At Dawn

The General Died at Dawn

The General Died at Dawn is a 1936 film that tells the story of a mercenary who meets a beautiful girl while trying to keep arms from getting to a vicious warlord in war-torn China. The movie was written by Charles G. Booth and Clifford Odets, and directed by Lewis Milestone.

It stars Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll, Akim Tamiroff, and Dudley Digges. Director Milestone has a cameo role.

The movie was deservedly nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Akim Tamiroff), Best Cinematography and Best Music, Score. There are several scenes in the film that show startling originality at the time. At one point, the camera focuses on a white door knob, and then dissolves to a white billiard ball to connect disparate scenes. In another scene, two characters have a conversation in which they speculate about the fates of other characters in the drama. The answers to their questions appear in screen segments in the corners of the screen, marking an unusual use of split screen to join narrative.

The main character, O'Hara, is based on the real-life adventurer Morris Abraham "Two-Gun" Cohen. During the early 1930's, Cohen ran guns for various warlords in mainland China.


In 1938 an animated spoof version, called The Major Lied Till Dawn, was produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions. Also, a third-season episode of the TV show, M*A*S*H was entitled "The General Flipped at Dawn" (broadcast 9/10/74). In the episode, Harry Morgan appears as Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele, a batty General who is convinced that the 4077th needs to move closer to the front lines, to be near the action. [Morgan joined the cast of M*A*S*H in Season Four as the much-saner Colonel Sherman T. Potter.]

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