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I just saw this film on the Fox Movie Channel (DirecTV Satellite, 9 p.m.,
May 12th) and enjoyed it immensely! As a big WW II movie fan, I'm
I hadn't seen it before. Several things struck me about it: Walter
Pidgeon's devil-may-care performance, George Saunder's excellent
of the Gestapo leader, and John Carradine's eminently creepy role as the
Gestapo agent sent to London to track his prey.
Also interesting were the surprisingly eloquent characterizations of Hitler's regime by the characters. Rather than the usual, emotional propaganda-driven exhortations prevalent in war movies at the time, the writing seemed to make an effort to take a higher, more articulate stab at the regime and those who blindly followed it. The writing overall is superb, as is the direction by Fritz Lang. Even the almost overdone ending matches the story perfectly and leaves us wanting more. I'm surprised they didn't make a serial about it throughout the remainder of the war!
This is a classic, classic WW II propaganda piece that was suspensefull, engaging and a joy to watch. If I could get it in ANY format, it would be a permanent fixture of my collection. If you find it, record it!
Man Hunt (1941) is one great classic film. Recently Nominated as 1 of 400 movies to be part of America Film Institutes (AFI) "100 Years 100 Thrills" Americas Most Heart Pounding Movies. I can not say enough about this film starring Walter Pidgeon and Directed by Famed Director Fritz Lange. I first saw this on a independent local television station when I was 10 some 23 years ago and was the begining of a never ending love affair with old movies. I think it was the first time I ever saw anything in black and white and realized this is good stuff. The ending to this Film is one of the Greatest, Most Ingenious, Most Heart-pounding in Film History. The Fact that Man Hunt was never released on Video or put to DVD "up to the present date" is a true Tragedy. People don't know what their missing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Man Hunt is one of Fritz Lang's most satisfying films: with the help of
the superior scenarist Dudley Nichols, he has crafted an action-packed,
humorous, emotionally wrenching, well- paced if not always plausible,
literate and imaginatively photographed thriller. The plot grabs you
immediately: in the summer of 1939 a tweedy British gentleman game
hunter decides that it would be an interesting challenge to see if it
would be possible to shoot Hitler if he wanted to, just for the sport
of it, so he sneaks to the dictator's Bavarian retreat and fixes him in
the sights of his unloaded hunting rifle. After satisfying his
curiosity he makes a snap decision to actually load the weapon and
fire, but just as he is about to pull the trigger a leaf falls on his
gun sight and as he brushes it away, a guard sees his moving arm, jumps
him and captures him. After a beating by Nazi goons, he is presented to
suave bigwig George Sanders (in a matchless performance that goes a
long way toward capturing and holding audience attention in the early
scenes) who tries to convince him to sign a confession stating that he
had intended to assassinate Hitler. When Pidgeon refuses to comply,
Sanders and Co. shove him off a cliff in the middle of the night, but
his fall is broken by a tree branch and he escapes with the Nazis at
his heels. He manages to make his way to a port where he eludes his
pursuers by hiding on board a cargo ship bound for London, with the
help of a young ship mate played winningly by Roddy MacDowall. But the
henchmen, led by the menacing John Carradine, follow him abroad. The
rest of the film involves the cat and mouse action between the hero and
I would be tempted to argue that this is Walter Pidgeon's finest work but I haven't seen everything he's done. Fritz Lang certainly got an uncharacteristically passionate performance out of him, especially in the final scenes. As the prostitute who gets caught up in his intrigues Joan Bennett makes a stronger emotional impact than she had made in films up to that time. Somehow Lang was able to draw out of her an appealing warmth which had escaped her previous directors. Her Cockney accent is perfectly serviceable, especially by contemporary Hollywood standards.
Typical of Lang, the set pieces and the camera-work that takes place within them are stunning, from a spooky and forbidding nocturnal London of narrow streets and wet cobblestones to an extended sequence in the claustrophobic and crowded passageways of the London Underground, with a gorgeous, frenzied, chiaroscuro climax. There are so many superlative visual moments in this film that it's pointless to list them. I can only recommend the film highly to anyone interested in masterful shot compositions. Anyone familiar with Hitchcock's SABOTEUR, made around the same time, will see multiple parallels not only in plot and situation but in an environment bursting with booby traps and evildoers lurking around every corner.
