Hollywood's first reaction to the United States' entry into World War II usually took one of two forms. In the Pacific Theater the movie typically chronicled a valiant, but doomed, defense. Wake Island and Bataan were popular movies of early defeat. When Hollywood turned its attention to the European Theater its early movies celebrated indigenous resistance against Nazism by the intrepid citizens of nations like Czechoslovakia, or, in the case of COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN, Norway.
Paul Muni stars as Eric Toresen, a soft-spoken, pacifistic civil servant whose initial response to the German occupation of the small town he lives in is rather detached. "We civilians," he explains, haven't a right to interfere and oppose the military occupation. "This is not exactly our line." Of course, the occupiers are busy rounding up suspected subversives, imposing their doctrine in the local schools, and confiscating personal property for use in the Fatherland. Before long Toresen realizes that `we must learn from them to become gangsters and thugs.' When Toresen discovers a military airfield being built nearby, he plans to sail to England and organize a commando force to destroy it before it becomes operational.
Muni gives a typically good, understated performance as a gentle man caught in vicious times. Although it contains a quisling or two, COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN fulfills its purpose - explaining to Americans why we fight and generally ennobling the heroic freedom fighters in Nazi occupied Europe. A strong recommendation for this early entry in World War II movies.