Daybreak (1948 film)

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][3]

UK release poster
Directed byCompton Bennett
Produced bySydney Box
A Frank Bundy
Written bySydney Box
Muriel Box
Monckton Hoff
Based onplay by Monckton Hoffe
StarringEric Portman
Ann Todd
Maxwell Reed
Music byBenjamin Frankel
CinematographyReginald Wyer
Edited byPeter Price
Helga Cranston
Gordon Hales
Sydney Box Productions
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 18 May 1948 (1948-05-18)
Running time
75 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£130,000[1]


The story begins with a hangman breaking down when faced with carrying out his last execution of a condemned man before retiring. 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), who is waiting for a bus to take her to a new job at a nightclub. Although 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. [Note: It has been 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 Danish 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 fulfil 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.

As a condemned man has been given a reprieve, Eddie returns unexpectedly 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 near Ron and goes there to clean himself up.

Olaf is convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Eddie is summoned to carry out the execution, and 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. When Ron comes to work the next morning, he finds Eddie's dangling body and dials 999 (emergency telephone number).



Ann Todd, Sydney Box and Compton Bennett had just enjoyed a huge success with The Seventh Veil (1945). It was the first film of a new 14-picture quarter-million pound contract between Todd and J. Arthur Rank.[4]

Filming started in February 1946. It was the first notable role of Maxwell Reed who had been in The Company of Youth.

Shooting was difficult with none of the three leads getting along.[5]

Post production was also difficult because of censor objections. Among the scenes altered were a rape scene, gory details of a fight, and a death cell scene.[6]


The film was moderately successful at the British box office but failed to recoup its relatively high cost.[1]

The difficulties with the censor led J. Arthur Rank to refuse to finance a project of Box's, The Killer and the Slain.[7]


  1. Andrew Spicer, Sydney Box Manchester Uni Press 2006 p 210
  2. Daybreak (1948) profile by Cave, Dylan. BFI Screen Online; retrieved 08-08-2010.
  3. "FILM NEWS AND GOSSIP". Truth (3046). Sydney. 6 June 1948. p. 29. Retrieved 4 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  4. By C.A. LEJEUNE. (1946, Mar 17). NOTED IN THE LONDON STUDIOS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. Gillett, Philip (11 May 2017). Forgotten British Film: Value and the Ephemeral in Postwar Cinema. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 11–15. ISBN 9781443891851.
  6. "Film Censors Ban Nude Studies Of Eva Braun". The Mirror. 25 (1361). Western Australia. 19 June 1948. p. 15. Retrieved 10 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  7. "No title". The Argus (31, 788). Melbourne. 20 July 1948. p. 3 (The Argus Woman's Magazine). Retrieved 10 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
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