The Hour Before the Dawn is a 1944 American drama war film directed by Frank Tuttle starring Franchot Tone and Veronica Lake. It was based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.
It is often rumored that this film may have led to the decline of Lake's career. She was at her peak at the time of production, with films such as Sullivan's Travels, This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key, I Married a Witch and So Proudly We Hail! all having been big box office successes for her and Paramount. After this film was released, her films were less popular, with the exception of Ramrod, The Blue Dahlia and to a lesser extent Saigon, the latter two of which paired her with four-time co-star Ladd.
In 1923 in England, General Hetherton is instructing his grandson Jim to shoot a rifle. Unfortunately, Jim's dog runs in the way and Jim accidentally kills him. The incident affects him deeply and he becomes a pacifist.
Years later, at the commencement of World War II, Jim is headmaster at a school and has fallen in love with a young Austrian woman, Dora Bruckman, who works for his sister-in-law, May. He is unaware that Dora is a Nazi spy. She meets regularly with her supervisors in London, Mrs. Müller and Kurt van der Breughel, who are posing as Austrian refugees.
Jim's brother Roger joins the Royal Air Force, but Jim applies for exemption from fighting. This is granted. Dora is ordered to provide German bombers with a bearing to a camouflaged airfield using the headlights of May's car. She is caught in the act by May's son Tommy, but claims May must have left the lights on. Dora has to turn them off before the bombers arrive, so the airfield is saved.
Jim and Dora marry to save her from being removed from the district. Kurt plans to use Jim in an effort to convince influential English people to consider capitulation. He sends a fake letter to Jim, asking him to join an effort to educate refugee children, a task Jim is eager to accept. When they meet, Kurt suggests to Jim that the Germans might consider negotiating terms for peace with Britain. Jim tells Dora afterwards that Kurt spoke more like a German than a Dutchman.
Worried, Dora telephones van der Breughel and recommends bombing the airfield that night. She pours gasoline over a hay wagon. Tommy shows up unexpectedly and, undetected, sees what she is doing. She locks him in a room, but when he blurts out that he knows what she is up to, she pulls out a pistol. Fortunately for Tommy, she hears the bombers approaching and rushes out to set fire to the hay.
While Roger gets confirmation that Dora is a saboteur, Tommy escapes, encounters Jim, and tells him of his wife's betrayal. When Jim arrives home, Dora is packed and ready to leave. She admits to being a spy and then shoots him in the shoulder, before her gun jams. Jim kills her, just before Roger arrives. Afterward, Jim joins the Royal Air Force as a gunner.Franchot Tone as Jim Hertherton
Veronica Lake as Dora Bruckmann
John Sutton as Roger Hetherton
Binnie Barnes as May Hetherton
Henry Stephenson as General Hetherton
Philip Merivale as Sir Leslie Buchanon
Nils Asther as Kurt van der Breughel
Edmund Breon as Freddy Merritt
David Leland as Tommy Hetherton
Aminta Dyne as Hertha Parkins
The novel was published in 1942. Film rights were bought by Paramount while the project was in galley form, prior to Pearl Harbour. When the book was published, it became a best seller, but Paramount were reluctant to make a film based on it because it was about a conscientious objector - something that was felt to be palatable to the American public while the USA was neutral, but not after. However, after time passed, executives began to feel the public would be sympathetic to a movie about a genuine objector, as it was one of the freedoms the Allies were fighting for.
The movie was the first film produced by William Dozier, who had worked as a story editor at Paramount for a number of years. Shooting started in April 1943. Because of dim-out restrictions, night scenes were shot in Phoenix, Arizona.