Man Hunt (1941)
March 23, 2023 3:07 PM - Subscribe

British hunter Thorndike vacationing in Bavaria has Hitler in his gun sight. He is captured, beaten, left for dead, and escapes back to London where he is hounded by German agents and aided by a young woman.

Renowned big-game hunter Captain Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) is hunting in the Bavarian forest when he stumbles upon Adolf Hitler's vacation residence. Tempted by the idea of assassinating the dictator, he's apprehended and beaten before escaping and stowing away on a steamship back to England. Onboard, Thorndike has his identity stolen by the smooth-talking con man Mr. Jones (John Carradine). Both men soon discover that Gestapo agents are swarming London, looking for the would-be assassin.

Bosley Crowther: For its keen and vivid contrast of British and Nazi temperaments—its interesting analysis of the so-called sportsman's code—"Man Hunt" rates somewhat above the run of ordinary "chase" films. In that respect, it projects certain subtle psychological overtones. But basically, of course, it is a straight melodrama composed of one long "chase"—a modern adaptation of the ancient "law of flight." And, as such, we feel that it doesn't fulfill its possibilities completely.It is a film which is handsomely made and directed by Fritz Lang with unremitting intensity.

Caftan Woman: Alan Thorndike is constantly being run to ground. First by the Nazis and their hounds in Germany. In the familiar environs of London, among crowds of people, he is pursued by more Nazis hiding in plain sight. Lang and Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur Miller (How Green Was My Valley) give us the noir feeling of everything closing in on our hero. He is pursued to the Underground by the "walking corpse" in a scene both beautiful and fraught with tension.

David Brook: In terms of what I liked about the film, Lang’s handling of style and mis-en-scene is as impressive as ever. The opening shot, a slow crane push through some woodland, instantly demonstrates the director’s knack for impressionistic visuals that make the most of studio-bound sets. The shot is rich with texture and depth, creating a strong atmosphere in mere seconds. Elsewhere the film looks great too, with some interesting camera perspectives on display, plenty of fog and mist creating mood as well as a great use of light and shadow. The film is largely quite exciting too.

However, the pace doesn’t remain as rapid as it should. The romantic subplot between Thorndike and Stokes is the main reason for this. Whenever time is spent developing their relationship, the film lags and stumbles. It feels dated in how Thorndike treats Stokes and clunkily shoe-horned in. Bennett’s God-awful cockney accent doesn’t help matters either. This means the mid-section of the film feels a bit hit and miss, but luckily the climax makes up for things, with an unexpected element of tragedy thrown into the mix of an otherwise quite light and fun affair. A patriotic coda to this smacks of war-time propaganda, but the era in which it was made and the fact the director was German and had witnessed Nazi Germany first hand make this easier to digest.

posted by Carillon (2 comments total)
It really does feel like two different movies at times, there's a lot apparently added not in the novel that does feel from a different picture. Joan Bennett's accent was terrible, but I feel she's generally great here. It's partially why the film feels bifurcated, but I don't know if it would be better if she weren't in it. Could have used less of the (maybe) era appropriate condescension by Thorndike towards her though.

Broadly though, this movie to me really only makes sense through the lens of the time and place it was filmed. The weird end scene with the past memories superimposed over the film, and him parachuting into Germany wouldn't work without the historical context. Fritz Lang was a refugee from the Nazi government and yeah, that makes things work.
posted by Carillon at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2023

I've never seen this, but have been meaning to for years, so this might be the prompt. The original, Rogue Male, is one of my favourite books, in part because psychologically it is much more interesting than it seems, as the unnamed narrator's reasons for hunting the unnamed dictator become clear only late on. Also I'm a sucker for both the man hunt/lone wolf aspects of it, and that specific spot of the Dorset countryside.

(Don't read the many years belated sequel, which trades in all subtlety and precision; if Fritz Lang adopted Rogue Male, Uwe Boll would have improved Rogue Justice)
posted by Hartster at 6:53 AM on March 24, 2023

« Older Sweet Home: Sweet Home-Full 1s...   |  Mystery Science Theater 3000: ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments