The Naked Dawn


1h 22m 1955
The Naked Dawn

Brief Synopsis

A farmer and his wife are corrupted by the arrival of a charming bandit.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Bandit
Genre
Drama
Crime
Release Date
Nov 1955
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 2 Nov 1955
Production Company
Josef Shaftel Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Mexico; Mexico

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

In Mexico, two bandits, Santiago and Vicente, rob a stopped train of its cargo of boxed watches. When a guard shoots Vicente, Santiago shoots him and helps Vicente escape. In the hills, Santiago comforts the dying Vicente by recounting their tale, in which the two friends are forced into a life a crime because of Mexico's frequently changing political alliances, which led them to be imprisoned, even though they were innocent of any wrongdoing. Santiago assures Vicente that in heaven, San Pedro will realize that their jail escape and thefts were performed out of necessity, and will give them their due. After Vicente dies, Santiago buries him and travels on alone. One day he spots a lovely woman, Maria Lopez, gathering water at a stream, and follows her home. Santiago meets her husband Manuelo, a poor young farmer struggling to settle his land. At dinner, Maria reveals to Santiago, to whom she feels drawn, that she was a servant who was sold to Manuelo along with the land. Later that night, Santiago offers Manuelo cash to drive him to a nearby town. They stop at a U.S. Customs office, where Santiago delivers the stolen watches to the shipping agent, Gunts. He asks Gunts why he failed to meet him and Vicente at the train as promised, but Gunts dismisses his concerns. Upon discovering that Vicente has died, Gunts insists that he will pay only half the fee, after which Santiago calmly forces him at gunpoint to put a noose around his neck and step up on a chair. As Manuelo cowers in fear, Santiago kicks the chair out from under Gunts long enough to terrify him into giving them the combination to the safe. His pockets now loaded with money, Santiago takes Manuelo to a local dance hall, where they drink, dance and fight. At home, where they are all to sleep in one room, Manuelo informs Santiago that if the money was his, he would use it to build his farm rather than wasting it on liquor and women. Angry, Santiago throws some of the bills on the floor and stalks outside to sleep in the barn. When Maria berates Manuelo for insulting their guest, Manuelo beats her and then devises a plan to kill the drifter and steal his money. Trembling, he sneaks out to the barn, but Santiago, hearing a noise, lays in wait. Upon seeing Manuelo, Santiago assumes the young man has come out to apologize, and his kindness strips Manuelo of his drunken courage. The next morning, when Santiago comes inside for breakfast, Maria asks him to tell her about the places he has visited. When he paints glowing pictures of Vera Cruz, she throws herself at his feet and begs him to take her with him, but he then admits that the reality of his life is bleak and lonely. She cries that even being hungry and cold would be better than her current life, but Santiago harshly informs her that he would grow tired of her. Shaken, he prepares to leave the farm, but first stops to say goodbye to Manuelo. The younger man is waiting in the well pit with his gun drawn, but just as Santiago approaches, a rattlesnake climbs into the pit. Santiago shoots it, saving Manuelo, who falls to his knees, begging forgiveness for thinking about killing him. Furious, Santiago almost shoots Manuelo when Maria races out and pleads with him to spare her husband, if only to keep himself out of jail so they can run away together. Santiago agrees, and although Manuelo promises Maria everything will change if she stays, she leaves with Santiago. Immediately, however, they hear a car approach the farm and ride back in time to witness Gunts and two policemen preparing to hang Manuelo for the safe robbery. Santiago shoots Gunts and the police run away. He then instructs Manuelo to join Maria on her horse and tells them he will meet them down the road. Just as they leave, however, Gunts stirs and shoots Santiago in the back. Santiago kills Gunts but, realizing he is mortally wounded, joins Manuelo and Maria long enough to urge them to reconcile and ride ahead of him. As soon as they ride off together, he collapses, repeating to himself that in heaven, San Pedro will award him the peaceful life that he deserves.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Bandit
Genre
Drama
Crime
Release Date
Nov 1955
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 2 Nov 1955
Production Company
Josef Shaftel Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Mexico; Mexico

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Articles

The Naked Dawn


Both a rare color film and a rare western for director Edgar G. Ulmer (his previous western had been 1934's Thunder Over Texas), The Naked Dawn (1955) has gained in significant stature since its first release.

