AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Sun Sets at Dawn
Director: Paul H. Sloane (Dir)
Release Date:   1951
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 13 Jan 1951
Production Date:   23 Jan-early Feb 1950 at General Services Studios
Duration (in mins):   71-72
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Cast: Introducing Sally Parr (The girl)  
  Introducing Philip Shawn (The boy [Bill])  
    Walter Reed (The chaplain)  
    Lee Fredericks (Blackie)  
    Houseley Stevenson (Pops)  
    Howard St. John (The warden)  
    Louise Lorimer (The warden's wife)  
    Raymond Bramley (The deputy warden)  
    Charles Meredith (A. P.)  
    Jack Raynolds (E. P.)  
    King Donovan (National News Service)  
    Charles Arnt (Globe Express)  
    Sam Edwards (Herald [cub reporter])  
    Percy Helton (Feature Syndicate)  
    Perry Ivans (Forty-Six)  

Summary: Despite attempts to obtain clemency by both the prison warden and convicted murderer Bill’s girlfriend, the young man is scheduled to be executed in an electric chair. Only hours before the scheduled electrocution, the despondent girl waits in the warden’s office for one last chance to see her boyfriend, but Bill refuses the visit, not wanting to cause the girl any more pain. In his cell, Bill cannot finish a prayer for mercy with the chaplain because he claims he is not guilty of any sin. He then tells the chaplain that he has always been an observer of life and never been chosen for any great honor. When he joined the Army hoping to become a hero, he was assigned a desk job. He later became a reporter, but was given only gossip column assignments. While Bill continues to talk about his past failures, the lights in the cell flicker as technicians test the new electric chair. At Pops’ place, the nearby diner, motel and post office, restless news reporters discuss how they will cover the state’s first electrocution as they wait for a bus to the prison. The reporters all agree that the name of the alleged criminal will quickly be forgotten, despite the importance of the event. One reporter phones his home office to report his story lead, “always on the grim gray dawn of an execution, it seems as if instead of rising, the sun sets.” When a cub reporter from the Herald asks the others for advice on how to structure his story, they reconstruct the murder for him: Bill is found at the scene of the crime with the murder weapon in his hand and the victim, mob leader Tim Farrel, lying dead on the floor with six shots in him. Although the cub reporter is confused about whether Bill is guilty or innocent, an older reporter advises him not to judge the condemned man and just report the news. Meanwhile at the prison, Bill decides he would like to tell the chaplain the truth about the murder as a “rehearsal for God:” Bill is a frustrated reporter relegated to gossip column assignments, when he decides to single handedly break a mob racket run by Farrel. He manages to be hired as an errand boy for Farrel and hopes to write a story that would destroy the mob. Bill then states that on the day of the murder he was at Farrel’s apartment, and heard six shots and witnessed Farrel dying. Bill then says that he was knocked out before he could discover the identity of the murderer. When he came to, the police found him with the murder weapon in his hand. Bill insists he is innocent and the chaplain tells Bill that he believes him. Back at Pops’s place, one reporter sees an old wanted poster for gangster “Parrot” Ferruco, whose trademark was murdering with six shots. The reporter comments that he might assume Parrot killed Farrel, but Parrot was found dead three years ago. Pops remembers that when he put up the poster three years ago, the prison postal driver, an inmate named “Forty-Six,” claimed that Parrot had framed him. Soon after, when Forty-Six arrives to pick up the mail, a reporter asks him about Parrot, but Forty-Six refuses to reply. When three armed men from Crow Line trucking company enter the store, Pops tells to a reporter that many Crow Line trucks have been hijacked by the mob. Back at the prison, the chaplain, upon Bill’s request, encourages the girl to remember the good times she shared with Bill. The girl then forces herself to be strong for him. After the reporters are seated in the observers’ chairs, Bill is brought into the execution room and strapped to the chair. At the same time, Pops discusses the execution with Crow Line owner Blackie, but Blackie seems disinterested. Visibly agitated by Blackie’s presence, Forty-Six then grabs Parrot’s picture and tries to convince police officers sitting nearby that Blackie is actually Parrot, as he has Parrot’s mannerisms and may have had surgery to change his identity. When the police do not believe him, Forty-Six shows the picture to Blackie, who realizes that Forty-Six recognizes him and shoots him. The police then arrest Blackie and drive him to the prison, where his fingerprints are taken. Meanwhile, the execution has been postponed because the chair malfunctioned. Only minutes before the execution is again scheduled to take place, the warden identifies the prints as Parrot’s. Blackie then admits that he is Parrot and killed Farrel for hijacking his trucks. The warden immediately shuts down the electricity for the entire building, hoping that he has beat his deputy to turning on the chair. Soon after, the deputy returns to the warden’s office and tells him that Bill is fine. Upon hearing the good news, the chaplain remarks that God “always listens,” and escorts Bill to where the girl is waiting for him.  

Production Company: Holiday Films, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Eagle-Lion Films, Inc. (Pathé Industries, Inc.)
Director: Paul H. Sloane (Dir)
  William McGarry (Asst dir)
  Jack Murphy (Asst dir)
Producer: Helen H. Rathvon (Prod)
  Paul H. Sloane (Prod)
Writer: Paul H. Sloane (Wrt)
Photography: Lionel Lindon (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: William Flannery (Art dir)
Film Editor: Sherman Todd (Film ed)
Set Decoration: George Sawley (Set dec)
Costumes: Robert Martien (Ward)
Music: Leith Stevens (Mus)
Sound: William Lynch (Sd)
Make Up: Webb Phillips (Makeup)
  Marie Clark (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Martin Eisenberg (Prod mgr)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Holiday Films, Inc. 1/7/1950 dd/mm/yyyy LP408

Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Religious
Subjects (Major): Electric chair
  False arrests
Subjects (Minor): Chaplains
  Impersonation and imposture
  Postal workers
  Prison wardens

Note: The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "The story and characters you are about to see are fictional but what happens to the boy in this picture actually happened to another boy in real life. It was widely reported by the newspapers---perhaps you will remember." The closing onscreen credits differ in order from the opening credits. A 6 Dec 1949 Var news item stated that production company Holiday Films was created by producers Paul H. Sloane and Helen H. Rathvon for production of the film.
       According to a 3 Nov 1949 HR news item, The Sun Sets at Dawn marked a return to directing for Sloane, who had been absent from filmmaking since directing Geronimo for Paramount in 1939 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). A 23 Nov 1949 LAEx news item stated that the film marked the producing debut for Rathvon and the motion picture debut for actors Sally Parr and Philip Shawn.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   11 Nov 1950.   
Daily Variety   3 Nov 1950.   
The Exhibitor   22 Nov 50   p. 2669.
Film Daily   8 Nov 1950.   
Hollywood Reporter   3 Nov 1949.   
Hollywood Reporter   14 Nov 1949.   
Hollywood Reporter   3 Nov 1950.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jan 1950   p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Jan 1950   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Feb 1950   p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jan 1951   p. 4.
Los Angeles Examiner   23 Nov 1949.   
New York Times   13 Jan 51   p. 11.
Variety   6 Dec 1949.   
Variety   8 Nov 1950.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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