In the middle of World War II, Nazi Capt. Gemmler (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) is in need of a powerful chemical formula to improve the energy output of ordinary gasoline. The Dawn Express (aka Dawn Express and ‘Nazi Spy Ring (working title)) is a 1942 American film directed by Albert Herman. The film stars Michael Whalen, Anne Nagel, William Bakewell and Constance Worth.
In the middle of World War II, Nazi Capt. Gemmler (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) is in need of a powerful chemical formula to improve the energy output of ordinary gasoline. In his quest for this formula he finds two individuals that are of use: the chemist and playboy Tom Fielding (William Bakewell) and his co-worker, Robert Norton (Michael Whalen), who is engaged to Tom’s sister Nancy (Anne Nagel). They are already involved in such a project for another employer. Using his secret agents, Gemmler kidnaps them.
The unsuspecting Tom goes to the nearby Alpine-style tavern one night and meets a Polish refugee named Linda Pavlo (Constance Worth). They strike up a conversation, and the following morning Tom is late for work. Robert tells him to stay away from unknown women he meets at the bar by chance like that – nothing good will come out of it. The president of the chemical company where they work, Franklyn Prescott (C. Montague Shaw), gets a visit from a government agent, James Curtis (Jack Mulhall), and is told that there has been a double murder in another chemical plant. Prescott is not worried, but refers to his security plan: the plant is only working on one half of the precious formula, while another plant on the East Coast is working on the other half. Curtis breaks the news to Prescott that the East Coast plant has been compromised and sabotaged by one of its own chemists (George Pembroke) who stole half of the formula, now identified as working for the Nazis under the name of Karl Schmidt.
In the night, when Tom and Robert return to the same tavern as the night before, Curtis’ agents follow them there. Tom meets Linda again, and since she is actually a Nazi agent he is lured into a room where Gemmler is waiting. Gemmler threatens to hurt both Tom’s mother and his sister Nancy if they do not play along and give him the formula. When Tom leaves the tavern that night, he is again followed by one of Curtis’ agents, but one of Gemmler’s spies murders the agent.
The following day Prescott and Curtis talk to Robert, explaining their theory that Tom, in an act of treason, has murdered the agent. Robert does not buy it, claiming Tom is innocent. What none of them are aware of is that Tom’s sister Nancy is eavesdropping on their conversation. After Prescott and Curtis has left, Tom and Robert talk about what’s going on; later that night Tom meets once more with Linda at the bar. This time she offers him $100,000 in exchange for the formula.
After Tom’s meeting with Linda, he, Robert and Nancy team up to try to frame the Nazi spies and get rid of them once and for all. Tom goes to the chemical plant to retrieve the formula, and gives it tor Robert. He in turn brings the formula to his meeting with Linda and is escorted to Gemmler’s office. Suddenly, Tom appears at Gemmler’s office and starts arguing over the payment. This results in Gemmler withholding payment entirely. Robert is knocked out cold by Gemmler’s goons. The spies bring Tom with them to the airport, where Gemmler’s contact, Karl Schmidt, is about to arrive.
The government agents have followed Tom and his party, but are too late to catch Gemmler before he leaves for the airport. They do, however, arrest Linda and a few other spies lingering at Gemmler’s office. At the airport, Gemmler forces Tom into the aircraft and it takes off. Schmidt decides to test the formula while they are in mid air. Tom, who knows that the future of his country is at stake, makes a deliberate mistake in mixing the chemical ingredients. The aircraft explodes, leaving no survivors, with Tom sacrificing himself to prevent the formula from reaching its destination.
- Michael Whalen as Robert Norton
- Anne Nagel as Nancy Fielding
- William Bakewell as Tom Fielding
- Constance Worth as Linda Pavlo
- Hans Heinrich von Twardowski as Capt. Gemmler
- Jack Mulhall as Chief Agent James Curtis
- George Pembroke as Prof. Karl Schmidt
- Kenneth Harlan as Agent Brown
- Robert Frazer as John Oliver
- Hans von Morhart as Heinrich, kidnapper
- Michael Vallon as Argus, blind spy (credited as Michael Vallin)
- Willy Castello as Otto – Tavern spy
- C. Montague Shaw as Franklyn Prescott (Uncredited)
Principal photography on The Dawn Express with the working title of Nazi Sky Ring, began January 30, 1942 at Sunset Studio. Stock footage of a Douglas DST was used. The Dawn Express was typical of the films produced early in World War II that concentrated on enemy espionage. Often rushed into production as B films. the plot was usually grafted onto mystery or western films.
The Dawn Express was not critically reviewed as the film was a low budget production that other than featuring the steady and reliable Nagel, who appeared in a bevy of “light leading roles” during this period, had little to offer.