Decision Before Dawn - DVD

Decision Before Dawn - DVD

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Decision Before Dawn (1951)

Rooting for a German soldier was a daring choice for a movie made in 1951, but Decision Before Dawn justifies the risk; this is a crackling good war movie. In late 1944, the Allies are pushing through Europe but need intelligence behind German lines. Two Americans (Richard Basehart, Gary Merrill) recruit German POWs and enlist them to spy on their former Fatherland. We follow the adventures of one such agent, arrestingly played by the young Oskar Werner, who parachutes into Bavaria and gathers information. (Oddly, the film abandons Basehart and another recruit, marvelously played by Hans Christian Blech, who have also gone under cover.) The well-deployed suspense is accompanied by a constant examination of what it means to be German, and what loyalty to one's country really entails--dutiful devotion or skeptical rebellion? This question doesn't go deep (there's a sense that the movie is a make-nice effort toward a new economic ally), but the film is on solid ground whenever the clockwork suspense takes over. Hildegarde Knef (here billed under her Hollywood spelling, Neff) turns up as a conflicted fraulein. Director Anatole Litvak, shooting on location, gets some amazing shots of bombed-out buildings and ruined towns; in that sense, the film is almost like a documentary record of the postwar landscape. Decision Before Dawn was nominated for the best picture Oscar, but became a lesser-known film in the decades that followed. It deserves a higher profile. --Robert Horton

DVD Features

  • Actors: Richard Basehart, Gary Merrill, Oskar Werner, Hildegard Knef, Dominique Blanchar
  • Directors: Anatole Litvak
  • Format: Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English, French, German
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Run Time: 119 minutes