Man Hunt (1941)

Country: United States
Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Walter Pidgeon, George Sanders, Joan Bennett, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall, Ludwig Stössel, Heather Thatcher, Frederick Worlock, Holmes Herbert
Music: Alfred Newman
Based on the novel ‘Rogue Male’ by Geoffrey Household

Geoffrey Household’s book, Rogue Male, caused a sensation upon release. The sheer simple idea that a man could go out and hunt down a world leader was somewhat shocking – even if that leader was Adolph Hitler. Remember that England and the United States had not entered the war when the book was written. Hitler wasn’t portrayed as quite the villain that history has proven him to be.

It is not so surprising then that Hollywood should snap up the film rights to Rogue Male. Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights, and although the book was a sensational talking point, it was a film that would be very hard to make due to the ‘Neutrality Act’, which forbade movie productions taking a side in the war. Of course, by this time, England was at war with Germany, and any overt pro-England message within the film had to be muted quite substantially.

Let’s face it, if you were intending to abide by the Neutrality Act, then Rogue Male is not the best material for an adaptation – essentially the story of an English aristocrat who attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer, who then alludes and outwits the best of Germany’s spies and agents.

Many of Hollywood’s higher profile directors, such as John Ford were approached to direct the film, but eventually the film fell in to the lap of Fritz Lang. Lang had just fled from Nazi Germany to the United States and still had not re-established himself as a major director.

The story about Lang is a quite complicated one, and many scholars seem to debate the veracity of the story, but it seems Lang, whose Grandmother was Jewish was approached by Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebels to be Germany’s head of film-making. Lang, although he didn’t want the job as he was anti-Nazi, accepted the position, and over the next six months formulated his plan to escape to the United States (there are versions of the story which suggest he left the very next day).

Now in America, Manhunt was to be Lang’s opportunity to prove that he was not a Nazi, which he did rather effectively if not so subtly. The film did not escape the view of the moral and political guardians at the time, and the film-makers were requested to appear at a hearing to defend their apparent defiance of the Neutrality Act. However, the attack on Pearl Harbour, and America’s entry into the war, led to the hearing being cancelled.

Lang would go onto to direct the similarly themed Ministry of Fear (1944) based on Graham Greene’s novel. In fact if you look back over the whole body of Lang’s work, there is a definite theme of espionage, political intrigue and corruption. Whether it be the shady world of Dr. Mabuse, the organised vigilantism of M, or even to the mechanised Maria in Metropolis, who evokes comparison with Mata Hari in an erotic cabaret act that she performs. Lang seemed to have a thing for the ‘hidden’ and ‘secret’ elements of society.

In Manhunt, Household’s un-named protagonist is given a name and it’s Alan Thorndike, played by Walter Pidgeon. The film opens pretty much the same as the book, with Thorndike stalking Adolph Hitler, and at the last second before he could have pulled the trigger – we never no for a fact if he would – he is pounced upon by a German guard doing his rounds.

Captured, Thorndike is brought before German officer, Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders) for interrogation. Quive-Smith has Thorndike worked over until his identity can be verified. However, when it is revealed that Thorndike is exactly who he claims to be – and that just happens to be an aristocrat with connections in the British government – this presents another problem for the Nazis.

Due to Thorndike’s status – and the fact that they are not at war with England – they cannot very well kill him. It would cause an outrage. However, they cannot allow him to go free. If the story of an assassination attempt on the Fuhrer, and an almost successful attempt at that, was to reach the press and the people, then it would be a major embarrassment for the Nazi regime. The solution is to fake an accident. Throndike is pushed over the edge of a cliff. But of course, somehow he manages to survive and eventually, after stowing away on board a ship, with the help of the cabin boy, Vaner (an incredibly young Roddy McDowell), he makes it back home to England.

Thorndike’s troubles don’t end there. His story, if it were to leak out, still presents a danger to the Nazis, so they engage all their agents in England to track him down. Along the way, Thorndike enlists the aid of a young girl, Jerri (Joan Bennett) who hides him. Jerri, as a romantic subplot, almost seems shoehorned into the story – and at times comes close of pushing the story into ‘screwball farce’ territory – but thankfully it doesn’t quite cross that line. Allegedly, in the script, Jerri was to be a prostitute, which sort of rings true, with the way the other characters interact with her. However, in the film, she claims to be a seamstress.

The key difference between Manhunt the film, and Rogue Male the novel, is in the handling of the love interest in the story. In Rogue Male, it’s almost half way through the story before there is even a mention of the woman – and then it is not until almost the end of the story that we find find out who she is and what she meant to the protagonist. In fact we find out that she was the reason for the hero’s attempt on Hitler’s life. In Manhunt, however, it has been changed quite significantly. Thorndike did not go to Germany to avenge a loved one, but as the conceit of the original story suggests, to simply see if it is possible to hunt and stalk Hitler – a ‘sporting stalk’. Later in the movie, Thorndike confesses that he did actually intend to shoot and kill Hitler – although the film in its opening sequence is quite playful in the notion, and suggest that the stalk is indeed just for fun.

