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 Falcon Steps In

I do not know too much about the Falcon, (I have never seen a film from the series – there was one – TheFalcon in Danger – on late night television this week, but being the ‘technical incompetant’ that I am, I botched the recording) but before I sign off of this series of posts about The Saint, I thought it was worth a brief introduction to the character. A snippet from the, Classic Film Guide.

After playing Simon Templar aka The Saint five times in an earlier RKO studio series, George Sanders played the similarly suave detective Gay Laurence (Americanized to Lawrence) in the first Falcon films before giving way to his older brother Tom Conway in the aptly titled fourth feature The Falcon’s Brother (1942). Conway then played Tom Lawrence a total of nine more times through 1946 to complete the original series, which actually had three “poverty row” additions that featured John Calvert as Michael Waring in the late 1940’s. Based on a story by Michael Arlen, the original entry in this “new” series titled The Gay Falcon (1941) not only featured Sanders but also actress Wendy Barrie, who’d appeared opposite the actor in three of the Templar mysteries including (Sanders’s last) The Saint in Palm Springs (1941). The Falcon character was so similar to RKO’s earlier B movie detective that The Saint’s creator Leslie Charteris sued the studio.

Wikipedia (yes, I know it’s not reliable) elaborates that Leslie Charteris even had a shot at reprehensible scallywag, The Falcon in the book, The Saint Steps In.

Sanders appeared in the first three Falcon films, which followed the Saint pattern so closely that author Charteris sued RKO for plagiarism. Charteris pokes fun at The Falcon in his 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In, with a character making a metafictional reference to the Falcon being “a bargain-basement imitation” of The Saint.

Wikipedia further goes on to suggest that The Falcon was created because the rights to The Saint character were too expensive.

The Gay Falcon is the first in a series of films about a suave detective nicknamed The Falcon. The 1941 B film was intended by RKO Radio Pictures to introduce a replacement for The Saint, after RKO decided that renewing the film rights to the latter character would be too expensive. George Sanders was cast in the title role; he had played The Saint in the prior RKO series.

So I would suggest that The Falcon is possibly The Saint in everything but name, and after all, the RKO Saint films weren’t following Charteris’ stories too faithfully to begin with.

After taking over from Sanders, Conway appeared in nine Falcon films, who was then followed by John Calvert for the last three films.

The Falcon films are:

• The Gay Falcon (1941)
• A Date with the Falcon (1941)
• The Falcon Takes Over (1942)
• The Falcon’s Brother (1942)
• The Falcon Strikes Back (1943)
• The Falcon in Danger (1943)
• The Falcon and the Co-eds (1943)
• The Falcon Out West (1944)
• The Falcon in Mexico (1944)
• The Falcon in Hollywood (1944)
• The Falcon in San Francisco (1945)
• The Falcon’s Alibi (1946)
• Devil’s Cargo (1948)
• Appointment with Murder (1948)
• Search for Danger (1949)

The Falcon Steps In

The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)

Country: United States
Director: Jack Hively
Starring: George Sanders, Helene Whitney, Jonathan Hale, Bela Lugosi, Donald MacBride, John F. Hamilton, Thomas W. Ross, Elliot Sullivan
Musical Director: Roy Webb
Based on characters by Leslie Charteris

I am a sucker for the old serials from the thirties and forties, whether they are Bulldog Drummond, Mr Moto, Charlie Chan, Michael Shayne or The Saint, they just drag me in. Whereas some people just find them old and boring. Maybe I am wrong but I think a lot of these old programmers have more zip and spark than the comparable dross that is on television these days. This is especially true when you get an actor like George Sanders in the lead role. Sander’s exudes class, and that’s what makes a story such as this a joy to watch.

The film opens in Cairo, and a shady character, known only as ‘the partner’ delivers a coffin shaped crate to a shipping agent. Inside is the mummy of King Annanouk the third, and he is being sent by Simon Templar (George Sanders) to Professor Horatio T. Bitts (of the Keystone University) in Philadelphia, USA. It appears that the Saint had been promising to get the Professor a mummy for his research for years.

