British hunter Thorndike vacationing in Bavaria has Hitler in his gun sight. He is captured, beaten, left for dead, and escapes back to London where he is hounded by German agents and aided by a young woman.
Based on the story "Mob Rule" by Norman Krasna. Joe Wilson and Katherine Grant are in love, but he doesn't have enough money for them to get married. So Katherine moves across the country to make money. But things go disastrously wrong for Joe when he stops in a small town and is mistaken for a wanted murderer. Through the course of the movie, Fritz Lang shows us how a decent and once civilized man can become a ruthless and bitter man.Written by
Andre'a M. Thompson <email@example.com>
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. See more »
At end of movie when Spencer Tracy is standing in front of judge, the wide shot shows nothing above his head but when he shares the shot with Sylvia Sydney the boom mic is shown just above their heads. See more »
[after several witnesses had lied on the stand]
I wonder if I haven't been calling the defense witnesses by mistake.
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Powerful, and an insight into the great Fritz Lang's movies
A film that is about exceptions and is not quite exceptional by itself, though it's really good, and really interesting at every turn. And if you find the DVD that has the Bogdanovich commentary, that's actually eye opening just for all the Fritz Lang portions where he comments on it (from interviews in 1965).
It should be noted that a lynching is any killing by a mob outside the law. The burning here seems to qualify (though there is no hanging). The culpability of everyone in the mob makes the courtroom case a large affair, the central event.
Lang is an "important" director, a great director for sure even if for just a handful of actually great films (more than most directors). Like "Metropolis" and "M" in Germany, and "Scarlet Street" and "The Big Heat" in the U.S. This is his first Hollywood film, and an oddity for MGM (it was more suited to Warner Bros.). It stars Spencer Tracy, which is probably a slight mistake because he can play the nice guy (for the first part of the movie) but not as well the truly angry man (for most of the movie).
The theme here is important in a lot of ways. It is about the mob killings of anyone, including
Blacks, though that isn't at all introduced here (and that's to Hollywood's predictable shame, I think). But it's also about the growing "lynching" mobs of Jews and others in Germany, which Lang had to flee (his mother was Jewish, though was converted to Catholicism). And to how ordinary people can become complicit in revenge and unjust violence.
I watched this not only for Lang, whom I admire, but also the reknowned cinematographer Joe Ruttenberg, who has such a tightly packed sense of framing, every scene has no waste. There is no fancy moving camera and little truly expressionist tilting or Germanic excess, though it's continually dramatic with layers of space and objects as it procedes. There are some special effects toward the end when Tracy is hallucinating (this gives nothing away) and the psychological impact here is compelling...and makes you wish there was more of it. Bogdanovich, for some reason, makes no mention of him at all.
I said the movie is not exceptional and this is in the more normal sense of story, development, acting. It is certainly a really good film. It has courtroom scenes that are solid, it has behind the scenes interactions that bolster the individual drama of Tracy and his fiancé, Katherine, played by Sylvia Sydney, who is wonderfully sympathetic. It's important, in a way, for being an early example (possibly the earliest?) of using on-the-scene footage revealing the facts of a crime. (A news photographer happened to be filming the riot, and his footage acted the same way movies and videos have more recently in evidence for crimes.)
The thing that Lang adds here really nicely is the underlying romantic drama. Here it twists around the misuse of the word, memento (and momentum)...for which you'll have to see the movie to find out. And it ends with a predictable personal and narrative twist.
With the new museum devoted to lynchings in the South, this movie has a new, subtle significance. Tolerate the courtroom stuff and get into the really dramatic parts, which are great filming.
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