But back to the girl. In Manhunt, the love interest is Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett). In London, as Thorndike attempt to elude the spies on his trail, seeking refuge, he unwittingly draws Jerry into the web of danger. As the scenario plays out, a relationship develops between the two. It isn’t a sexual relationship. Thorndike is more like a father figure or an older brother – and during the film, director Fritz Lang, never allows the relationship to develop into being a piece of sentimental schmaltz. None-the-less, once the relationship is established, and despite the fact that they don’t even share a kiss, it is very clear that the couple have feelings for each other.

The only real attempt to soften the story (apart from showing the brutalities of Thorndike’s torture at the hands of the Nasis) is the casting of George Sanders as Major Quive-Smith. Sanders is so quintessentially English and charming, that despite being a thoroughly despicable and reprehensible character, that he falls just a fraction short of being likable.

Sanders, time and time again, has proved that he is adept at playing suave and sophisticated characters, such as The Saint and The Falcon. In Manhunt, he retains his veneer of sophistication, but stills lays down quite a cool line in menace – admittedly aided by some stunning cinematography and lighting.

Manhunt, for the sake of simplicity, chooses to roll of Thorndike’s torturer and the hunter on his tail, into one character, that being Quive-Smith. The earlier scenes, allow Quive-Smith to be a much more rounded character in the film, than in the book. In the book, he comes off little more than a mercenary called in at the end to tie up the loose ends. By placing Quive-Smith at the forefront of the story, the similarity between the men – both big game hunters – can be played out further. And also, Quive-Smith’s stake in the story is fleshed out. He wants to capture Thorndike because he escaped from right under his nose. The political ramifications could and would be his undoing.

Towards the end, as Major Quive-Smith has Thorndike trapped in his cave, the Major reveals that he has killed Jerry – or at least had her killed on his orders. This has happened off screen of course, but it is enough to turn Thorndike into a defiant warrior. He is no longer a man, who simply wishes to fade into the shadows, with the possibility of later, beginning a new life. Instead he becomes proactive in MacGuyvering an escape option. And then once he has escaped and ensured his vengeance against Quive-Smith, Thorndike feels compelled to join the war effort. By this time, in the film, England has gone to war with Germany.

So in the last few frames, the film becomes a propaganda piece. And generally, while this does not detract from the story at all, it changes the basic premise. While Rogue Male may be considered a warning about the potential for horror that a Nazi regime could bring to Europe, Manhunt is a call to arms.

Don’t get me wrong, Manhunt is still a very good film, and it is a fine adaptation of Household’s novel, but it is sort of like comparing a Big Mac to a Whopper – they both have a lot of meat, but they taste very different!

For a second opinion, read Tanner’s review at the Double-O-Section.

Man Hunt (1941)

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960)

AKA: Diabolical Dr. Mabuse , Eyes of Evil, The Shadow vs. the Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
Directed by Fritz lang
Peter Van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Wolfgang Preiss, Lupo Prezzo, Gert Frobe, Werner Peters, Andrea Checci, Christiane Maybach, Howard Vernon
Music by Gerhard Becker and Bert Grund

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse was legendary director Fritz Lang’s last film. While making this film his sight began to fail. The film was also the beginning of a new series of Mabuse films, but with each instalment the series slowly deteriorated.

First a little bit of background on Dr. Mabuse. Mabuse was a character created in the early 20th Century by author Norbert Jacques. In 1922, Lang took the character and made two silent epic films, The Great Gambler and Inferno (Generally this two part series in lumped together as Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler). The films featured Rudolph Klein-Rogge as Mabuse, who is a master criminal, in the style of Fantomas or Fu Manchu. In 1933 Lang made another Mabuse film, The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse also starring Klein-Rogge. With the rise of the Nazi party, Lang left Germany and headed to the United States where his movie career continued. Decades later, although he refused to live there, Lang returned to Germany to make his final entry in the Mabuse series – The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse.

The film opens with two cars pulling up at a red traffic light in downtown Berlin. In one of the cars is Peter Barter, a television reporter. He is rushing back to the studio with an important ‘breaking’ story. In the other car are two of Mabuse’s henchmen. From a violin case, one of the men produces a futuristic gun. He takes aim at Barter and shoots. With barely a sound, a fine needle is fired into Barter’s brain. Barter slumps over the steering wheel dead.

