Walter Pidgeon takes a potshot at Hitler and goes on the run, in this 1941 thriller directed by Fritz Lang.
Germany, just before World War II. Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) is a British big-game hunter who takes aim at his target…Adolf Hitler. He is arrested and questioned by Nazi officer Quive-Smith (George Sanders). Thorndike had no intention to assassinate Hitler: it was just a “stalking shot”, to prove he could do it if he wanted to. But Quive-Smith believes that Thorndike was sent by the British government to carry out a real assassination and wants Thorndike to sign a confession to that effect. However, Thorndike escapes back to London, with the Nazis on his trail…
Geoffrey Household’s novel Rogue Male was published in 1939, just as war was about to break out. As well as the present film version, it was adapted by the BBC as a television serial (directed by Clive Donner) in 1976, with Peter O’Toole in the leading role. David Morrell has acknowledged the novel’s influence on his own 1972 novel First Blood, itself filmed in 1982.
The plot boils down to a simple chase, in which he is helped by Jerry (Joan Bennett, with an overdone Cockney accent), a young woman who is as much of a prostitute as the Production Code would allow. Along the way, we get to a reasonable Hollywood approximation of London, and especially its Underground, scene of a memorable tussle between Thorndike and a Nazi agent (John Carradine). (As the IMDB points out, this scene involves a factual error, which I won’t detail to avoid a spoiler.) 1941 is a little early for film noir, but Lang’s roots in German expressionism are evident here. It’s not as dark as it could be – Pidgeon doesn’t quite have that in him – but it’s a pacey thriller given the far-fetched plot. The war was still raging when this film was made, which explains the overtly propagandist coda.
George Sanders, all silky menace, wouldn’t be an obvious choice to play a very English Nazi officer, but he manages to convince and, dodgy accent apart, Joan Bennett is a spunky leading lady. Alfred Newman’s score uses the melody of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” as a theme for Jerry. There’s also an eye-catching role for then-child-star Roddy McDowall. By the way, this is an unusual Hollywood production for its time in that its German characters speak in German – which, as we’re seeing things from Thorndike’s viewpoint, isn’t subtitled.
Optimum’s DVD is encoded for Region 2 only and is single-layered. Incidentally, the BBFC database does not record a submission of Man Hunt before this DVD, so I’m not clear if it was actually released in British cinemas at the time of its making. If not, that would make this disc its first commercial availability in the UK, though it has had television showings.
The film was shot in black and white in Academy Ratio, so the DVD transfer is naturally in 4:3 with no anamorphic enhancement. This is a good solid transfer, with blacks seemingly true and an appropriate greyscale. Contrast, which is vital in black and white, seems right and the grain is filmlike.
The soundtrack is mono, as you would expect. This is a product of Hollywood studio expertise, and dialogue, music and sound effects are well balanced but there’s a noticeable background hiss throughout. Unfortunately, but expectedly, Optimum haven’t provided optional subtitles for this English-language film.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer, which runs 1:47 and has a somewhat distorted soundtrack.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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