Summer of Forgotten Horror – Before Dawn (1933)

Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 4: Before Dawn (1933)
Cast:     Warner Oland as Dr. Paul Cornelius (Werewolf of London, Charlie Chain in Shanghai)
Stuart Erwin as Dwight Wilson (The Stu Erwin Show)
Dorothy Wilson as Patricia (The Last Days of Pompeii)

Before Dawn posterBased on a story by Edgar Wallace (King Kong)
Screenplay by Garrett Fort (Dracula’s Daughter), Ralph Block & Marion Dix
Directed by Irving Pichel (The Most Dangerous Game, Destination Moon)

Plot: Dr. Paul Cornelius is present as thief Joe Valerie is near death in a hospital. Valerie stole a million dollars years earlier and offers to tell the doctor its location in exchange for death to end the pain. Later, an old woman hears of Valerie’s death and rejoices as it means she is finally free. She had promised Valerie to watch the money and has been housebound ever since. However, just as she climbs the stairs to get the gold, she see Valerie’s face and falls to her death. Meanwhile, police detective Dwight Wilson meets clairvoyant Patricia and soon enlists her help to solve the murder of the old woman, just as Dr. Cornelius’ evil plot begins to unfold.

Personal Thoughts: This flick is definitely more mystery and thriller than horror but the creepy atmosphere of the old dark ghost adds to the fun. Having been a longtime Warner Oland fan, it’s always entertaining to watch him play a more sinister role, vastly different from his Charlie Chan films. While the rest of the cast is greatly unrecognizable, all the usual elements are there. Here, instead of a reporter it’s a policeman who is falling for the young woman, who is a clairvoyant, a popular theme of the day. There are secret passages, with a unique twist, and all of the standard bumps in the night. But, it’s all well done and definitely worth an hour of your time. Oland’s presence elevates this film from obscurity.

Oland 2Trivia: A Pre-Code film that really doesn’t push the limits too much. The closest might be a couple deaths in the walls but even those are pretty tame.


  • Never released commercially, it can be found sometimes through various sources. It is currently available for rent or purchase on YouTube. The film print available is generally good and worth adding to your collection.
  • Before Dawn shows up from time-to-time on Turner Classic Movies.

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