Independently produced but released by Universal, the low-budget film had its unlikely genesis in an 1895 short story by Russian author Maxim Gorky. Screenwriter Julian Zimet had been blacklisted and was living in Mexico when he read Gorky's story Chelkash, about a tramp who hires a peasant to help pull off a robbery, leading to the peasant becoming consumed by greed. Zimet changed the tramp to a Mexican bandit named Santiago, the peasant to a farmer named Manuel, and added a third character in Manuel's wife, Maria. He titled his script The Bandit.

Because he was blacklisted, Zimet used the names of his sister and her husband (Nina and Herman Schneider) as fronts: the screenplay was attributed to them, and they sold it for Zimet to independent producer Sol Lesser. Lesser in turn sold it to Josef Shaftel, who produced it with James Radford. The producers set up a negative pickup deal with Universal, meaning they would make the film and Universal would distribute. The studio, however, still exercised some control over post-production and changed the title to The Naked Dawn.

Arthur Kennedy, usually a secondary leading man, took the lead part of Santiago, Puerto Rican actor Eugene Iglesias was cast as Manuel, and Betta St. John played Maria. St. John (born Betty Jean Striegler) is best remembered for originating the role of Liat in the original Broadway production of South Pacific, but she also had a screen career. After some child parts in the 1930s and early '40s, her Broadway success reignited a film career as an adult, with prominent roles in such pictures as Dream Wife (1953), High Tide at Noon (1957), The Snorkel (1958) and two Tarzan movies opposite Gordon Scott.

Talented cult director Edgar G. Ulmer, who was just coming off the film noir Murder Is My Beat (1955) and had a serious knack for injecting strong personal style into the lowest of low-budget movies, took the reins and found rich material in the interpersonal triangle of these three interesting characters grappling with layers of morality.

The picture was shot at the Corriganville Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., in the spring of 1954, in about two weeks. According to several sources, Ulmer didn't change a word of the script. He later said: "I have one big fault. I fall in love with a character or a situation, and I improvise from that. In The Bandit, I fell in love with the young man. We had no hope for him until he arrived on the set--I didn't think he could play the part. But suddenly he woke up, and Kennedy gave him a hand."

Ulmer's wife later recalled that when Universal took control of the film, they awkwardly inserted close-ups into the first dance sequence, which had been shot as two long takes. Nonetheless, the scene retained real style, with striking shifts in color and lighting and a montage of male and female legs.

The Naked Dawn did not register much in America upon release. Variety deemed the "tempo too slow for popular taste," and The Hollywood Reporter said the film "would look a lot better if it were clothed in a few box office values." But now the picture is regarded as one of Ulmer's best.

In France, where it was released as The Bandit, Ulmer's film was acclaimed from the moment it opened. Francois Truffaut said it greatly influenced his own later Jules and Jim (1962). He wrote: "Talking about The Naked Dawn is equivalent to drawing a portrait of its author, because we see him behind every image and feel we know him intimately when the lights go back on. Wise and indulgent, playful and serene, vital and clear, in short, a good man like the ones I've compared him to. The Naked Dawn is one of those movies we know was made with joy; every shot shows a love of cinema and pleasure in working in it. It is also a pleasure to see it again and to talk to friends about it. A small gift from Hollywood."

In 1997, the Writers Guild of America voted to change the on-screen writing credit to its rightful occupant, Julian Zimet.

By Jeremy Arnold

SOURCES:
Bernd Herzogenrath, The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer
Noah Isenberg, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins
Bill Krohn, "The Naked Dawn: Production, Sources, and Mise-en-Scene," in Edgar G. Ulmer: Essays on the King of the Bs, edited by Bernd Herzogenrath
The Naked Dawn

