Review: ‘The General Died at Dawn’

In Clifford Odets' first film attempt his hand is distinctly visible throughout. But without Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll to top an A-1 cast, all the splendid trouping, all the splendid imagery of direction, photography, music and general production might well have jelled into an artistic flop.

In Clifford Odets’ first film attempt his hand is distinctly visible throughout. But without Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll to top an A-1 cast, all the splendid trouping, all the splendid imagery of direction, photography, music and general production might well have jelled into an artistic flop.

Story supplied by Charles G. Booth’s novel is an old-fashioned piece of claptrap. It has to do with intrigue in the Far East, gun-runners, smugglers, and spies. Odets has left all that alone but has underlined Gary Cooper as the agent for the ammunition runners by making him engaged in the dangerous work not because of the adventure or money, but because he’s trying to help the downtrodden Chinese rid themselves of a money-grubbing, rapacious Chinese war lord, General Yang (Akim Tamiroff).

Cooper, as the daredevil American, is at top form throughout; Madeleine Carroll as his vis-a-vis in a very difficult assignment, impresses. Two comparatively unknowns, Tamiroff and Porter Hall, turn in exceptionally strong performances. Hall, as a sniveling, broken-down villain, handles an unusual job beautifully; John O’Hara, the novelist, does a bit as a newspaperman, looking the part. Allegedly Odets, director Milestone and Sidney Skolsky, Hollywood columnist, are also in for a shot or two, but if so it’s their secret which scene it is.

1936: Nominations: Best Supp. Actor (Akim Tamiroff), Cinematography, Score

The General Died at Dawn

Production

Paramount. Director Lewis Milestone; Producer William LeBaron; Screenplay Clifford Odets; Camera Victor Milner; Music Werner Janssen; Art Director Hans Dreier, Ernest Fegte

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1936. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Gary Cooper Madeleine Carroll Akim Tamiroff Dudley Digges Porter Hall William Frawley
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