Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Promise at Dawn"

Cleveland Press February 27, 1971

In "Promise At Dawn" Melina Mercouri is cast as a Russian Auntie Mame combined with the stage mother of "Gypsy."

Based on Romain Gary's sentimental tribute to his mother, "Promise at Dawn" has been produced, written and directed by Jules Dassin as a vehicle for his actress wife, Miss Mercouri.

THE SENTIMENT and warmth of Gary's memoir is often overcome by Dassin's rather heavy-handed and imprecise direction. Where the story of a doting mother was filtered through the hazy and nostalgic memory of her son, the film tends more to be told from the viewpoint of the mother.

Miss Mercouri portrays a bit player in silent films in Russia whose life centers around her nine-year-old son. The boy is the illegitimate child of a major Russian actor. The mother has dreams of greatness for her boy- he will be the world's greatest violinist (but he screeches), the world's foremost ballet dancer (he's awkward). A diplomat, a writer, a great statesman- all these are in his future, but she is ecstatic when he wins a table tennis tournament.

FRANCE ALSO FIGURES in her dreams and she heads that way by joining an acting troupe going to Poland. The troupe moves on and she tries to make a living as a seamstress, succeeds only after she passes herself off as the Polish representative of a Paris designer.

The business fails when her scheme is exposed and that plus the first exposure of her son to anti-Semitism sends them on their way to the south of France. There she ekes out a living telling fortunes, driving cabs, selling phony Russian jewelry and dog walking.

World War II comes along and the fiercely proud mother sees her son off to war, sure that he will win it himself and through the war years her weekly letters sustain him.

DASSIN HAS MOUNTED "Promise At Dawn" as a showcase for his wife and the actress milks every laugh and every tear possible from the role. It is a bravura performance, but not one to fit in with a balanced movie.

The tenderness of the mother-son relationship i s not allowed to grow out of the material but is instead suggested by tricks-notably a couple of slow motion sequences showing the pair skipping together. And if you are uncertain who her enemies are, Dassin reminds you by photographing them grotesquely.

The actress Despo, as Miss Mercouri's friend and servant, comes closest to holding her own among other performers in this picture. Francois Raffoulas the young Romain smiles unendingly and Assaf Dayan as Romain at 25 is rather overly stolid. Didier Haudepin as the 15-year-old boy seems to be of flesh and blood.