Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols
Based on a story by: Geoffrey Household
Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall
Running Time: 102 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
I haven’t seen a Fritz Lang film I haven’t liked, in fact I’ve flat out loved most of them, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to choose to review this Signal One re-release of his war time thriller Man Hunt. A few years into his career in the US after leaving his home country of Germany, the film is a blatant indictment of Hitler’s actions there during the early years of WWII.
The film opens in bold fashion by following our hero Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) as he creeps up on a secret military compound with a sniper rifle in hand, taking aim at Hitler himself. With his first ‘shot’ we realise he hasn’t loaded the rifle, but after he loads a bullet for the second attempt, he’s seen and jumped on a fraction of a second before pulling the trigger. He’s captured, beaten and taken to Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), who demands that Thorndike sign a confession stating he was sent by the British government to kill Hitler (which would spark war – the film is set just before WWII). Thorndike refuses, claiming he was acting alone and didn’t intend to kill the führer. He only wanted to prove he’d be able to do it, as he’s a master game hunter, so famous in his field that Quive-Smith was already aware of his name. With Thorndike’s refusal to sign the document, the Major is forced to throw him off a cliff, faking a suicide. Thorndike survives though and makes a perilous journey back to England. Even when he makes it, the Germans are hot on his trail though, intent on getting him to sign the false confession before killing him. Along the way, whilst he keeps a low profile, Thorndike enlists the help of a young cockney woman named Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) who takes a shine to him.
I had almost the opposite reaction to Man Hunt as I did to Kiss of Death, which I also reviewed today. With the latter, some early scenes made me worried that the film wouldn’t be to my tastes, but it soon grew on me, whereas this opened by catering exactly to my tastes, before stumbling a bit as it went on. I still enjoyed the film, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it could have been better.
In terms of what I liked about the film, Lang’s handling of style and mis-en-scene is as impressive as ever. The opening shot, a slow crane push through some woodland, instantly demonstrates the director’s knack for impressionistic visuals that make the most of studio-bound sets. The shot is rich with texture and depth, creating a strong atmosphere in mere seconds. Elsewhere the film looks great too, with some interesting camera perspectives on display, plenty of fog and mist creating mood as well as a great use of light and shadow. The film is largely quite exciting too.
However, the pace doesn’t remain as rapid as it should. The romantic subplot between Thorndike and Stokes is the main reason for this. Whenever time is spent developing their relationship, the film lags and stumbles. It feels dated in how Thorndike treats Stokes and clunkily shoe-horned in. Bennett’s God-awful cockney accent doesn’t help matters either. This means the mid-section of the film feels a bit hit and miss, but luckily the climax makes up for things, with an unexpected element of tragedy thrown into the mix of an otherwise quite light and fun affair. A patriotic coda to this smacks of war-time propaganda, but the era in which it was made and the fact the director was German and had witnessed Nazi Germany first hand make this easier to digest.
All in all, it’s an entertaining war-time thriller that’s atmospherically mounted by Lang. The added romantic subplot keeps it from rising to the top unfortunately, so it’s not amongst the director’s greatest work, but it’s worth watching nonetheless.
Man Hunt is out now on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK, released by Signal One Entertainment. I watched the Blu-Ray version and the transfer is great, with plenty of detail and no visible damage.
You get plenty of special features too:
– The Biggest Game: Jan-Christopher Horak on Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt And Hollywood’s Anti-Nazi Films (21 Mins)
– The Woman Is Dangerous: Vanessa Wanger Hope On Joan Bennett, Walter Wanger And Fritz Lang (27 Mins)
– Commentary by author Patrick McGilligan
– Rogue Mate: The Making of Man Hunt
– Artwork & Stills Gallery
– Original Theatrical Trailer
The interviews, making of and commentary are all excellent, offering plenty of insight into the film’s context, production and reception.