A Shot at Dawn

Original Title: Schuß im Morgengrauen. (Die Frau und der Smaragd.) Crime drama 1932; 80 min.; Director: Alfred Zeisler; Cast: Ery Bos, Genia Nikolajewa, Karl Ludwig Diehl, Theodor Loos, Fritz Odemar, Peter Lorre, Heinz Salfner, Gerhard Tandar, Kurt Vespermann, Ernst Behmer, Curt Lucas, Hermann Speelmans; Ufa-Klangfilm.

A police informant is shot, and later, a jeweler is also killed. Two detectives investigate both cases and identify the same gang as the perpetrators. The informant wanted to talk, and the jeweler was trying to fend off extortion. One of the detectives eventually becomes involved with the jeweler’s divorced wife, who initially considered him to be part of the gang as well.

Shivering, the detectives stand in the first light of dawn on the lonely road in the forest. Why did Müller IV summon the two detectives specifically to this godforsaken, desolate area in the middle of the night? A shot rings out, abruptly breaking the silence of the night. The detectives startle as a car approaches. The driver’s behavior is strange, and the car sways on the road. Is he drunk? No, he’s dying! When Detectives Holzknecht and Schmitter open the door, a dead body falls out. It’s Müller IV, who was investigating the peculiar dealings of respected jeweler Joachim Taft and had been observing his villa, which is located in this isolated area. A gunshot shattered the car window. Who was the shooter?

On the road leading to the city, a car speeds through the morning. The man at the wheel doesn’t stop when signaled by the constable but continues driving, gripping the steering wheel firmly without trembling. Meanwhile, the bookseller Bachmann nervously retrieves books from the shelves for the customers at the “trembler’s” bookstore. His saleswoman, the dark-haired Lola, helps him. A man enters and identifies himself as a detective. The trembler is taken to the police station, but he can explain everything. He drove away in his car because, as a trembler, as a poor, sick person, he doesn’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t hear the gunshot.

The attendant at the gas station on the road is questioned; he noticed a man – Müller IV – who had been waiting in his car near the Taft villa for four hours in the night, even though the villa has been uninhabited for weeks. Another person was in the car, an insurance agent, as the gas station attendant amusingly recounts, but he got out…

In front of Taft’s villa, an elegant gentleman rings the bell repeatedly, but the door remains locked. Nervously, he taps his cane on the pavement. The house appears to be truly empty. The gentleman is unaware that Bobby, the insurance agent, has been observing him. Jeweler Taft drives through the summer night on his way back from a business trip to Berlin. A car suddenly blocks his path, forcing him to stop. Two men boldly demand money from Taft – he knows them well, they’re involved in some shady business. However, he doesn’t have any money left. They remind him that Irene, his ex-wife, who is staying at a hotel in Potsdam after their divorce, still has the precious ring with the large diamond. Taft reluctantly agrees to their demand, claiming that the ring is in Potsdam, in his wife’s hotel room safe, and he will leave the key under the heater.

The beautiful and elegant Irene Taft is pleased to see her ex-husband at the hotel. While she is in the adjacent room, Taft quickly takes the key to the wall safe and places it under the heater. Then he leaves the hotel, which is soon entered by the elegant gentleman who had been so interested in observing the Taft villa. Room 104 catches his attention because that’s where Mrs. Taft resides. The room is empty, so he enters swiftly, but the sound of water running betrays activity in the adjacent bathroom. The gentleman tries to leave, but when he opens the door, he finds Bobby, the insurance agent, sitting on a chair in the hallway. Damn! He goes back into the room! The phone rings, and the elegant Dr. Sandegg says he will pick up Irene. “Yes, in fifteen minutes!” Irene turns around and freezes in shock as she sees the stranger in her room. The intruder manages to calm her down, and Irene even finds herself intrigued by his elegant audacity. Then there’s a knock on the door. Dr. Sandegg enters. The stranger quickly hides. Irene is furious about Sandegg’s abrupt intrusion. What will happen if he sees the stranger? Feigning anger, she goes into the adjacent room. Sandegg looks through the door seeking forgiveness, but his hands are not idle. He quickly takes the key from under the heater, opens the cabinet, seizes the cassette – but then strong arms grab him, and blows and punches fly through the air. Dr. Sandegg hastily flees from the room he entered with such hopeful anticipation. In the meantime, Irene has called for Bobby’s help against the stranger in her room, but by the time he arrives, the bird has already flown, and Irene is horrified to see the safe opened… A major hotel theft in Potsdam! The divorced wife of the renowned jeweler Taft is the victim!

