Decision Before Dawn (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 2, May 1974
- pp. 33-34
- Additional Information
Constance a bumbling (if well endowed} moron The Three Musketeers are stripped of dignity and glamour. Their panache is made into pretentious posturing, their honor absurd querulousness. The absurdity, which was a self-conscious and even parodie element of Dumas' Historical Romance, is not only perceived but magnified by Lester's twentieth-century lens. That Lester will not allow us to perceive the figures of his Romance as models and idols, that he strips them of their heroic aura and confines them to caricature destroys only the earlier Romantic versions of these characters--not the form of the Romance itself. The plots and subplots are sustained, not just by our essential thirst for structure and completion but by the humanness of the characters. Venality, stupidity . hate, fecklessness, recklessness, sex, evil: if these confound, confuse, obstruct the orderly arrangement of affairs of love and state, they also move the plot. Lester's de-romanticizing is essential to his more complex, absurd, and perhaps more human vision of historical and human reality. Yet Lester cannot escape a final, wishful romanticizing. If he glorifies neither the aristocracy nor the common people (whose bathetic and seemingly candid asides he features prominently on several occasions), he cannot help celebrating the texture of his historical vision. His colors, landscapes, action, even his blood and guts belie a conception of historical reality, which parallels his partially documentary-historical treatment of The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night." The action and excitement of the Musketeers seem governed by the form of the historical Romance, even as the zany antics of The Beatles appeared only the fortuitous whim of the filmmaker. Yet, as "A Hard Day's Night gave evidence of Lester's serious documentary concern for the Beatle phenomenon, so does "The Three Musketeers" reveal a genuine if tortured attempt to confront both the problem of the Historical Romance and historical reality itself. He gives us more than Wheaties. He gives us history—but history purged of nineteenth century rationality and sentimentalism, history suffused with his tragi-comic sense of the absurd. Films for the classroom Decision Before Dawn (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1951) 1 19-min. b&w 16mm. This smashingly good World War II film depicts Nazi Germany in its final death throes in the late winter and early spring of 1945. Much of the footage was filmed on location amid the destruction and rubble that still existed in many parts of Germany as lateas 1950. The plot revolves around a young German Luftwaffe medical corporal (Oskar Wemer) recently taken prisoner by the advancing Americans. After a bnef respite in a prisoner of war camp, Wemer, convinced of the corruptness of the Nazi regime, volunteers to return to his homeland as a spy for the Allies. Wemer is then parachuted behind Nazi lines and proceeds to move back toward the front, observing German troop movements and military installations along the way. However, his trail is picked up by an SS man (Wilfred Seyfert) who is relentless in his pursuit. 33 This film could be used in classes in modem American and modern European history in studying not only World War II but the complex question ofone's loyalty in wartime to his homeland. The film is also useful in viewing the grim determination ofa people on the brink ofcollapse. Patrick Armstrong, Jefferson State Junior College The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (NPACT. 1974) 40 min., b&w. Recently this 90-minute television show "The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg" was shown on National Educational Television and the non-television distribution ofthe film is being handled by Impact Films, 144 Bleeker Street, New York, New York 10012. The film was produced by Alvin Goldstein. It is a well-filmed documentary which makes no attempt to hide its cause; namely to vindicate the Rosenbergs. Aside from one's political ideology, the questions left by the account ofthe trial and execution ofthe Rosenbergs are many. The film would provide a teacher with a host oftopics to explore in a course. Here is only a partial list: the nature of McCarthyism, the domestic Cold War, Anti-Semitic feelings, American Communism, McCarthy and Eisenhower, Atomic bomb development, the nature of "justice...