Kay Francis … Irina Radovic
Nils Asther … Capt. Geza Petery
Walter Huston … Mayor Dushan Radovic
Phillips Holmes … Csaholyi
Eugene Pallette … Janos
C. Henry Gordon … Panto Nikitch
Louise Closser Hale … Militza Brooska
Jean Parker … Danitza
Directed by Richard Boleslavsky.
Produced by Lucien Hubbard.
Based on the play “Black-Stemmed Cherries” by Sandor Hunyady.
Adapted by Bertram Millhauser.
Original Music by Dr. William Axt.
Cinematography by George Folsey.
Edited by Margaret Booth.
Costumes by Adrian.
Sound Direction by Douglas Shearer.
Released July 21, 1933.
A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Picture.
Box Office Numbers
Cost of Production: $280,000
Domestic Gross: $302,000
Foreign Gross: $334,000
Total Gross: $636,000
See the Box Office Page for more info.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, after the chaos of World War I had calmed down in America, there were a slew of anti-war movies which featured screen giants in complicated plots playing characters whose lives were forever altered by the effects of war.
The message throughout these movies: War is BAD!
Greta Garbo had one of her most potent box office successes in Mata Hari (1931), playing the World War I spy opposite Lionel Barrymore and Latin lover Ramon Novarro (in their first and last screen appearance together). So it was no surprise when Metro Goldwyn Mayer purchased the rights to Sandor Hunyadi’s “Black Stemmed Cherries” with her in mind. Revolving around the life of a woman, her husband, and her lover, who is her husband’s best friend, “Cherries” began with the events leading up to and after the War, taking place within the countryside of Austrian-Hungary.
The exotic location would have been perfect for MGM’s Swedish superstar, but when contractual differences led to her absence from the screen for all of 1933, MGM contacted Warner Brothers for the use of their top female star, Kay Francis, whose striking looks and distant personality fitted nicely into a role which probably would have been to bland for Garbo, if the location itself hadn‘t.
This was the third screen paring of Kay Francis and Walter Huston, who had costarred with Kay in a similar film, The Virtuous Sin (1930), just three years earlier at Paramount.
Directed by Richard Boleslavsky, Storm At Daybreak did little for the reputations for those who participated in its production. Though it’s a nice little film, it has understandably become more forgotten as the years have passed, with little to it to garner attention from the mass audiences. Such a film remains a classic for those seriously passionate about any of the stars featured, or men who worked in the backgrounds to make it.
Storm at Daybreak takes place within the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It is June 28, 1914, and Archduke Ferdinand has just been assassinated by the Serbians. Young men, as young as twenty years of age, are drafted regardless of their inexperience with the service.
Tensions ride high between the Hungarians and Serbs, which cause some Serbs to desert their homeland to avoid having to fight with the Hungarian Army. Such deserters take refuge in the home of Serbian Irina Radovic, without the knowledge of her husband, Dushan, who is good friends with Captain Geza Petery of the Hungarian Army.
When the soldiers ride up to the Radovic home to look for deserters, Dushan invites Geza and his men in for a good time. Dushan gives his word that there are no men in the house, and asks Geza to spend the night. While Irina is playing a very sensual song over the piano, Geza hears deserters leaving while Dushan insists that he had no knowledge of them in his house until after he had given his word. Geza lets the situation go, his friendship with Dushan is to valuable, but Geza can not escape his feelings for Irina, Dushan’s wife.
On a train, Irina recognizes Geza amongst the wounded, and tells Dushan, who insists on having Geza stay in his home. It is here where the romance between Irina and Geza really takes off, though the two do not get intimate with each other outside of a passionate embrace and kiss.
When Dushan becomes aware of what is going on, he refuses to warn Geza that soldiers—among them a former friend named Panto—are arriving at his home to arrest him on treason. Irina pleads with him to go, and when she gets into a confrontation with Dushan over her love for Geza, she takes off on foot to warn him.
This is made even more dramatic by the dangerous rainstorm and thunder and lightening outside.
Dushan storms into Geza’s, where he finds his former friend and wife together, thinking that there is more to their love than there really is, and starts to strangle Geza. When he becomes aware that nothing really happened between the two, that they are two people who love each other dearly, but love Dushan enough to not have sex behind his back, he decides to save Geza’s life so the two can be happy together.
Sneaky Panto arrives to arrest Geza, but Dushan tells them that Geza has run off with Irina, and that he may go with him to find the two, and charge Geza and eventually execute him. Panto becomes aware of what is going on and the horse carriage over turns from high speed and tumbles down a cliff into the sea.
