The Hour Before the Dawn


1h 15m 1944

Film Details

Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 10 May 1944
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Hour Before the Dawn by W. Somerset Maugham (New York, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,718ft (7 reels)

Synopsis

In England in 1923, little Jim Hetherton's grandfather, General Hetherton, teaches him how to shoot. When Jim's collie chases a squirrel, he runs in the path of the target and Jim accidentally shoots him. From that day forward, Jim becomes a pacifist, and disdains hunting and any form of killing. By September 1939, German forces, led by Adolf Hitler, are poised to invade Poland, and the British speculate on the possibility of war. Jim, a school headmaster, has fallen in love with his sister-in-law May's Austrian secretary, Dora Bruckmann, who claims to have fled Austria after her father died in a concentration camp. Unknown to the Hethertons, Dora is actually a Nazi spy, and her frequent trips to visit Austrian refugees in London are, in fact, a cover for her meetings with her cohorts, Mrs. Muller and Kurt van der Breughel. After German forces invade Poland, England declares war on Germany, and although Jim's brother Roger enlists as a wing commander with the British Air Force, Jim becomes a conscientious objector. Late one night, Dora slips outside to signal the approaching Luftwaffe by blinking the headlights of May's car. When the bombing begins, May's young son Tommy searches for Dora and finds her by the car. Dora pretends that May had left the headlights on, and that she was turning them off for safety, and they then take refuge in the cellar. Jim and Dora secretly marry the next morning, and this secures Dora's citizenship so that she will not be put in an internment camp. At Dora's next meeting with her cohorts, Kurt reprimands her for botching the signalling, and gives her a new assignment. Kurt, meanwhile, plans to talk Jim into using his influential friends to convince England to surrender. When Jim gets a phony letter from Kurt, who is posing as a Dutchman, inviting him to join a committee for educating refugee children, he responds enthusiastically. Jim's application to be a conscientious objector is heard in court, and he is granted an exemption from military service with the provision that he work on a local farm. Jim is rejected by every farmer he applies to because they think he is a coward. When Jim encounters a farmhand brutally whipping a horse, and beats him in a brief fistfight, however, the farmhand quits, and Farmer Searle hires Jim in his place. May, a former actress, leaves her family to help with the war effort. Later, May writes to her family that Roger is involved with a secret military operation, and Dora brings the information to Kurt, who determines that there is a secret airfield near the Hethertons' home. Dora's new assignment is to signal Luftwaffe planes so they can find the airfield by night and bomb it. Roger, meanwhile, receives a visit from his friend, Capt. Atterley, at the secret airfield, and Atterley gives him a list of suspected saboteurs, which includes Dora's name. Jim meets again with Kurt, who implies that Germany might be willing to negotiate peace if Jim arranged a meeting with his influential family friend, Sir Leslie Buchannan. When Jim sees Sir Leslie that night, he does not mention the meeting, but learns that England will no longer consider negotiating for peace, but will only accept final and irrevocable victory. Jim later confides in Dora that "van der Breughel" spoke more like a German agent than a Dutchman. Dora's response at first makes Jim suspicious, but he continues to believe in her innate goodness. The next day, Jim sends a note to Sir Leslie outlining his suspicions, and Dora hastens her plans for that night. When Tommy brings a note from Sir Leslie to Jim's house, Jim is not there, and Tommy sees Dora spilling gasoline on the hay wagon. Dora captures Tommy and locks him in a room. She is about to kill him when she hears German planes overhead and rushes outside to ignite the hay as a signal fire. Roger, meanwhile, receives confirmation that Dora is a Nazi spy, and that Kurt and Muller have been arrested. Tommy frees himself from the house and races to Farmer Searle's as an air raid begins. Jim rescues the boy and learns about Dora's subterfuge. Rushing home, Jim finds Dora packed to leave, and the haywagon burning a bright beacon. Dora tries to shoot Jim after he wrings the truth from her, but Jim, unafraid, overwhelms her and kills her. Roger arrives as Jim emerges from the house a changed man. Later, Jim joins the Royal Air Force to fight for his country by his brother's side.

Film Details

Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 10 May 1944
Production Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Hour Before the Dawn by W. Somerset Maugham (New York, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,718ft (7 reels)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Portions of radio speeches made by King George VI of England, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and German F├╝hrer Adolf Hitler, are heard in the film. Although Aminta Dyne's character is listed as "Hertha Parkins" in early scripts and the CBCS, she is called "Mrs. Muller" in the film. According to the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library, writer Lesser Samuels contributed an early treatment in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood, but Isherwood's contribution to the final film has not been determined. Hollywood Reporter news items reported the following about the production: Ray Milland and Vera Zorina were initially scheduled to star in the film, and Paramount considered borrowing John Loder for a role. Richard Aldington was slated to write a treatment of the story, and Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis were slated to write the screenplay, but their contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter news items also report that Paramount was filming a prologue with W. Somerset Maugham, but it has not been determined if this scene was actually shot and released with the film. English farmland scenes were shot on location in Mesa, AZ. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, for one day of shooting, director Frank Tuttle acted as John Sutton's stand-in.