Man Hunt (Fritz Lang, 1941) – At first glance Man Hunt is just another 1940’s political noir thriller, but it is a call to arms aimed at famous director Fritz Lang’s adopted country well before they entered the most infamous war of the modern age.
Quite literally opening with what could have been an epic shot heard around the world, we get celebrated hunter and sportsman Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) drawing a “sporting” bead on none other the Adolf Hitler only to quickly find himself in the custody of the Gestapo and the sinister Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders). Thorndike tries to convince his captors that he was simply going about a routine game or exercise, but they are having none of it and he’s forced to escape at his earliest opportunity. Even as he returns to London he finds himself as a wanted man not knowing where to turn as a gang of ruthless Nazi’s have tracked him this far and the only friend he has is a random love struck girl (Joan Bennett) that’s very lonely and will do anything to help him.
A unique piece of cinema, this was made while Lang was struggling under the studio system, and he still manages to break through here and tell a story that attracted the attention of the US government. It was anything but neutral and painted the German people (specifically the Nazis) in what was then, an unexpectedly harsh tone.
It’s not a perfect film, or one of Lang’s best, but it this was the first time in the studio system that Lang got to spread his wings and tell a story his way. There’s a freedom of expression here that other films from this part of his career lacked. There are extended sequences that take place exclusively in German and starting off the film with an attempted assassination of a political leader was unheard of the time. It’s just as unnerving today.
While it amps up the tension quite well, the dialogue isn’t necessarily the very best, and moments do feel a little clunky, often trying to be harsh but coming across as a little too pointed and forced to feel genuine. Nothing takes us out of the moment, but you’re left scratching your head every once in a while. Some awkward moments are married with some stunning photography, as the streets of London are made to look beautifully murky as the fog rolls in from the Thames. A hard movie that plays better with the benefit of time, it works thanks to a solid leading man performance.
Canada’s own Walter Pidgeon brings a lot of swagger and confidence to the square-jawed, proper English. George Sanders is sufficiently creepy as the Gestapo button man mercilessly pursuing our hero across Europe. The weakest link is Bennett, trying a bit too hard to force a cockney accent but she’s still a decent movie heroine considering when the film was made.
Interesting both historically and cinematically, Man Hunt is a decent little film noir that translates nicely to Blu-Ray. A solid restoration with good picture and sound, the special features on this Blu-Ray include an isolated score track, a feature length audio commentary track from author Patrick McGilligan, a look at the making of Man Hunt and the original theatrical trailer. (Dave Voigt)