Monday, January 25, 2010

Man Hunt

Man Hunt (1941) is a thriller drama directed by Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett. It is based on the 1939 novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household.

On July 29, 1939, renowned British big game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) slips through the forest undetected near Adolf Hitler's residence near Berchtesgaden. Getting the dictator in his telescopic sight, he pulls the trigger on his unloaded rifle and gives a wave to Hitler. Throndike ponders a moment, then inserts a live round in the chamber, but is discovered at the last second by a guard who tackles him and the shot fires but does not strike Hitler.

After being beaten up, Thorndike is taken to Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders). Quive-Smith is also a devoted hunter and an admirer of Thorndike. Thorndike explains that the purpose of the exercise was a "sporting stalk", not to kill, but just for the thrill of going after the biggest game of all.

Quive-Smith is not persuaded and insists Thorndike sign a confession stating that he was in fact trying to assasinate Hitler on behalf of the British government. When Thorndike refuses, he is tortured, but remains steadfast and warns of "questions being asked in high places" if he is killed, as states his brother, Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock), is a very important diplomat.

Quive-Smith decides to throw Thorndike off a cliff and make his death look like an accident.

Thorndike survives when his knapsack gets caught in a tree, breaking his fall. He eludes his German pursuers and eventually reaches a port. He steals a rowboat, but is forced to abandon it when a patrol boat comes near. He swims to a Danish ship about to sail for London.

On the ship, he meets Vaner (Roddy McDowall), the cabin boy, who turns out to be English and helps Thorndike hide until the ship reaches England.

Meanwhile, the Germans find Thorndike's coat and passport aboard the rowboat. The Germans place an agent named Mr. Jones (John Carradine) on board using Thorndike's passport to continue looking even after the ship leaves the harbor.

In London, Jones is met by German agents. Thorndike, still being pursued ducks into an apartment house and meets Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett). Jerry helps Thorndike reach his brother.

When Lord Risborough tells his brother that the British government, continuing its pre-war policy of appeasement, would have to extradite him if he were found, Thorndike decides to try and make it to Africa.

An amusing scene at the Risborough household is when Thorndike tries to offer Jerry money for her help and Lady Risborough (Heather Thatcher) assumes that it is payment for other services.

Jerry and Throndike have grown fond of each other. He buys her a new hatpin, as she had lost hers. She chooses a cheap chromium arrow and insists Thorndike present it to her. Thorndike likens it to her, saying both are "straight and shiny".

Quive-Smith arrives in London to join the hunt.

After Throndike leaves his solicitor Saul Farnsworthy (Holmes Herbert)office, he is chased into the London Underground Station and tunnel by Jones. Thorndike struggles with Jones, who is killed when he is thrown onto an electrified rail. Jones' body is so mangled by an oncoming train, the British authorities assume he is Throndike as Jones is still carrying Throndike's passport and papers. The Germans, however, know that it is in fact Jones who was killed.

Throndike is seen running from the tunnel and described by witnesses as a man with a scar (which he obtained when he was tortured in Germany). Throndike is now wanted by the British authorities for murder and is still being pursued by the Germans.

Thorndike tells Jerry to have Lord Risborough send him a letter in three weeks time care of Lyme Regis Post Office. Meanwhile, Thorndike hides in a cave in the countryside and grows a beard to cover his identifing scar.

Jerry says goodbye to Throndike and returns home to find three German agents in her apartment.

Thorndike goes to pick up the letter, the postmistress (Eily Malyon) seems alarmed and sends a girl on an errand. Thorndike grabs the letter and beats a hasty retreat. Back at his cave, he finds the letter is from Quive-Smith.

Quive-Smith follows Throndike to the cave and seals the only entrance and passes his quarry the confession and a pen through an air hole, threatening to leave him trapped inside.

What happened to Jerry? Will Throndike get out of the cave alive? Will Throndike be forced to sign the confession?

Man Hunt became the first war film to attract the attention of the then neutral America's Hays Office. Joseph Breen was alarmed by the script when he read it in 1941calling it a "hate film".

Breen felt the film showed all Germans as evil unlike other films showing both good non-Nazi Germans as well as evil National Socialists. Breen insisted that the Germans could not be characterised as so brutal; the office would only pass the film if it would only "indicate" brutality rather than show it. Therefore cuts did not show Thorndike's torture but left it in the mind of the audience.

George Saunder's gives an excellent portrayal of a Gestapo agent. John Carradine is eminently creepy. Joan Bennett is purely delightful as the carefree and joyful Jerry. Roddy McDowell is terrific and shows his talents as an actor.

This is one of Walter Pidgeon's best performances.

This is a classic WW II propaganda piece that was suspenseful, engaging and a joy to watch. It is a tight thriller which holds its audience with its face pace of action.

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