Dushan and Panto are killed, allowing Geza and Irina to finally be as one.
This is an iffy one. It has fans, but it has many people who can care less about this production. Certainly this isn’t the best example of Kay Francis’ or Walter Huston’s work, but it’s not a bad movie, either.
Kay is photographed rather unattractively, with her hairstyles being some of the worst she every sported in her movie career. The loosely pulled back look doesn’t work for her, and neither does the overly long one, with jet black locks curling down to her waist. Her gowns aren’t really attractive, and there is only one beautiful shot of her, and that one is when she sees Geza on the train.
Now I don’t have much to write about her performance, either. Again, it’s not bad, but it’s certainly not good. Her best scene is when she has the confrontation with Walter Huston over his decision not to warn Geza about Panto. She insists he let her go, and when he doesn’t, she shouts at him, jerks her arms out of his hands, and storms out the door.
That is the first scene with her that pops into my head when I think of this movie.
Walter Huston is exceptional as Dushan. He is brutish, and slightly repulsing. Insane with jealousy, he is at his best in the scenes where he realizes that Geza and Irina love each other. If this would have been a better movie, he might have gotten a little more credit for his performance in this one.
Rounding out the staring cast, Nils Asther becomes, thankfully, more masculine than I can remember seeing him for some time. With his pretty boy days behind him, and his career seriously on the wane, all of his star personality—for which he was so famous for in the silent movies of the 1920s—has disappeared here.
There are three major bonuses to Storm at Daybreak that make it desirable. The first is the realistic feel that director Richard Boleslawski and his crew gave the film in terms of settings and costumes. There is a very real feeling that we are sitting, watching a candid movie reel of people who actually lived through the First World War in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
The second is the montage effects of the war. There are some really eye-catching shots, most notable skeletons in uniform while officers shout orders in hostile voices.
The third and final bonus is the shadowy lighting, pre-dating the whole film noir movement by nearly a decade, Storm At Daybreak relies heavily on shadows and give a dramatic mood which is in tuned nicely with the decent performances by able players like Francis, Asther, and, especially Huston.
It’s not the best movie, but it’s not the worst, Certainly Storm at Daybreak deserves a good watching from fans interested in this sort of War-time drama.
Published in the New York Times, July 22, 1933.
The commonplaces of romance have a familiar look, even in the Balkans, to which the new picture at the Capitol transports its audiences this week. “Storm at Daybreak” deals with the unhappy lot of an ardent Hungarian who finds it equally impossible to live with or without a handsome Serb who happens to be the wife of his best friend. Quartered for a large part of the war in his friend’s home, he heroically declines the wife’s invitation to make her the happiest woman in Serbia, out of deference to his old comrade. Although Richard Boleslavsky has made a good looking production and filled it with the huzzahs and halloos that go with picturesque costumes and romantic warfare, “Storm at Daybreak” is a dull entertainment.
Mischa Auer, looking properly morbid, murders the Austrian archduke and his consort in an effective recreation of the Serajevo assassination early in the film. It is also possible to enjoy the ironical spectacle of the Serbs dashing gallantly to battle against the Germans in comic opera uniforms, riding fretful chargers and taking gay farewells of the peasant lasses. A great many of them return from the front in hospital boxcars, broken and terrified by the slaughter-house methods of warfare employed by their more up-to-date opponents. In these scenes Mr. Boleslavsky reveals a small part of his talent.
But “Storm at Daybreak” is concerned less with the war than with the troubled triangle represented by Nils Asther as the passionate officer, Kay Francis as the young wife, and Walter Huston as the peasant land owner who is the husband. Although they know it is madness and make a conscientious effort to keep out of each other’s way, the lovers are continually thrown together by the hospitable and unsuspecting husband. When the truth comes out, Mr. Huston has the opportunity to express his displeasure in several scenes that somewhat relieve the monotony of a domestic triangle in which the dialogue is as ordinary as possible. Finally, in a burst of magnanimity, he drives off into a night that is filled with the conventional rain and storm and commits suicide by taking his carriage over a gorge, accompanied by his worst enemy.
Mr. Asther has a romantic manner that is pleasantly suave, and Mr. Huston blusters picturesquely as the husband. Although Miss Francis is as attractive as always, she hardly seems suited to the enigmatic and mysterious qualities demanded in the rôle of the wife.