Later, in Philadelphia, the professor is delighted to receive the mummy, and soon after Templar pays a call. Unfortunately the Professor can’t chat, because he has a faculty meeting. That leaves Templar in the company of the Professor’s daughter, Anne, who is not to enthusiastic to have Templar as a house guest. She has heard the rumours about him being a thief and a bounder and simply doesn’t trust him. Templar takes his leave by a window and disappears into the night.

Meanwhile Philadelphia Chief of Detectives, John Bohlen (Donald MacBride) receives a visit from an old friend, Henry Fernack (Jonathan Hale), who just happens to be visiting the city on holidays. They are about to go out to dinner, when a call comes in about a dead body found in the Professor’s garden. Both men head off to investigate.

Next to the body, is the Saint’s calling card, and written on it is ‘Thus may all traitors die. S.T.’ As Fernack has knowledge of the Saint and his ways, he is asked to assist with the investigation and the apprehension of the Saint for murder.

Of course, Templar is not a murderer. Somebody is setting him up. I guess it’s not really a spoiler, as the title of the film is The Saint’s Double Trouble, but there is a underworld villain, referred to only as ‘The Boss’ who is a dead ringer for Simon Templar, and he also happens to be a part of an extensive diamond smuggling racket.

The Saint’s Double Trouble is the most complexly plotted of the Sander’s Saint series, and at the beginning as the story begins to play out, you’ll have to be patient, because all is not clear. Don’t worry; it will all make sense in the end. There’s some good plot twists here too. Another aspect of this film is that the famous Saint Theme (composed by Leslie Charteris) is put to good use too. All in all, The Saint’s Double Trouble is very enjoyable.

More George Sanders as The Saint
The Saint in London.
The Saint in Palm Springs.

The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)

The Saint In London (1939)

Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Starring: George Sanders, Sally Gray, David Burns, Gordon McLeod, Athen Seyler, Henry Oscar, Ralph Truman, Ballard Berkeley, John Abbott
Music: Marr Mackie
Based on the short story, ‘The Million Pound Day’ by Leslie Charteris

In some ways, The Saint In London is one of The Saint’s most espionage based stories, but to tell you why and how would ruin some of the twists and turns that this story has to offer. As The Saint films of this era where barely more than B-grade programmers with rather stripped down stories, to reveal the twist would be criminal, so I’ll refrain.

You know, I like George Sanders as The Saint. He only made five Saint films, and then went on to become The Falcon (much to the chagrin of Leslie Charteris, who sued RKO claiming that The Falcon was The Saint in all but name). But Sanders as The Saint is very effective, even though some of the stories used (or the adaptations at any rate) were sub standard. Sanders shines through. He was a class act, and this shows through in his portrayal of the character.

The film opens with Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (George Sanders) arriving by car at the exclusive Restaurant Maxy. As he is about to enter, a man at the door asks for a cigarette. The Saint obliges, but as he lights the cigarette, the man who happens to be a thief, lifts Templar’s watch. As he does so, a police officer notices and tries to intervene on Templars behalf. The Saint protests that the officer must be mistaken and produces a watch from his pocket. It is in fact the pickpockets watch, which The Saint had swiped, as recompense for the pickpocket taking his.

Once inside the restaurant, The Saint orders a drink and a meal. Then rather sheepishly, the pickpocket makes his way into the restaurant and to The Saint’s table. He introduces himself as Dugan (David Burns), and trades watches with The Saint. The Saint offers Dugan a meal and a job as his valet. But Templar isn’t at the restaurant to meet Dugan. He has a prearranged dinner engagement with old chum Richard Blake (Ballard Berkeley). Berkeley has been having a spot of bother with a gentleman named Bruno Lang (Henry Oscar). And it turns out with good reason. Lang is in fact an underworld mob boss. Templar agrees to help Blake and arranges to meet Lang at a party. Along with Lang, he also meets Penny Parker (Sally Gray), who realises that Templar is up to something, and the ‘nosey’ side of her nature wants to find out what it is.