I was only seven years old when I first viewed this film and never forgot it. I have been seeing several of the scenes in my minds eye for the last seventy years or so. The scenes I remembered for so long included the the beginning ones involving Hitler, the part on the London Underground and the finale. Now that Man Hunt is out on DVD, everyone can view and enjoy it. It's even better than I thought with a marvelous cast such as Roddy McDowell who went on to make almost 500 more films. The black and white photography, especially the scenes depicting London at night and in fog are extremely well done. This is the only Fritz Lang film that ever saw. Maybe I should look into his other ones. Another surprise was the main song played as a background theme with the scenes in London. This song "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square," has allows been one of my favorite WWII songs. You can hear as sung by Vera Lynn, by typing in the title in Google and clicking the U-tube location.
Man Hunt (1941)
Offhand the title and idea to this movie sounds a bit routine--a man singlehandedly avoiding authorities and pursuers. Even the extra theme that the Nazis are the bad guys sounded well worn, even it's shot and released during that interesting two year period of WWII before the Americans got involved.
But I watched it because the director, Fritz Lang, is one of the handful of best directors ever.
And it pays off. The clichés are made fresh--even the Nazi types are different than you'd expect. The filming is great, showing the use of shadows and ominous points of view that film noir would take up in the next couple of years. And the plot has a mixture of one man against the world survival and boy meets girl romance.
It's terrific stuff, hardly dated at all. And the cinematography is by one of the stalwarts of the period, Arthur Miller, so it has lots of moving camera and interesting tight compositions.
The main character Alan Thorndike is played by Walter Pidgeon, one of those leading males who hasn't always stood up well over time. The deep voice, nice guy quality he is famous for isn't always matched by a pertinent acting intensity. His physical presence in a film is often a shade unconvincing. Lang might have found a perfect balance here because Thorndike's situation is so harsh, at least at times, and there is often a focus on Pidgeon's face and the innocence it is so good at projecting.
Oddly (and maybe with some political savvy, who knows), Pidgeon is a Canadian playing a Brit, with no attempt at an accent, so this supposedly patriotic movie has a weird falseness in every scene. The reason this might be on purpose is it's carried through all along--the leading woman, Joan Bennet, is a New Jersey girl who has adopted a strong Irish (I think, or Cockney) accent. And the main Nazi is played by upper crust British legend George Sanders (who was born in Russia). And so goes this international plot.
Of course, Lang was an expatriate German Jew working for Hollywood. He was becoming known for his anti-Nazi fervor to the dismay of the right wing Hays Code commission, which we now appreciate fully. Lang's penchant for shooting at night (which goes back to his days in the German film industry) and his ability to make people sinister without actually showing them doing sinister things is partly why this simple movie works. It's also made complicated by the large range of locations used (or invented in the studio), and by the irony of the sweet love affair in the wings in the second half.
You might say it's a propaganda film if you want to use that word loosely. It does at the very end send a message to the viewers, and to Hitler, that the British are out to get him. But really this is a movie about good against evil, about free thinking versus doing what you're told. And about love, completely unfulfilled, but so incipient you feel it and want it.
Yes, see this, if you like movies from the period, or know you like Lang's films. Or if you like film noir, since this is a pre-cursor. Or see it if you appreciate a very well made film with an edgy historical setting.
It's been years since I have seen this movie, but it's one I seem to never have forgotten. I would like to know why TCM or AMC or one of the other movie channels haven't shown it. I keep hoping it will come out on DVD or video. I remember George Saunders being a "great" Nazi agent(great-as far as acting). I also seem to remember a song that was used throughout the movie. If you ever get an opportunity to see this flick, please get the popcorn and soda and run to view.
This film is far superior to most of the tripe that is currently being
shown in the theaters. I am amazed that it has not been released on DVD
or VHS. I am equally amazed that TCM or one of the similar channels has
not shown it in quite a while.
It is a tight thriller that holds its audience even so many years after WWII. The interaction amongst the characters is quite good and the fast pace of the action makes the film a nail biter. In the film the general public is quite oblivious to the danger around them and one person is pitted against a real enemy. While this may appeal to the conspiracy theory audience the reality of the fifth column in pre-war UK lifts the film beyond the recent and current film using those themes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fritz Lang brought with him from Germany the ability to use light and
shadow effectively and it certainly shows in this taut drama. When Joan
Bennett enters her apartment for the last time, she flicks on the light
and sees three strange men in the corner, waiting for her. The two men
on the sides act as bookends for the boss in the middle, George
Sanders, who stands in silhouette except for the glint of his monocle.
It's a shocking moment.
The story has Walter Pidgeon as an aristocratic big game hunter visiting Germany just before the war. He makes what he calls "a sporting stalk" and zeroes in with his high-powered rifle and scope on Adolf Hitler, resting on a balcony 500 yards away. He pulls the trigger on an empty chamber. The sporting stalk is now complete. But as he prepares to leave, Pidgeon has second thoughts, repositions himself, and inexplicably inserts a round into the chamber.