Simultaneously, Peter Cornelius (Wolfgang Preiss), a blind psychic, has a premonition of the murder and phones Inspector Krause (Gert Frobe) in an attempt to warn him, but is too late. The crime has all the hallmarks and style of crimes committed by Dr. Mabuse, but this can not be because Mabuse has been dead since the 1930’s. But there is still a crime to be solved and it appears to be centred around the Luxor Hotel. It it the last place that Barter had been seen alive. Co-incidently (?), over the last ten years, a series of unsolved crimes, thefts and murder have had one thing in common. All of the victims have stayed at the Luxor.

Currently staying at the Luxor is Henry B. Travers (Peter Van Eyck). He is a wealthy American industrialist who has just purchased an atomic rocket contract. Outside his window, on the ledge is Marion Menil (Dawn Addams). She is distressed and about to commit suicide. Travers goes to the window and calmly talks her inside. It appears Marion is very unstable. It is not long before her doctor arrives, Professor Jordan. He gives her a sedative and takes her away.

Meanwhile, Inspector Krause is on the case. The driver of the assassin’s vehicle has called Krause and says he will call again with vital information. But the stooley is killed by one of Mabuse’s men. The telephone call is still made to Krause, because a bomb has been planted in his phone. The phone rings, but Krause’s assistant picks it up and is killed in the explosion.

With very few clues to go on, Klause turns to Cornelius, the psychic for help. Cornelius arranges a séance, and Krause invites the few suspects he has as participants. As the lights are dimmed, Cornelius starts channelling. He says that Dr. Mabuse is behind the crimes. Before any further information is revealed, the window is shattered as a bullet from outside hits Krause’s chair. It’s a close call. While stylistically very different, it is interesting to compare this séance scene with the one in Lang’s Ministry Of Fear, which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Who and what are The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse? They are not the evil minions of Mabuse (as in The Million Eyes Of Sumuru), but refer to a sophisticated closed circuit surveillance system that Mabuse has set up in the Hotel Luxor. After watching and stage managing events throughout the Hotel, by manipulating Travers, Mabuse plans to obtain the nuclear arsenal being constructed, and of course, rule, control or destroy the world. And that brings us to Mabuse himself. Who is or claims to be Mabuse? Ahhh, that would be telling. The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse is a bit of a ‘whodunnit’. Could Mabuse be nosey insurance salesman Hieronymus P. Mistelzweig (Werner Peters), Peter Cornelius the psychic, Professor Jordan (a man who specialises in mental disorders), or Marion’s obsessively jealous clubfooted husband. It could be any of them. Rarely has a film had so many characters who are not as they seem.

The film has some good ideas that would be recycled in espionage movies in years to come. I have already mentioned the closed circuit television system. But the needle gun used in the opening scene reminds me of a similar scene in Live And Let Die, and the getaway car that Mabuse uses to escape from the police has revolving number plates, a idea that would be utilised in the Aston Martin in Goldfinger.

Ultimately The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse is a good film; but I wouldn’t say it’s a great film. It has some memorable scenes, and as with all of Lang’s work there is some very impressive set design, especially the home of Peter Cornelius, whose walls are decorated with three dimensional astrological symbols. But the plot is a bit convoluted. Sure Mabuse is a criminal genius, but he seems to interfere with his own scheme way too often. Maybe that’s the characters madness coming through, but I think it may be poor story telling. And as a ‘whodunnit’, well I am pretty hopeless at guessing the culprit in this type of film – but I got it straight away (and so did my 11 year old son) – so it isn’t too effective on that level.

I am sounding a bit negative, but that is because this is a Lang film. This film is better than it’s sequels The Return Of Dr. Mabuse and The Invisible Dr. Mabuse which I reviewed in June, but it is a step down from some of the other Lang films I have looked at – Spies in August, and The Ministry Of Fear in October.

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960)

Ministry Of Fear (1944)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond, Hillary Brooke, Percy Waram, Dan Duryea, Alan Napier, Erskine Sanford
Music by Victor young
Based on the novel by Graham Greene

Fact: Fritz Lang is a genius. He is renown for his classic films, Metropolis, The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse and ’M’. And rightly so. But even his lesser films are of an incredibly high standard. The Big Heat for example, is one of my favourite crime films of all time. Now I have just discovered Ministry Of Fear. What a discovery! It’s an absolutely cracking film. I hate to compare two masters of cinema, but Lang’s film is in the Hitchcock style. Or more correctly, this is the type of story that Hitchcock does so well, and this is Lang’s attempt at ‘the innocent bystander accidentally gets drawn into a web of spies’ type of story.

