The General Died at Dawn (1936)

 Run Time: 97 min. | b/w
Director: Lewis Milestone
Stars: w. Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll,
Akim Tamiroff, Porter Hall
 Genres: Adventure | Crime Film Noir
Storyline
Clifford Odets scripted this exotic, well-directed adventure about a mercenary in China (Cooper) falling in love with lovely spy Carroll and clashing with an evil warlord. Novelist John O’Hara has a small role

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks to the cast of characters in here, led by the wise-cracking Gary Cooper and a pretty Madeline Carroll, this was a pretty interesting film. Some of the minor characters also made this movie to fun, notably Akim Tamiroff's "General Yang," as well as Bill Frawley''s "Brighton;" Porter Hall's "Peter Prrie/Peter Martin" and Dudley Digges' creepy busybody "Mr. Wu."

    Nowaday, Digges and Tamiroff's characters would be played by real Asian actors and would be a bit more credible. Also, in a real-life situation, Cooper would have been eliminated early on after the bad guys had gotten his money.

    Nevertheless, credibility issues aside (which you have to do in most movies, anyway, old and new), the good dialog, interesting faces, characters and cinematography all make this movie a lot better than I expected.

  2. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    The General Died at Dawn, the title itself is enough of a giveaway as to what happens. But the circumstances leading up to the death of Chinese Warlord Akim Tamiroff is quite a tale.

    The setting for this film is Kuomintang China where the government of Chiang Kai-Shek doesn't have its writ run very far. Most of China in the Twenties is controlled by various provincial warlords. In fact a case could be made that the Chinese Communists under Mao Tse-tung was viewed as just another warlord. But that's a whole different story.

    American adventurer Gary Cooper has a money belt with a whole lot of cash in it entrusted to him by the opposition faction to Akim Tamiroff. He's supposed to make contact with William Frawley in Shanghai who when he's not drinking the hotel bar dry, runs guns.

    But Madeleine Carroll and her father Porter Hall who are working for Tamiroff help Tamiroff part Cooper from his money. In the case of Coop, he's real guilty of thinking with his gonads. Then Porter Hall steals the money for himself and the film gets real interesting.

    There's one big flaw in the film, occurring when Madeleine Carroll who starts falling for Cooper, refers to him as the "O'Hara Boy." O'Hara is Cooper's character name. Coop was 35 when this film was made and referring to him as 'boy' was ludicrous. But then again a man of 35 should have been on better guard. Film might have worked better if someone younger like Robert Taylor or Tyrone Power played the part of O'Hara. Or Clifford Odets's script should have given Carroll a more elaborate ruse to play on Cooper.

    Two major oriental roles were given to occidental players. Casting like Akim Tamiroff as the warlord Yang and Dudley Digges as Mr. Wu who employs Cooper would never happen today. But both do well and come to think of it Tamiroff does have an oriental strain in his ancestry.

    One bit of casting really hits home. By all accounts William Frawley was hardly the lovable tightwad Fred Mertz in real life. He was a misanthropic alcoholic in the tradition of W.C.Fields and a mean drunk when he was loaded which was often back then. His role as Brighton, the misanthropic, mean, and thoroughly racist gunrunner was way closer to the real Bill Frawley.

    Gary Cooper in The General Died at Dawn was playing a role that Humphrey Bogart would probably have done in the forties. It was always joked that Cooper's dialog consisted of 'yup' and 'nope.' But the way he gets himself, Carroll and Digges out of a real predicament in the end called for quite a gift of gab.

  3. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Made the same year as DESIRE, THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN is closer to the norm of Gary Cooper's film image. Rather than the charm and humor of Borzage and Lubitsch's film, Lewis Milestone's movie concentrated on the straight and honest decent American that Coop played in westerns and adventure films.

    Here he is on a mission to buy weapons for the peasantry fighting one of the warlords who overran China between 1911 and 1931, when Japanese aggression became a centralizing force in uniting Chinese (except for Kuomintang v. Communists for awhile longer). The General here is Wang (Akim Tamiroff, at his most subtly threatening). He is aware that there is a scheme to arm his enemies, and he is making all efforts to scotch it by kidnapping the gun dealer (William Frawley – as said elsewhere on this thread in a performance that unfortunately mirrors his frequently mean drunk self), and finding the man who is trying to buy the weapons.

    Cooper shows early his "boy scout" honor by illustrating (to Russell Hicks, a glib, cynical traveler) what Wang's rule means to the peasants. He asks for a match, and Hicks says he hasn't any. Cooper knocks him down, and calmly asks for the match again. A furious Hicks repeats he said he has no matches. Cooper says he understands that, but what he just did to Hicks about matches is exactly what Wang does to the peasants for food, possessions, whatever he wants, and he treats them far worse than just knocking them down if they refuse him.

    Madeleine Carroll is the anti-heroine, the daughter of Porter Hall (a year away from killing Cooper as Jack McCall in THE PLAINSMAN). As sneaky as ever he encourages her to help preoccupy Cooper while Hall gets the money from him. Cooper does realize (slightly late) what's going on, and he does confront Carroll (who is not happy at her actions). Eventually there is a confrontation with Hall as well – which ends badly.

    Hall is not the worst figure in the film. Besides Tamiroff and Frawley there is also J.M.Kerrigan as "Leach" (an apt name), who is a blackmailing scoundrel only out for his own benefit. Like the other villains in the film he does a first rate job. So does Dudley Digges as Mr. Wu, the restaurant owner who is also the contact man for Cooper when he is supposed to get Frawley's weapons. Notice his comment about the pleasure of a particular Chinese dish. Also notice (briefly) the appearance of John O'Hara, the novelist, as a reporter early in the film. He is closer to "Samara" than to "Gibbsville" in this movie.

    The film's threads all come together in a mass confrontation on Wang's junk. The conclusion is one that only makes sense if you realize what an egomaniac Tamiroff's character really is.

    I like this adventure film, which is a worthy continuation of the story of China's fragmentation in those years to Von Sternberg's SHANGHAI EXPRESS. Definitely a film to watch and enjoy.

  4. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    The scene in the train where femme fatal Judy Perrie seduces O’Hara is a masterpiece of steamy sensuality. Carroll’s silky-smooth alabaster skin and flaxen hair, gorgeously highlighted by her exquisitely outlined lips and eyes, were masterfully exploited by director Lewis Milestone and some extremely skilled cameramen, as her feminine delights proved too much for the otherwise unswervingly steadfast O’Hara. Throughout, the curiously uneven script takes a decided turn for the better, with both participants delivering some highly suggestive verbal exchanges, brimming with innuendo and wit, culminating with O’Hara mockingly asking Judie if he can kiss her, only to receive in return the playful reply that he must first ask her mother. He then looks into the neighboring compartment and makes the request in mock earnestness, for there is no Mrs. Perrie! All the while, the sinister war lord General Yang and his dark forces are preparing to intercept the train, "relieve" O’Hara of the funds he’s set to deliver to Mr. Wu for the sole purpose of ridding the province of the scurrilous Yang. Let your imaginations soar, esteemed classic film buffs, for this is truly great film-making.

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