Thursday, March 31, 2011

Decision Before Dawn (1951)

In the closing months of World War 2 in Europe, the US Army undertakes a mission to use German POWs to work for them in enemy territory. One of these prisoners is a medic who volunteers because he actually believes that it is the right thing to do, after seeing his fellow prisoners kill his best friend. His journey causes him to bump into different Germans with different feelings towards the war.

Visually, this film is a treat.  This was filmed on location, and you can tell. There are shots of snow-covered mountains, thick woods, and bombed-out buildings that are truly breathtaking. The camerawork is also very impressive: not show-offish, but fluid and smooth, moving from location to location without being distracting. Most of all, the lighting was incredible, with scenes that look like they could have been taken from a film noir of the 40's instead of war film from the 50's.

It amuses me that this this the second Richard Baseheart movie in a row that I have seen that has "treason" as a central theme. Except in the previous film (Time Limit) he himself was the treacherous one  and, but that is another story. Though he is top billed, I do not consider him the "star." That honor goes to Oskar Werner, whom Classic film fans may recognize from Jules and Jim, as the idealistic traveling POW. He gives a very haunting performance, as does Hildegard Knef in a small role as a cynical and sad bar girl.
On the whole, this film is rather slow going, but worth it. It joins the exclusive club of films that have been nominated for Oscars (including Best Picture), and completely forgotten about. And that is a shame, because it is a well put-together thriller. True, there is not too much "thrill" in large amounts, at least until the final half-hour. But don't that deter you from checking this interesting film out.

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