Review of “Just Before Dawn” (1946)

from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night. Yum.

Plot:

After hours inside the Ganss Funeral Home, two sinister-looking men meet. One hands the other what appears to be a kit containing a syringe and a small glass bottle marked “insulin.”

“It’s not what it says on the label,” one man tells the other.

In the next scene, the viewer sees Dr. Ordway, the Crime Doctor (Warner Baxter) sitting at home, minding his own business. That can’t last for long. Dr. Ordway is a psychiatrist who seems to be forever getting involved with solving murders.

The new neighbor, Mrs. Travers (Mona Barrie) from across the street, who is hosting a house party, rings the doorbell and asks for his help. A young man (George Meeker) attending the party has lost consciousness. He’s diabetic, according to his sister (Adele Roberts).

After confirming with the lovely young sister, Miss Foster, that the patient keeps his insulin kit on him at all times, Dr. Ordway asks the hostess to send someone to find it in young Mr. Foster’s overcoat. He then injects Mr. Foster. Immediately, the young man’s eyelids begin to flutter, and he thanks Dr. Ordway. He also apologizes for interrupting the party. Dr. Ordway advises him to lie still for a moment, and he should be fine.

He then chats with some of those attending the party, including the real estate agent (Wilton Graff) who sold the new neighbors the house, and another young man who runs a fitness institute (Craig Reynolds).

Miss Foster screams. Her brother now lies on the floor, unmoving. He has time to mutter a cryptic last phrase, “hath given you one face,” and then expires.

The coroner later confirms young Walter Foster was injected with poison, but no poison was found in the insulin kit. It looks like the Armand (Ted Hecht), the servant (gods, people had servants?) who fetched the insulin kit and replaced it is going down for this. But what was his motive? And what do those last words mean?

Thoughts:

The character of the Crime Doctor was created by writer/director Max Marcin that appeared on radio broadcasts from 1940-1947. The character also appeared in ten films from 1943-1949, of which this is the seventh.

Of course, the first thing Dr. Ordway does upon hearing he himself injected the poison into a man it to try and find the guilty party. How did the insulin get switched? He soon discovers that nearly everyone has a motive. Foster has spent all $250,000 of his inheritance and is pressuring Miss Foster to turn over her share. She has a tidy income of $1000 a month but wants to invest in her dearly beloved’s fitness institute. Foster’s pestering his sister for money is getting in the way of her getting married.

Young Foster’s last words turn out to be not from the Bible, as everyone is advising Dr. Ordway, but from Shakespeare. The full quote is, “God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.” It’s from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, when Hamlet is trying to drive poor Ophelia over the brink.

Miss Foster thinks she knows what it may refer to, but asks Dr. Ordway to come to her place, as it’s too complicated to explain over the phone. Before he can get there, the doorbell rings. No! No! Don’t answer the bell, Miss Foster!

The William Castle who directed this is the same William Castle who went on to make gimmicky films in the 50s and 60s such as The Tingler and 13 Ghosts.

I have no idea what relevance the title has, assuming it has any. To the best of my recollection, none of the action takes place just before dawn.

Several elements stretched credulity beyond the limit of “Yeah, it could happen.” The bad guys seem given to elaborate murder schemes—like switching bottles of insulin for poison—when simple, direct methods are readily available. The womenfolk do their proper screaming and recite, “What is it, doctor?” on cue. (*sigh*) The bad’uns get their comeuppance, and Crime Doctor remains free to Crime Doctor another day.

Having said that, this movie is fun. I liked it.

Just Before Dawn is available for free on YouTube.


Title: Just Before Dawn (alternatively, Exposed by the Crime Doctor)
Directed by
William Castle

Writing Credits
Eric Taylor…(story)
Eric Taylor…(screenplay) &
Aubrey Wisberg…(screenplay)

Max Marcin…(radio series Crime Doctor characters)


Cast (in credits order)
Warner Baxter…Dr. Robert Ordway
Adele Roberts…Claire Foster (as Adelle Roberts)
Martin Kosleck…Karl Ganss
Mona Barrie…Harriet Travers
Marvin Miller…Casper

Released: March 7, 1946
Length: approx. 1 hour, 5 mins

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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