The film opens in wartime England, outside London, and Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) has just been released from a mental asylum. (Graham Green fans will note that the character’s name has been changed from Arthur Rowe.) Neale has just spent two years locked away for killing his wife. Now he is free, he is heading back to London. Whilst waiting for a train, he stops at a nearby fete run by a charity group called ‘The Mothers of Free Nations’. Wandering through the stalls and amusements, two elderly ladies suggest that he visits the fortune teller. He does. Inside the tent, the fortune teller informs Neale of the weight of a cake that is in competition outside. That is to say, that if you guess the correct weight of the cake, you get to take it home. Neale goes over to the cake stand; pays a shilling (it is a fundraiser), then guesses the weight as foretold by the fortune teller. Neale is correct and the cake is his.

As Neale is about to leave the fete with his prize, a taxi pulls up at the gates. A man rushes out and dashes over to the fortune tellers tent. It seems that ‘cake competition’ was rigged, and the cake was intended for this newcomer. But it is too late. Neale boards a train for London.

As the train is about to shunt off, a blind man enters Neale’s compartment. Both men make idle chatter as the train rattles on. But then the train grinds to a halt as a German air raid begins. As Neale peaks at the explosive light show through a crack in the curtain, the blind man raises his cane and knocks Neale out. It appears that Neale’s travelling companion isn’t as visually impaired as he would have us believe. He then grabs the cake and exits the carriage, running off into a surrounding marsh.

Neale comes to, just in time to see the man running off and chooses to follow him. After all, in wartime, good cake is hard to come by! As Neale closes in on the thief, the man turns and starts firing a pistol.

Overhead, the bombing from the German aircraft is getting closer. The thief ducks into an abandoned shack only to have a shell land at his location. The shack, the thief, and the cake are all blown to smithereens.

From then on, poor old Stephen Neale, who may or may not be crazy, is drawn into a world of death, deception, nazi spies, bombs in suitcases, and political intrigue. And it’s all handled with Lang’s assured style. As you’d expect from Lang, there are some very impressive visuals too; especially at a séance, and in an apartment block where Neale and Carla Hilfe (Marjorie Reynolds) – she’s the girl who believes Neale’s story – are being pursued by a mob of enemy agents.

The Ministry Of Fear was a pleasant surprise to me. It doesn’t seem to be considered ‘top-shelf’ Lang. Nor does it seem to be considered ‘top-shelf’ Graham Greene either. But despite it’s lowly status, it is an extremely entertaining espionage adventure. And upon repeat viewings, it could become one of my favourites.

Ministry Of Fear (1944)

Spies (1928)

AKA: Spione
Directed by Fritz Lang
Rudolph Klein-Rogge, Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Lupu Pick, Fritz Rasp
New score composed by Donald Sasin

Spies is director Fritz Lang’s follow-up to the epic science fiction masterpiece Metropolis. Like Metropolis, Spies is also a silent film and if you watch the restored F.W. Murnau Foundation version, which comes in at 143 minutes, unless a student of cinema, you may find it a bit of a slog. That’s not to say that it is bad or boring, but it does take it’s time moving through the story, after branching off on various sub-plots. Despite this there are some amazing scenes – maybe not in Metropolis’ league, but impressive none-the-less. Even many of the less elaborate set designs are ground breaking, providing the blueprint for the spy films that would trail behind in the following decades.

At the centre of this film is the character Hagji, the villainous head of a criminal spy ring. Haghi is played by Rudolph Klein-Rogge who had played this type of role before for Lang, first in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and then as the mad scientist Rotwang in Metropolis. Haghi, although a super villain in the traditional sense, is wheelchair bound and has an evil henchwoman / nurse who pushes him around and physically oversees the operation.

The other two main characters are Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch), a good guy assigned to break Haghi’s spy ring, and Sonja (Gerda Maurus), who is Haghi’s most alluring, and ultimately dangerous operative. She is an old-school femme fatale.

Because she is evil, Sonja is sent to kill Agent 326. But what should happen? The two opposing agents fall in love. From that point on, Sonja refuses to carry out any more assignments for Haghi. Haghi is not happy and imprisons her at his secret headquarters (which happens to be a bank – with current interest rates, I find the idea that a bank should house the world’s ultimate villain quite amusing!)

This leaves Agent 326 to find and capture Haghi, and to rescue his imprisoned sweetheart. I make the story sound more straight forward than it is. There are quite a few subplots involving the Russians and the Japanese. Most of these merely show how evil and malevolent Haghi truly is. The demise of Japanese agent, Masimoto (Lupu Pick) is quite moving.

At the heart of this story is the love story, and in many ways it mirrors the lovers from the different levels in Metropolis. Only in this film, the lovers are not separated by different levels of society, but are separated by different ideologies. Also, this time it is the woman who sees the error of her ways, rather than the man.

As I mentioned at the top, Spies is a good film, but it won’t be for everyone. I think the key word for this film is ‘patience’. If you have the patience and are truly interested in the evolution of the spy film then here it is – the blueprint.

Spies (1928)