BluRay/DVD Reviews

MAN HUNT

By • May 28th, 2009 •

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For no particular reason at all (or maybe because VALKYRIE was being made and Fox hoped to piggy-back off the success of that Bryan Singer/Tom Cruise flick), the studio has seen fit to release, all by its lonesome, this welcome Fritz Lang noirishness from the war years.

Historian Patrick McGilligan, in a wavering voice, makes it clear how much more powerful the film was for audiences back in ’41, considering a) that we were teetering on entering the war but there was a neutrality agreement in effect which prevented us from getting vocal about England’s plight, and that’s just what this film chose to defy the agreement and do, and b) that director Lang had not too many years before beat a hasty path out of Germany when Hitler and Goebels ‘invited’ him to become deeply enmeshed in their film industry, leaving his Nazi-sympathizing wife behind, and that this was his first opportunity to express on film his disdain for Hitler and his zombie legions, which he does to the hilt. The opening several minutes, even today, without the immediacy of the historical tension, is amazing silent filmmaking of the kind he’d been forced to partially abandon in 1930 It’s also one of the greatest opening concepts in film history.

It’s also a rehash of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, played out in a form that starts and ends powerfully, but sags in the middle. And that’s the paradox of the film, and of this review. Because the film is riddled with problems – serious, distracting problems – both in logic and form, and yet I have to recommend it for its virtues.

After the film’s first 35 minutes, it begins to crumble. Walter Pidgeon seems awkward and counter-intuitive for the world class hunter he is supposed to be playing. He comes across as careless, phlegmatic, and oafish, though his voice is a constant delight (he even says a few lines he will partially re-iterate in FORBIDDEN PLANET). Perhaps…just perhaps…he’s meant to be these things as a reflection of an England unaware of just how bad the Nazi threat really is, but I can’t quite buy it (and McGilligan never mentions it as a rationale for the film’s flaws). In addition to Pidgeon’s off-putting character weaknesses, the Joan Bennett subplot is not smoothly worked out. She’s really cute, and she’s a good thesp (who Lang used again, and again), but some of her choices seem stupid, and their budding romance definitely slows the film down. Act two is mainly about Pidgeon being hunted down on his own turf by Nazi sympathizers – the tables turned on the hunter – a good idea, but the pace is just too ambling, and before each trap he falls into, he confidently claims to whomever he’s with that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Even a young boy – played by Roddy McDowall – warns him of danger but he blows it off, and sure enough… Yeah, the sets are lovely, the spatial design is very Langian, but the editing, and Pidgeon, are just utterly wrong for the project.

Now George Sanders…that’s something else again. Wonderfully spouting German in Act one, threatening and gloating in Act three, how unfortunate he’s not around to toughen up the weak middle. The beginning, and the ending, are extremely satisfying, but to describe them would be spoiler-city. Take my word for it. Then, after the denouement, there’s an absurd coda-montage, with Pidgeon staring out at us, bug-eyed? It hurts as our farewell imagery. Wonder if Lang approved?

McGilligan praises Richard Day’s art direction during the opening sequence, but I’ll have to disagree with him on that one. The woods above Berchtesgaden look like something out of DIE NIBELUNGEN, bright, finicky and fake. It’s the one false note in this great opening. Later on, the foggy London streets are quite nice. And of course, later still, (a film or two later), the look of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, provided by Day (also with Pidgeon and McDowall, and filmed by Miller) was just perfect.

There was a made-for-tv remake of MAN HUNT by the way, called ROGUE MALE (1976), which was the title of the original novel. It starred Peter O’Toole, was directed by Clive Donner, adapted by Frederic Raphael, and featured Alastair Sim and Harold Pinter. Wouldn’t that have made a nice supplement? As it is, the commentary track and the making-of doc are nicely informative, and this one gets better the more you know about it.

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One Response »

  1. Despite its flaws, the film still entertains-even with the tacked on ending Lang had nothing to do with. Worth seeing!!!

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