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Decision Before Dawn

Decision Before Dawn(1951)

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The working titles of this film were Legion of the Damned and Call It Treason. Although an August 1950 Variety news item announced that the studio had received special allowance from the MPAA/PCA to use the word "damned" in the title, a December 1950 Variety article reported that the title had to be changed anyway due to German protests. Director Anatole Litvak reported that "it had been impossible to convince the German press and public that the...title [Legion of the Damned] did not refer at all to the German people."
       Before the picture's opening credits, a written acknowledgment states: "This motion picture was filmed in its entirety in Europe, where the story actually took place. 20th Century-Fox expresses its appreciation to the United States Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as to the Armed Forces of France, without whose generous cooperation this film could not have been made." Before the picture begins, another written prologue reads: "This story is true-- the names of the people have been changed to protect those who survived, but the basic incidents took place only a few years ago in these same ruins, left as tragic reminders of the regime which brought suffering to the world and destruction to its own country." The film opens and closes with voice-over narration by Richard Basehart, as "Lt. Dick Rennick," who philosophizes about the nature of treason and postulates that no man is lost as long as he is remembered.
       A condensed version of George Howe's Christopher Award-winning novel was published in December 1948. A December 10, 1950 New York Times article reported that Howe's novel was based on his own experiences in the O.S.S. during World War II. The article also noted that Litvak had visited the parents of the real-life "Karl Maurer," and that they "were rather depressed by the failure of the Americans to treat them better in reward for the martyrdom of their son." Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, reveals that the character of "Rudolf Barth" was also based on a real person, and that at the time of production, he was living in Mannheim.
       According to Hollywood Reporter news items, production on the film, which was to begin on September 18, 1950, was delayed first by bad weather in Germany, and then by Litvak's involvement in an automobile accident and a bout of pneumonia. Contemporary sources note that filming was temporarily disrupted when the Mayor of Wrzburg protested the depiction of the bombing of his city, but the situation was rectified when Litvak submitted a synopsis of the story to German censors. A November 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that French actress Dominque Blanchar, who is billed fifth in the American version of the film, would receive star billing when the picture was released in France and Belgium.
       As noted by the onscreen credits and studio publicity, the film was shot entirely on location in Europe, including a number of German cities such as Munich, Wrzberg, Nuremberg and Mannheim. The legal files add that some sequences were shot at the Bavaria Film Studios in Geiselgasteig, a town just South of Munich. According to several contemporary news items, the studio had to obtain permission for the shoot from numerous government agencies, including the Allied High Commission, the German Federal Government and the Bavarian State Government. According to a December 1951 Hollywood Reporter advertisement for the picture, the U.S. Air Force cooperated in filming the aerial bombardment sequences, and local citizens were forewarned via radio and newspaper announcements before battle scenes were shot so that they would not become alarmed.
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but lost to M-G-M's An American in Paris. Decision Before Dawn also received an Oscar nomination for Best Editing and marked the first American film of both Oskar Werner and Klaus Kinski. Werner did not appear in another American-produced picture until the 1965 Columbia release Ship of Fools (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). According to a 1965 New York Times interview with Werner, Decision Before Dawn "wasn't shown in Germany for two more years [after its U.S. release] and then only on the strength of my stage Hamlet." A September 1951 Chicago Sunday Tribune article reported that Litvak was in Europe preparing a German language version of the picture, scripted by Carl Zuckmeier, but the existence of another verison of the film has not been confirmed.