He's captured by German guards before he can fire the rifle and is beaten before managing to escape. Roddy MacDowell, as a cabin boy, stows him on a Danish ship that brings him to England.
Thereafter it gets a little complicated. The Germans still have Pidgeon's passport and identification and they slip a spy into England disguised as Pidgeon. At least I think the fellow is a spy. It was never clear to me why he was sent in. Nor was it clear to me why it was so necessary for this cabal of German miscreants in England to murder Walter Pidgeon.
Joan Bennett is conventionally pretty. Her features are even. And she does her best at a working-class London accent but fails. (George Sanders' German is perfectly acceptable.) But she has a function in the plot. She gets swept up in Pidgeon's predicament and gets him out of some tight spots, paying for it later. And she teaches the upper-class Pidgeon how to eat fish and chips with his fingers. Too bad they weren't at the Edinburgh Castle on Geary in San Francisco. Their fish and chips are better than any I've had in England.
The story is confusing at times but still chilling with its urban paranoia and its setting of dark alleys and empty underground stations.
The ending has Pidgeon parachuting into Germany armed with a new precision rifle and fully aware of his intention now to kill the Fuhrer. In 1941, that was wish fulfillment on a large scale.
Fritz Lang loved to leave one's heart in one's throat with his story
about how, in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler ordered him for a meeting. The
Fuhrer had seen Metropolis and wanted Lang to be an official Reich
filmmaker. Lang said, "Oh well yeah sure of course," and then fled the
country as fast as he could, not even stopping to withdraw his bank
account. In Hollywood soon after, Lang had a little window to clear the
air with this dramatic thriller.
I know it seems like the plot is best withheld once you read as far as that a British hunter happens to all the sudden have Hitler in his crosshairs. I won't tell you anything more about that situation. But I will say the film is episodic. There is a chapter involving Roddy McDowell aiding and abetting, and another concerning a cockney streetwalker played by Lang regular Joan Bennett who very quickly falls in love with him, although the context and situation allow a more sensible reason for there to be an easy token love subplot than usual. The hero is played by Walter Pidgeon, a refreshing actor of the studio era owing to his guilelessness, his lack of any affectation, though it grows bothersome that he appears as a well-to-do Englishman with an inexplicable American accent.
The film's lasting issues crop up simply because of the fact that it was 1941. There are several moments where you will be absorbed in Fritz Lang's trademark approach wherein points on social evils and multi-faceted subtext sneak up on you, but other moments don the guise of a zealous, conventional pro-war film, but luckily, that assault on the Lang's ominous omniscience mostly ushers in during the final few minutes. For the most part, this underdog war picture, which the Hays Office claimed in the time and place's atmosphere which avoided entangled alliances and controlled any cultural exchange, showed all Germans as evil as opposed to other films showing both good non-Nazi Germans as well as evil National Socialists, is a very carefully laid, continuously ambushing and expertly played bit of watchful waiting.
Fritz Lang's Man Hunt is a remarkable achievement in visual suspense
and editing. Lang sustains tension throughout by creating a series of
plausible hurdles for the protagonist to deal with giving the viewer
little time to catch their breath as he is hunted by the Gestapo from
Germany to London.
British officer and renowned big game hunter Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon)literally sets his rifle's sight on Hitler at Berchtesgarten but is foiled by security then tortured by the Gestapo to sign a confession. When he refuses they throw him off of a cliff to cover-up but his fall is broken and he manages to escape back to England on a tramp steamer where Nazi agents (England and Germany were not at war at the moment)continue to pursue him. Enlisting the assistance of a cockney streetwalker (Joan Bennett) he eludes their grasp until cornered in a cave.
Fritz Lang's complete command of the medium in Man Hunt is a master class in film-making. Timing, atmosphere, mise en scene, use of sound and editing deftly create a realistic world that morphs into Kafkaesque nightmare of unrelenting tension and suspense.
Pidgeon's Thorndike has a clumsy James Bond like quality and charm about him as he parries with head nemesis George Sanders Gestapo chief. Sanders is a fascinating villain displaying a fluent bi-lingual authority (another testament to Lang's superb ability at visual story telling) checkmating Thorndike continuously.
Within in this suspenseful framework Lang manages to comment on the English class system, hunting ethics, the enemy within and the need for US involvement in fighting Fascism without missing a beat. The score does some arm twisting but doesn't interfere too much with Lang's magnificent construction and follow through. Man Hunt is precision suspense film making at its best.
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