Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Four months before Edge of Darkness

One of the box sets I've mentioned a couple of times is my Mill Creek set of war movies produced and/or distributed by Columbia. One of the movies in the set that I hadn't seen before was The Commandos Strike at Dawn, so I recently popped it into the DVD player to watch and do a review on.

The movie starts off in the summer of 1939 in a small village in Norway. It's a happy time as there's a wedding going on, but if you know your history you know that it's not going to be happy for long. September 1, 1939 is right around the corner, meaning the Nazis are about to invade Poland. And it wasn't all that long after the invasion of Poland that the Nazis turned their eyes to countries on the other side of their border. Norway woould be about to fall, although we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

As the movie opens with that wedding, the widower Eric Toresen (Paul Muni) is celebrating with a visiting British woman, Judith Bowen (Anna Lee). She's set to return to the UK where her father (Cedric Hardwicke) is an admiral, making him fairly high up in the British navy. It's a fortuitous coincidence, and something that will provide the romantic angle to lighten the mood in what is about to become a fairly dark movie.

As I mentioned, the Nazis invade, so the middle of the movie is a fairly long section in which the Nazis, led by a local commander played by Alexander Knox, start to visit all sorts of indignities upon the locals, down to little things like taking all the blankets. After all, the Germans need to stay warm, too. Questioning what the Nazis are doing is of course dangerous, as Johan Bergeson (Ray Collins) finds out. But the Norwegians are more independent-minded than some nationalities who were more accepting of the Germans, or at least more passive. Eric is among the townsfolk who think there should be some sort of resistance, and he's willing to be more or less the leader.

But he has to become a fugitive after stabbing one of the Nazis. Hiding out in the forest, he discovers that the Germans are planning to build an airstrip in the vicinity that's going to allow them to attack Britain more easily. Eric has to get to England so that he join the Norwegian resistance there just as there were Czech (Dark Blue World) and Polish (To Be or Not to Be) pilots based in the UK. Once he does, a plan is ut in place to destroy that airfield.

As I was watching The Commandos Strike at Dawn, I couldn't help but think of Errol Flynn as part of the Norwegian resistance, as he starred in a similar movie, Edge of Darkness. But on looking it up, I found that The Commandos Strike at Dawn came first be a couple of months. It's a fairly formulaic resistance movie, as it was made during the era when audiences on the home front needed the morale boost that movies like this would likely have provided; that boost was more important than innovative storytelling.

But the cast does well, and the story is very competently told. As you watch the opening credits, you'll see a lot of people with RCAF titles. That's the Royal Canadian Air Force, as the movie was made in no small part on Vancouver Island which was able to provide something relatively close to resembling Norwegian fjords. The acting is professional if nothing spectacular; the movie is not going to be at the top of the list of anyone's best movies but none of the cast would have had anything to be ashamed of in making this movie.

In short, The Commandos Strike at Dawn is the sort of movie that's perfect to include in a modestly-priced box set, and certainly worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

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