The Naked Dawn

Both a rare color film and a rare western for director Edgar G. Ulmer (his previous western had been 1934's Thunder Over Texas), The Naked Dawn (1955) has gained in significant stature since its first release. Independently produced but released by Universal, the low-budget film had its unlikely genesis in an 1895 short story by Russian author Maxim Gorky. Screenwriter Julian Zimet had been blacklisted and was living in Mexico when he read Gorky's story Chelkash, about a tramp who hires a peasant to help pull off a robbery, leading to the peasant becoming consumed by greed. Zimet changed the tramp to a Mexican bandit named Santiago, the peasant to a farmer named Manuel, and added a third character in Manuel's wife, Maria. He titled his script The Bandit. Because he was blacklisted, Zimet used the names of his sister and her husband (Nina and Herman Schneider) as fronts: the screenplay was attributed to them, and they sold it for Zimet to independent producer Sol Lesser. Lesser in turn sold it to Josef Shaftel, who produced it with James Radford. The producers set up a negative pickup deal with Universal, meaning they would make the film and Universal would distribute. The studio, however, still exercised some control over post-production and changed the title to The Naked Dawn. Arthur Kennedy, usually a secondary leading man, took the lead part of Santiago, Puerto Rican actor Eugene Iglesias was cast as Manuel, and Betta St. John played Maria. St. John (born Betty Jean Striegler) is best remembered for originating the role of Liat in the original Broadway production of South Pacific, but she also had a screen career. After some child parts in the 1930s and early '40s, her Broadway success reignited a film career as an adult, with prominent roles in such pictures as Dream Wife (1953), High Tide at Noon (1957), The Snorkel (1958) and two Tarzan movies opposite Gordon Scott. Talented cult director Edgar G. Ulmer, who was just coming off the film noir Murder Is My Beat (1955) and had a serious knack for injecting strong personal style into the lowest of low-budget movies, took the reins and found rich material in the interpersonal triangle of these three interesting characters grappling with layers of morality. The picture was shot at the Corriganville Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., in the spring of 1954, in about two weeks. According to several sources, Ulmer didn't change a word of the script. He later said: "I have one big fault. I fall in love with a character or a situation, and I improvise from that. In The Bandit, I fell in love with the young man. We had no hope for him until he arrived on the set--I didn't think he could play the part. But suddenly he woke up, and Kennedy gave him a hand." Ulmer's wife later recalled that when Universal took control of the film, they awkwardly inserted close-ups into the first dance sequence, which had been shot as two long takes. Nonetheless, the scene retained real style, with striking shifts in color and lighting and a montage of male and female legs. The Naked Dawn did not register much in America upon release. Variety deemed the "tempo too slow for popular taste," and The Hollywood Reporter said the film "would look a lot better if it were clothed in a few box office values." But now the picture is regarded as one of Ulmer's best. In France, where it was released as The Bandit, Ulmer's film was acclaimed from the moment it opened. Francois Truffaut said it greatly influenced his own later Jules and Jim (1962). He wrote: "Talking about The Naked Dawn is equivalent to drawing a portrait of its author, because we see him behind every image and feel we know him intimately when the lights go back on. Wise and indulgent, playful and serene, vital and clear, in short, a good man like the ones I've compared him to. The Naked Dawn is one of those movies we know was made with joy; every shot shows a love of cinema and pleasure in working in it. It is also a pleasure to see it again and to talk to friends about it. A small gift from Hollywood." In 1997, the Writers Guild of America voted to change the on-screen writing credit to its rightful occupant, Julian Zimet. By Jeremy Arnold SOURCES: Bernd Herzogenrath, The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer Noah Isenberg, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins Bill Krohn, "The Naked Dawn: Production, Sources, and Mise-en-Scene," in Edgar G. Ulmer: Essays on the King of the Bs, edited by Bernd Herzogenrath

Quotes

Aww! You know how to die. You watch plenty others.
- Santiago

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was The Bandit. According to a Daily Variety news item, independent producer Josef Shaftel bought the rights to the screenplay from Sol Lesser in February 1954. Shaftel shot the film in Mexico, and, according to a March 1955 Daily Variety item, later sold the distribution rights to Universal. According to a March 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the studio considered changing the film's title to I Love a Stranger. Although Nina and Herman Schneider were given screen credit for the screenplay, the film was actually written by blacklisted writer Julian Zimet, Herman Schneider's brother-in-law. According to a Hollywood Reporter article, Zimet's credit was restored by the WGA in 1997. An April 1954 Hollywood Reporter production chart adds Tony Martinez to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. The Naked Dawn is considered by some modern critics to be the best of director Edgar G. Ulmer's films. Modern sources note that the picture inspired Fran├žois Truffaut's French New Wave classic, Jules et Jim.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1955

Released in United States Fall November 1955