Templar first notifies Bruno Lang that he is on to him, by leaving a calling card on the steering wheel of Langs Car. The card say ‘Bruno Lang Vs. The Saint’. Lang shrugs it off as a joke, but Templar makes his way to Lang’s home, breaks in and riffles through the documents in the safe. He finds what he is looking for, and then makes a hasty exit. On his way out, he runs into a security guard who has been walking the perimeter of Lang’s estate. Templar knocks the guard down and makes a run for it.

Luckily for The Saint, the very, very nosey Ms. Parker has followed him to Lang’s. She hears the gunshots as the guard fires after Templar. She gets into Templar’s car and starts the engine. By the time Templar comes bounding out, the car is moving and he hitches a ride on the running boards.

As they speed along the road, away from the scene of the crime, they come across a beaten man running down the road, fearing for his life. Templar offers assistance, firstly by hiding the scared man in his car. And then by secondly raising his boot into the chest of the goon who was chasing the poor guy.

Templar and Parker take the man to a hotel and The Saint arranges for a doctor to come and see the man. Once he is patched up, the man reveals himself to be Count Duni. Duni is a foreign diplomat who was sent to England to oversee the printing of new currency for his country. Unfortunately he had been captured by some of Bruno Lang’s goon and was forced to sign over for the printing of an extra million pounds. Lang and his mobsters intend to ruch this new money into circulation as the new currency is released. That way it would be untraceable.

As complicated as all that seems, it is even more so. You see, when Templar rescued the Count, and clobbered Lang’s goon, a police officer noticed. Well he noticed Templar clobbering the goon then making a quick getaway. The officer wrote down the car number plate and passed it onto his superiors. It isn’t long before it crosses the desk of Inspector Claud Teal (Gordon McLeod) of Scotland Yard. Naturally Teal has been trying to catch The Saint for years, and is soon investigating.

The Saint In London is a pacey little thriller with a fine resolution. The one strange thing about this episode, is usually a character like The Saint, has one ‘hanger on’ who acts as comic relief. In this episode, he has three – Penney parker, Dugan, and even Inspector Teal. I suppose this only serves to make The Saint seem even more dashing. All in all, this is not bad.

The Saint In London (1939)

Future Women (1969)

AKA: The Seven Secrets of Sumuru, Future Woman, Rio 70, River 70, Sumuru, The Girl From Rio
Directed by Jess Franco
Shirley Eaton, Richard Wyler, George Sanders, Maria Rohm
Music by Daniel White

This film goes by many names and is a sequel to The Million Eyes Of Sumuru, although the only linking thread seems to be Shirley Eaton, and even her character name changes from version to version. Apparently this film has finally been released by Blue Underground on DVD as The Girl From Rio, which is great if you are a glutton for punishment and The Million Eyes Of Sumuru was not enough for you. Well, maybe I am not being fair here. Whereas the first Sumuru movie was a cross between a Fu Manchu mystery and a Beach Party film, this second one moves into JESS FRANCO territory. Who and what is Jess Franco? Jess (or sometimes Jesus) Franco is a film director who made his reputation by directing a string of Euro-sleaze films. Titles amongst his 180 plus film catalogue include Vampyros Lesbos, Killer Barbie’s versus Dracula, Mari-Cookie, Killer Tarantula in 8 Legs to Love You, Blood Sucking Nazi Zombies, and Sadisterótica. Already posted is a review of Franco’s Lucky The Inscrutable. Franco’s films are routinely low budget and contain gratuitous violence and nudity.

In the indispensible The Eurospy Guide by Matt Blake and David Deal, they cheekily described the amazing Mister Franco like this:
“…he spent the whole of the sixties and early seventies traipsing from one exotic location to another, accompanied by a gang of mates and some beautiful women – making films whenever he couldn’t find a good restaurant to sit in all afternoon.”

