Daybreak (1948 film)

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UK release poster
Directed by Compton Bennett
Produced by Sydney Box
Written by Sydney Box
Muriel Box
Starring Eric Portman
Ann Todd
Maxwell Reed
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography Reginald Wyer
Edited by Peter Price
Helga Cranston
Gordon Hales
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date
  • 18 May 1948 (1948-05-18)
Running time
75 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £150,000[1]
Box office £130,000[1]

Daybreak is a 1948 drama - classified by some as 'British Noir' - directed by Compton Bennett and starring Eric Portman, Ann Todd and Maxwell Reed. It is based on a play by Monckton Hoffe. A sombre, bleak film, Daybreak was filmed in 1946, but ran into trouble with the BBFC, resulting in a delay of almost two years before its release. The version finally approved for release excised approximately six minutes of original footage, resulting in some jerky cuts where scenes have been removed and leaving noticeable plot lacunae which are considered to detract somewhat from an otherwise well-regarded film.[2]


The story begins with a hangman breaking down when faced with carrying out the execution of a condemned man. The hangman begins to tell his story to the governor and the majority of the plot is then played out in the form of an extended flashback - although many scenes take place in which the supposed narrator is not actually present.

Eddie (Portman) owns a London barber's shop and leads an apparently humdrum life. However, under an assumed name he has a second identity, known to no-one but his assistant Ron (Bill Owen) – he is in fact one of England's public hangmen, called on periodically to travel to prisons around the country to perform executions.

One evening Eddie goes into his local public house for a drink and a bite to eat and is kind to a stranger who comes in to shelter from the heavy rain. This is the bedraggled Frankie (Todd), an aimless, world-beaten drifter. (As Frankie never says a word about her past, there are implications that she has some kind of shady history, and may even have been a prostitute; it is surmised that some of the deleted footage may have made this more explicit.) The pair fall in love and are soon married and, as Eddie's father has recently died, leaving him the family barge business on the River Thames, he hands over the barber's shop to Ron and assumes control of the business, setting up home with Frankie on one of the barges.

Eddie hires a Scandinavian seaman Olaf (Reed) to work for him, and the arrogant Olaf loses no time in openly flirting with Frankie. Although somewhat attracted to him, she tries her best to deny these feelings and be the loving and dutiful wife. This however is made more difficult by the fact that Eddie is forced to travel to other towns from time to time for two or three days at a time to fulfill his prison-service obligations and as he does not wish to come clean about these he tells Frankie that he must attend important business meetings, leaving her to increasingly struggle to rebuff Olaf's advances. When Eddie is next called away, Frankie begs him to either not go or take her with him, but as neither is an option for Eddie, she is left alone and pleads with elderly bargeman Bill Shackle (Edward Rigby) to stay with her that evening. Shackle is unable to grant her request due to other commitments and Olaf is quick to make himself at home in the cabin and begin drinking.

When a condemned man is given a reprieve Eddie returns unexectedly the same evening and discovers Frankie and Olaf in this compromising situation. A fight ensues between the two men, during which Eddie is knocked overboard and fails to resurface. The police arrive and Olaf is arrested for murder as it is presumed that Eddie's body has been carried away by the tide. In despair, Frankie commits suicide by shooting herself. However, Eddie has managed to swim ashore and takes refuge with Ron.

Olaf is convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Eddie is summoned to carry out the execution, and he at first sees it as an opportunity to avenge Frankie's death. When the time comes however, he is unable to go through with it and confesses his identity to the prison staff. He returns to the barber's shop and when Ron comes to work the next morning he finds Eddie's dangling body and dials nine-nine-nine.



  1. ^ a b Andrew Spicer, Sydney Box Manchester Uni Press 2006 p 210
  2. ^ Daybreak (1948) profile by Cave, Dylan. BFI Screen Online; retrieved 08-08-2010.

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