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DAYBREAK (director: Compton Bennett; screenwriters: from the play by Monckton Hoffe/Muriel Box/Sydney Box; cinematographer: Reginald H. Wyer; editors: Helga Cranston/Peter Edward Price; music: Benjamin Frankel; cast: Ann Todd (Frankie Tribe), Eric Portman (Eddie Tribe), Maxwell Reed (Olaf), Bill Owen (Ron), Edward Rigby (Bill Shackle), Jane Hylton (Doris); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sydney Box Universal Pictures Company; 1947-UK)
“Never lets in enough cheer to clear out its gloom.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Compton Bennett directs this bleak melodrama. It is based on the play by Monckton Hoffe. The film’s theme song, “Daybreak,” is written by Nigel Tangye. This dark film noir never lets in enough cheer to clear out its gloom.

Warning: spoilers throughout.

Middle-aged Eddie Tribe (Eric Portman) is a lonely, repressed bachelor who by chance meets in a bar the much younger Frankie (Ann Todd), an attractive hoofer who is going through a rough time. She falls for him because he is kind to her, mentioning: “A girl likes a man who asks nothing of her.” After a short courtship, where the strangers hardly know one another, Frankie nevertheless accepts his marriage proposal. Eddie lies telling her he’s between jobs, when actually he’s the prison hangman and part owner of a barbershop with Ron (Bill Owen). Only Ron knows he works as a hangman. Without telling anyone his plans Eddie gives up his share of the shop for nothing to his partner and gives six months notice to the prison that he’s quitting, and then lives with his bride on a barge he inherited from his late father. It is his hope to revive his father’s barge business.

Eddie hires a Scandinavian seaman as a helper, Olaf (Maxwell Reed), who might be a good worker but has designs on Eddie’s wife. The unworldly Eddie fails to heed his wife’s warnings to get rid of Olaf, who proves to be unpopular with the other seamen. On an occasion when Eddie is away on business, Olaf forces himself on Frankie and she is too weak to resist his advances. She is happy with the dull but reliable Eddie, telling him she feels like “a river that has finished winding to the sea,” and tries in her own desperate way to make him understand that he has to get rid of Olaf.

When on another occasion Eddie has to be away from the barge overnight on business, Frankie implores him not to leave her alone. But he again foolishly ignores her. The vain Olaf comes aboard the barge and later on in the evening Eddie surprisingly returns, this time figuring out wifey is doing it with the hired help. A fight results between the men, with Eddie thrown overboard. The police are called and take a statement from Frankie, later charging Olaf with the murder of the missing man. While the police are still on the barge, the guilt-ridden Frankie commits suicide over the assumed death of her hubby. In the meantime Eddie swims to safety and secretly returns to the barbershop to get patched up. When Eddie learns what happened to Frankie, he decides to get revenge on Olaf and not clear him of the murder charge.

The film was shot in flashback, as the opening scene had Eddie about to perform the execution on Olaf. When Eddie can’t go through with it, he breaks down and tells the prison officials what really happened. He then returns to the barbershop to commit suicide.

Eric Portman and Ann Todd spice up the narrative with their moving performances. It’s one of those low-budget sleeper movies that is better than what you might expect from such a downer.

REVIEWED ON 10/15/2004 GRADE: B –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”