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Film / Commandos Strike at Dawn

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Commandos Strike at Dawn is a 1942 film directed by John Farrow.

It's a World War II propaganda film about resistance in Norway. The story opens in August 1939, depicting a peaceful Norwegian fishing village. Paul Muni, the least Norwegian-looking man ever, plays Eric Toresen. Eric is a local weatherman and oceanographer for the government, a widower, and a single father. A British admiral, Adm. Bowen, is vacationing in the town, along with his son Robert and his lovely daughter Judith (Anna Lee). Romance blossoms between Eric and Judith, but they are soon separated by war.

Cut to April 9, 1940, and the German invasion of Norway. The Germans roll into Eric's village unopposed, and right away they start doing Nazi things like burning books, confiscating food and blankets, and brutally torturing Mr. Bergesen (Ray Collins), the most vocally anti-German person in the village. Soon mild-mannered Paul is organizing an anti-Nazi resistance group. Eventually he and a few others escape to Britain by fishing boat, and help to organize a British commando raid on their town.

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Lillian Gish appears as Mrs. Bergesen. It was her first film in nine years and typical of the character parts she played for the rest of her movie career. Compare Edge of Darkness (1943), a film with a similar story of resistance in a Norwegian fishing village.


Tropes:

  • Bittersweet Ending: Solveig is rescued along with the other hostages, but Eric is killed on the raid on the town, as is Robert, costing Adm. Bowen both a son and a son-in-law and leaving Solveig orphaned. But the war will go on, and the people of the town vow they will return.
  • Book Burning: The Nazis confiscate all books they don't like and burn them in the town square.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Judith flips on her radio on September 3, 1939, at the exact moment that the BBC is giving the announcement about Germany ignoring the British note.
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  • Day of the Jackboot: All too literal, as the jackbooted Germans march into town.
  • Death by Childbirth: In the backstory, and why Eric is a widower. His wife died giving birth to little Solveig.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Offscreen, even! A local gives a German car misleading directions, causing the German car to plunge off a cliff. All that is offscreen, however. The camera shows only the local looking satisfied as brakes squeal, there's a crashing sound, and there's an audible explosion.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Hiding in the bushes as a fugitive, next to the airstrip, Eric has the good timing at that exact moment to hear chatter about how a lot of planes and a German general are on their way to the airstrip.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Having been rescued by a British ship after a difficult sea voyage, Eric says "I won't sleep a wink", then flops over onto the cot and sleeps.
  • Last Breath Bullet: A mortally-wounded Eric is still able to fling the grenade that wipes out the Germans in front of the town hall, allowing the commandos to rescue the hostages.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Lars, the owner of the hotel. He's pro-Nazi, and he informs on the others when Eric organizes a boat to England.
  • The Oner
    • The opening shot starts with the camera pointing out to the fjord. The camera then slowly does a 360-degree pan, showing the town before catching Eric waking down to the dock.
    • There's a more extreme version in the wedding scene that follows. The wedding scene, in which most of the characters other than Eric are introduced and several relationships are sketched out, runs seven minutes without a cut.
  • Plunger Detonator: The raid on the airstrip ends with the Brits using a plunger detonator to blow up what looks like the German airplane hangar.
  • Time Passes Montage: A single quick montage with stock footage of combat and newspaper headlines recaps the course of the war from September 1939 to the invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940.
  • Verbal Irony: A German guard teases his agitated buddy: "Think there's a Norwegian behind every bush?" Paul is hiding behind the bushes at that exact moment.


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