GENERAL DIED AT DAWN, THE (director: Lewis Milestone; screenwriters: story by Charles B. Booth/Clifford Odets; cinematographer: Victor Milner; editor: Eda Warren; music: Werner Janssen; cast: Gary Cooper (O’Hara), Madeleine Carroll (Judy Perrie), Akim Tamiroff (General Yang), Dudley Digges (Mr. Wu), Porter Hall (Peter Perrie), William Frawley (Brighton), J. M. Kerrigan (Leach), Philip Ahn (Oxford), Lee Tung Foo (Mr. Chen), Leonid Kinskey (Stewart), John O’Hara (Reporter); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William LeBaron; MCA Universal Home Video; 1936)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Lewis Milestone (“Halls of Montezuma”/”Pork Chop Hill”/”All Quiet on the Western Front”)craftily directs this old-fashioned thriller starring Gary Cooper at his robust macho best. Writer Clifford Odets bases it on the story by Charles B. Booth, and cuts away from the class-struggle story to focus on the action parts. It touches on foreign intrigue in the Far East over spies, smugglers, gunrunners and a despotic warlord.
Daredevil mercenary American, O’Hara (Gary Cooper), is in China to help the helpless Chinese get rid of a ruthless Chinese warlord, General Yang (Akim Tamiroff), who has overtaxed them and made their life miserable. Yang controls one of China’s twelve provinces in the Northern district and all its silk, rice and opium markets. The ambitious Yang wants to control all the provinces, but needs weapons. Rival general Wu (Dudley Digges) sends the American soldier of fortune O’Hara to Shanghai to purchase weapons from the alcoholic American gunrunner Brighton (William Frawley), who is willing to do business with anyone for a price. O’Hara carries the money the peasants collected in his money belt, and is ordered to go by plane. Sickly American Peter Perrie (Porter Hall), a coward who hassix months to live,and his beautiful daughter Judy (Madeleine Carroll), promise to deliver O’Hara to Yang and then Peter promises to purchase from Brighton weapons for Yang. Judy talks the hot-blooded O’Hara into taking the train to be with her. On the train Yang’s men capture O’Hara and give Peter his money belt to buy the weapons. Peter schemes to keep some of the money so he and Judy can return to America, which Judy has never seen.
In spite of being betrayed, O’Hara falls in love with Judy and she reciprocates by trying to come to his aid. It’s then up to O”Hara to redeem himself to Wu and the oppressed peasants by leading Yang to them and squaring things over the stolen money. Too bad the ending is too absurd to remove the impression how vacuous is this well-acted pic.
Watch for cameos on the train of playwright Odets, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky and novelist John O’hara.
REVIEWED ON 6/8/2011 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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