Decision Before Dawn (1951)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1951.  , .  Screenplay by , based on the novel Call It Treason by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1951.  Golden Globe Awards 1951.  

Twentieth century-Fox head Darryl Zanuck liked to temper the success of the studio’s splashier hits by producing “prestige pictures”, his pet projects often gritty World War II dramas.  This film, shot on location, is an absorbing and upsetting adventure based on the true story of German POWs recruited by Allied forces to spy on their own army in the last days of battle. Oskar Werner and are two men found wandering and starving on a barren battlefield and taken into custody, then informed that they have the opportunity to get in good with the side that is likely to win.  They agree to become spies, but Werner (here still very young but incredibly compelling) runs into trouble when he goes undercover and his journey is not as smooth as planned.  It is surprisingly free of jingoistic melodrama, and while it features impressive scenes of battle, the excellent direction by Anatole Litvak focuses its energy on characterization, and not with the simplicity you would expect from a country in full post-victory glory at the time of its filming.  A scene where  gives her life story as a woman caught up in the inhumanity of the world around her is exceptionally moving, plus look for an early bit appearance by Klaus Kinski.

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