Devlin (Gary Merrill) and the actual espionage field work is performed by Lt Rennick (Richard Basehart) and a pair of Germans they recruit to be double agents.
Directed by Anatole Litvak and based on the novel Call It Treason by George Howe adapted for the screen by Peter Viertel, the movie gives food for thought in the area of just how far do we follow our politicians? As we read in history books, Adolf Hitler in the final stages of the war ordered Axis troops to hold the line with no possibility of retreat. The Allies took advantage of this by recruiting spies from captured Germans who seemed sympathetic to Western values and were willing to return to the lines as double agents.
Basehart is trained as an operator by the OSS and then he is given a pair of German prisoners who have volunteered to serve as agents for the Allies. One of the two is tough guy who turns out to have underworld connections and the other is a medic played by familiar face Oskar Werner. Werner hopes to help Germany get out of the war and rebuild. The three are parachuted into Germany on a mission to establish liaison with a German general who wants to surrender his Panzer Corps.
The movie proceeds to show the mission play out with the grimly realistic scenes showing the men moving through the wreckage and evading the Gestapo who have somehow become alerted to their presence.
The storytelling plays up the irony of Happy the Oskar Werner character who is actually befriending his country while at the same time being considered a traitor to it. Whatever happens to the spy, he is hated by his own people and not fully trusted by the other side. His is surely a lonely existence.
The Fox DVD contains a well preserved copy of the 1.37:1 theatrical format black and white movie with a running time of 119 minutes. Worth watching for history fans, WWII aficionados, and those who want to see the destruction wrought on Germany by Allied bombing.
© George Chabot, 2012
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV