In 1937's Another Dawn, the ever-suffering yet invariably swanky Kay Francis finds herself caught between her passion for adventurer Errol Flynn and her marital duty to Flynn's stolid superior, Ian Hunter. A standard-issue love triangle, you say? That, and much more. Here's another interesting addition to the Warner Archive made-to-order DVDs of films from the famous studio's back catalog.
Set in post-World War I England and Africa, Another Dawn forgoes historic accuracy in favor of establishing its central trio of characters in a dreamy, atmospheric setting (the d.p. was Tony Gaudio, esteemed cinematographer who gave luster to many Bette Davis melodramas from this period). Errol Flynn contributes a subdued, unexpectedly great performance as Captain Denny Roark, a devil-may-care pilot in Britain's Royal Army assigned to stem a group of Arab radicals outside the remote Dikut outpost in the Sahara desert. Denny's recklessness gets him in trouble with his supervisor, Colonel John Wister (Ian Hunter), although he's earned the admiration of the other soldiers at the outpost. Meanwhile, John sails back to England and falls for an alluring brunette, Julia Ashton Wister (Francis), who is recovering from a three-year romance with a fighter pilot killed in action. Resigned to the belief that she'll never love again, Julia nevertheless accepts John's sincere marriage proposal. Back at Dikut, John introduces Julia to Denny and John's sister, Grace (Frieda Inescort), who is secretly in love with Denny. Over the next few weeks, Julia and John get acquainted and start to realize they love each other. Denny's charm reminds Julia of her dead pilot fiancee, but both respect John too much to run off together. Their dilemma is interrupted when one of the two men must fly on a bombing mission that is sure to have a fatal outcome - who will make the sacrifice?
As indicated by that plot synopsis, Another Dawn is pure soap opera - yet it's so intelligently made, even people not enamored of overcooked '30s melodramas could get into it. As it turned out, the combination of Errol Flynn and Kay Francis - one young and rising, the other at a mature mid-career peak - was an inspired one. Flynn gives his character a sensitivity which seemed to evaporate from the swashbuckling idol's box of tricks as the years went on. Ian Hunter brings a lot of nuance to his portrayal as well, easy to overlook since he effortlessly did so many variants on the "noble, vaguely handsome British guy" type. Kay Francis tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it figure for many old movie fans, although even my Kay-detesting viewing companion found a lot to enjoy in her wistful, endearing Julia. This being a Kay Francis movie, the actress dons several historically suspect yet astonishing Orry-Kelly designed frocks throughout, which often made me wonder why an Army wife situated in the middle of nowhere would have a bottomless wardrobe. No matter - she looks fantastic. Her chemistry with Flynn and the extra layer of vulnerability she brings to this role made it one of her best vehicles at Warner Brothers.
Another Dawn's fatalistic look at the nobility of love closely parallels some of Frank Borzage's movies (particularly Three Comrades, another Warner Archive release). The stylized script has characters uttering platitudes like "You can't discard honor any more than you can discard love," yet William Dieterle's direction is surprisingly low-key and seamless. Part of his expertise involved a tense desert gun-battle scene - with Flynn and his fellow officers greatly outnumbered by heavily armed bandits - inserted into this torrid romance without seeming out of place. The movie's blend of absorbing, intelligent drama and hearty action makes it a standout - then and now.
Warner Archive's made-on-demand DVD edition of Another Dawn sports a decent, unrestored 4x3 picture. One scene is marred with splotches on the film stock, another contains a distracting tramline scratch right down the middle of the screen. For the most part it looks good, however, with a pleasant grain and a sharpened yet not brittle-looking picture.
The soundtrack has the limited dynamics one would expect of a film this age, yet it's a good track with clear dialogue and an agreeable use of musical scoring. No subtitles are included.
The sole extra is the film's original Theatrical Trailer, which sold this torrid tale with all the breathless hyperbole the 1937-era Warner Bros. marketing department could muster.
The plush, passionate love-in-the-Sahara drama Another Dawn just may surprise you with its sincerity and intelligence. This 1937 Warner Bros. production boasts one of Kay Francis' best performances, young and rakish Errol Flynn, an incisive script, atmospheric photography, a terrific action sequence and smooth direction. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.