I am sure it wasn’t all beer and skittles for Franco, but that passage sums up what you can expect from a Franco film apart from the aforementioned violence and nudity – unusual exotic locations and lazy film-making. In the case of Future Women’ there are great South American locations, and of course featuring the great architectural marvel that is the City of Brasilia, which stands in for the City of Femina. As for the film-making, well it’s a step up from Lindsay Shonteff’s Million Eyes Of Sumuru, but it is pretty low down on the creativity list. A few nice shots of rain forests and sun-sets do not add up to a great film.

Now all that background information probably has you thinking that it might fit into the ‘So Bad, It Is Good’ category. Forget it. It is really crap. Sure it has the odd nude bod, but that doesn’t lift it off the bottom rung. Here’s a quick introduction to the mind numbing plot…

After a title sequence that verges on being soft-core porn, featuring some women clad in transparent mesh tops with steam rising around them, we see the arrival of Jeff Sutton (Richard Wyler) in Rio. He checks into a hotel, with no luggage other than a briefcase filled with ten million dollars. As he checks in, he orders some shirts, to be sent to his room, and a haircut and manicure. The manicurist is Leslie Mathers (played by Franco regular Maria Rohm) and she immediately forms an attached with Sutton.

Meanwhile, the underworld has heard rumblings about Sutton, how he has stolen a large amount of money and fled to Rio. The head of Rio’s underworld Masius, (George Sanders), is interested in acquiring the money for himself. He sends out a squad of underlings to capture Sutton and acquire the cash.

Later that evening, Sutton and Leslie go out to dinner. The meal goes well, but as they stroll back to the hotel, they are accosted by a group of men in carnival masks and brandishing knives. Sutton proves himself adept in a stoush and manages to drag himself, and Leslie back to the hotel.

You may have heard the old saying, ‘if it is in focus, it’s porn. If it’s blurred, then it’s art!’ Back in Sutton’s room, Leslie throws herself at her new man. Franco films this scene through a vase, and the glass distorts and blurs the image. So it must be art! The next morning a newspaper is delivered to the room. Sutton’s face is all over the front page, and now everybody wants a piece of the action. With Leslie’s help, Sutton decides to leave the city. The pair head to the airport. Masius’ men are waiting and they grab Leslie. Sutton is forced to fight his way through a gauntlet of men and barely makes it to the plane. But things aren’t quite what they seem, as Leslie belonged to a colony of women who live in the city of Femina. Femina is ruled by Sumanda (Shirley Eaton), who has plans of conquering the world with her all-girl army. No sooner has Sutton boarded the plane, and then he is drugged by the hostess. In fact he is the only passenger. The plane is filled with an army of Sumuru’s women who are there to take him back to Femina.

When Sutton awakes, he is in Femina and he is a captive of Sumuru. Why does she want him? She doesn’t need the money. And why is Sutton happy to be in Femina? Could it be, that he wanted to go there all along?

From the synopsis above, Future Women may not seem like much of a spy film, but Sutton has a duel purpose for being in Rio, and by the end of the film we are definitely in ‘spy’ territory. Just how many viewers will make it to the end of this film, now that’s another question!

On the positive side, the film is colourful and the locations are great, but then again so are postcards. And on their side, most postcards have more depth than this production. You have been warned!

The soundtrack, credited to Daniel White is pleasant enough. Appropriately enough for a film set in South America, it is in a Latin style, featuring plenty of bongos, xylophones, flutes, and brass. For the sequences in the City of Femina, White reverts to more futuristic, electronic sounds.

Strangely, the version I have seen of this film, the Shirley Eaton character, is called Sumanda? Initially this film was intended to be a sequel to The Million Eyes Of Sumuru and as such, I would expect her to be called ‘Sumuru. I could try to find other versions of the film to compare, such as the new The Girl From Rio, but I don’t think I really want to spend too much more time on this turkey. But please, if you want to track down alternate versions to compare the differences, be my guest.

This review is based on the Shocking Videos DVD.

Future Women (1969)