Thursday, December 26, 2013



This Poverty Row film begins with a man leaving the imaginatively-named bar The Tavern and making contact with a supposedly blind beggar just outside the doors (see picture at left); the beggar then watches a man named Reynolds being shanghaied by two burly Germans. Later the same thugs drag Mr. Oliver out of his apartment in his pajamas to question him about his work at a chemical company with Reynolds on Formula 311, an additive that can increase the output of gasoline. When Oliver tells them that the formula is being worked on by a number of people, none of whom have the entire formula, they thank him, send him out the door, then have him killed by a sniper. The Nazi officer Gemmler and his thugs are determined to get hold of the stuff for use back home, and they next target two other chemists: the headstrong playboy gambler Tom Fielding and the handsome level-headed Bob Norton—who is dating Fielding's sister Nancy (who is also a secretary at the chemical company). Enough plot for you? Wait: Bob gets tangled up with sexy blonde Linda who is working for the Nazis. And it turns out that there is a secret ingredient in the formula that, if added improperly, is explosive. And the chemist who started work on the formula, Smith, was actually named Schmidt and is working with the Nazis.

There’s a lot going on in this hour-long spy thriller so it moves fairly quickly, but the ultra-low budget works against the filmmakers' ambitions. The sets are cheap, the script is a bit ramshackle, the acting is all over the place, and most painfully, there is no background music to help develop mood and tension until the last five minutes. A couple of scenes stand out, including a brutal knifing by the "blind" beggar, a mildly amusing sequence of spy watching spy watching spy, and the climax with the Nazis and a chemist on board a small plane (the Dawn Express of the title). Michael Whalen is less than convincing as Bob, the stalwart good guy, but William Bakewell takes up some of the slack in the slightly more rounded character of Tom, who wants to be a good guy but may not have the fortitude to resist sexy female spies. Hans von Twardowski is only fair as the chief Nazi—in a role that calls for ripe overacting, he's rather boring. Some familiar B-film actors in the film include Constance Worth, Jack Mulhall and Anne Nagel. I came away from this quickie thriller with a distinct feeling of "meh." [YouTube]

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