Feverish work is being done at the police headquarters. Who is the thief? The case becomes even more complicated when news arrives that Taft has been murdered in his villa. The homicide team rushes to the scene! Three shots have killed Taft. But who are the murderers? And where is the genuine diamond ring? With devilish cunning, Irene is lured to her ex-husband’s remote villa. They want to extort from her the confession of where the genuine ring is. A fight for life and death unfolds in the isolated house. The assault team rushes in! However, the criminals fiercely resist the police with rifles and pistols. The savior arrives. A final brief struggle, and Irene is freed, the murderers and robbers are captured.

Once again, a car staggers along a lonely road. The driver has his arm around a beloved woman, and the large diamond on her ring finger gleams. And time and time again, the words echo from lip to lip: A kiss at dawn…

-g.’s review in Film Kurier No. 169 (July 20, 1932)
Which film genre is better suited to kick off the big summer campaign than a crime film? The eyes and ears of moviegoers, who have become somewhat unfamiliar with films during the summer, need to be reengaged. Once the dubious characters of the criminal gang appear on the screen, when the gunfire roars from the speakers and the detectives engage in funny banter, we are immersed in the captivating world of cinema.

This time, the focus is on a clan involved in the illegal handling of diamonds. Their base of operations is a bookstore that occasionally sells Goethe’s works. The story unfolds as the four-leaf clover takes down a snitch at dawn using a rifle (as suggested by the title!). They proceed to eliminate a jewel owner when he no longer responds to their small extortion attempts as desired. Just as things get perilous for a gentleman detective and an elegant lady, a raid commando comes to the rescue. Though the lengthy shootout leaves a whole villa in ruins, fortunately, no one is harmed. Such directorial finesse in these politically charged times!

Rudolph Katscher, Otto, and Egon Eis have provided the screenplay based on a play by Harry Jenkins. They are seasoned specialists in crime sound films, well-versed in the nuances and tricks that keep the audience captivated, even in “side scenes.” Humor, a crucial ingredient in crime thrillers, is skillfully incorporated. However, while the film lacks the intense suspense one might expect, it compensates with a constant crackling of tension and sparks in the details. Alfred Zeißler, the director and production manager, has done an exemplary job with the cast.

Numerous characters grace the screen in this film, each with their own distinctive face, language, and gestures. Karl Ludwig Diehl shines as a detective par excellence—flawless in his deductions, impeccably dressed, and adept at captivating the female audience. In the film, the beautiful Ery Bos, a rising star in the acting world, quickly succumbs to his charms. Among the criminals, we encounter the amusing Hermann Speelmanns, who can display remarkable discipline under tight direction, and Carl Lucas. The role of the leading criminal falls to Theodor Loos, a character capable of much more than depicted in the film. Fritz Odemar portrays a truly sinister figure, while Peter Lorre excels in depicting an alcohol-addicted yet highly dangerous criminal. Genia Nicolajewa completes the quartet.

Kurt Vespermann flits through the film as an insurance agent, omnipresent and flawlessly executing his role. Ernst Behmer also contributes numerous comedic moments. From a technical standpoint, the film adheres to the Babelsberg standard that has become synonymous with top-tier filmmaking. The camera work by Konstantin Tschet and Werner Bohne, along with the sound expertise of Max Kagelmann and Gerhard Goldbaum, is exemplary. W. A. Hermann and Herbert Lippschitz skillfully manage the colors and set design. The premiere audience thoroughly enjoyed the film, demanding repeated appearances by the cast on stage.