Friday, October 24, 2008

Storm at Daybreak directed by Richard Boleslavsky (starring Kay Francis, Walter Huston, Nils Asther, Eugene Pallette)

Storm at Daybreak (1933). Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser from the play Black-Stemmed Cherries by Sandor Hunyady.

Storm at Daybreak is another typical Kay Francis melodrama with her once again falling into the arms of a man other than her husband. Only this time, the action plays against the backdrop of the first days of World War I.

Sarajevo mayor Duchan (Walter Huston, who is said to have "discovered" Francis) is attending the parade in honor of a visit from Archduke Francis Ferdinand when the archduke is assassinated, setting off a series of events (including, in this film, a war against the Serbs) that would lead to what was known as The Great War. ("Somebody [shot] somebody, so we all got to go out and get shot," explains "Mad Russian" Leonid Kinskey.)

During the parade, Duchan is reunited with an old friend, Geza (Nils Asther), who is now a captain in the Hungarian army. Duchan brings Geza home to meet his wife, Irina (Francis), a Serb protecting some deserters (the Hungarians and Serbs had a long period of bad blood).

Soon, the house is hosting what appears to be the entire Hungarian army, and the lovely Irina proves to be the perfect hostess, charming the soldiers in a low-cut gown and beginning a romance with Geza where previously were only glares. (Eugene Pallette also has a charming series of scenes as he attempts to romance a reluctant housematron.)

Despite impressive sets and costumes (and its educational possibilities dramatizing a period and events of which modern audiences are mostly ignorant), Storm at Daybreak has little to recommend it, except to Kay Francis aficionados; she is as photogenic (with long hair in one scene) and well-dressed as always. But the story is weak and depends too much on the war — pulling Geza away from Irina time and time again — to supply the drama, and on dewy looks and screaming matches from the actors. As a result, this not very racy pre-Code is melodramatic and unbelievable, and the abrupt ending does nothing to help.

(Look for cameos by Mischa Auer as the Archduke's assassin and Akim Tamiroff as a gypsy fiddler stealing a chicken leg.)

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