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Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Dudley Nichols
Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, and George Sanders
Length: 105 min
Rating: Not Rated
Label: Twilight Time
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
- Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt:Featurette focuses on the behind the scenes aspects of the film, before, during, and after production
- Audio Commentary with Lang Biographer and Author Patrick McGilligan
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Isolated Score
- Booklet featuring essay by Julie Kirgo
Just shy of six months before the Pearl Harbor attacks and America’s entrance into World War II, Fritz Lang’s vehemently anti-Nazi film, Man Hunt, was released to mixed political reactions. Due to our current political climate, it wouldn’t appear as if any of the aspects of Man Hunt would appear taboo, but at the time of the film’s release, America was still practicing its Isolationist tendencies. Not wanting to be involved in the war in Europe, The Hays Office—who enforced American motion picture censorship policies—believed the film’s disparaging portrayal of Germans was in contrast with their political goal: neutrality. It was ok to criticize Nazis, but featuring no “good” Germans to counteract the “bad” Germans, was seen as too politically motivated. However, the heat the film was subjected to was, in large, lost on that fateful day in December of 1941. What remains is perhaps Fritz Lang’s greatest American film, which can now be enjoyed on region one Blu-Ray for the first time ever, thanks to Twilight Time’s release—limited to 3000 copies.
The film opens on the sight of renowned hunter and British elite, Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), traversing his way through a forest. Reaching his point of interest, Thorndike sets up camp and scopes out his prey. Cutting to Thorndike’s vantage point, the prey is revealed to be Adolf Hitler. Building suspense, Lang has Thorndike fire his gun, but instead of the expected loud boom of his rifle, the audience is greeted with only the clicking of an empty chamber. In a playful gesture, Thorndike seems to enjoy the power of knowing that he could have assassinated the vicious leader. The moment of satisfaction is, however, fleeting and Thorndike’s demeanor changes as he loads his rifle and resets his sights. Using a series of quick cuts and the image of a nearing German soldier, suspense is built to the point of explosion, when the incidental dropping of a leaf on Thorndike’s rifle causes Thorndike’s cover to be blown. The German soldier pounces on Thorndike, causing him to misfire and be captured.Under the care of Major Quive-Smith (played by the always engrossing George Sanders), Thorndike is tortured and beaten. Despite his insistence that he never had an intention of shooting Hilter, and that his actions were a mere exercise in ego-building—which Quive-Smith seems to believe—, the Major insists that Thorndike may only be allowed to be released with a signed confession that he was sent as an official British assassin. With an upmost patriotic spirits, Thorndike risks his life by refusing to sign the confession, incidentally signing his death warrant. Only, after further beatings and torturing—which appears off-screen—the Nazi’s elaborate plan to make Thorndike’s death look like an accident backfires when Thorndike survives the fall.
After surviving the fall, Thornadike is able to board a ship set for London, allowing him exile from Nazi Germany. With the help of a young cabin boy, Thorndike’s safety is threatened when a mysterious passenger signs up for last minute passage with the ship. Hiding from the mysterious passenger for the duration of the passage, and against all odds, Thorndike manages to safely return home to his mother country; but his problems are only beginning. The rest of the film plays out in an intricate series of cat and mouse games, where Thorndike, even in the safety of his native London, finds only conflict at each turn.Like his work in M, Lang’s use of city and streetscapes is monumental. A heavy veneer of fog covers the dampened and dark streets of London, creating a prison out of them. The theme of entrapment is embodied in the labyrinthine alleyways in an iconic Langian manner. If you are looking for an excellent example of the German Expressionist influx into Hollywood and a pre-cursor to American Film Noir, there are few better than Man Hunt.
Beyond Lang’s proficient vision, is a powerful cast. The cast is lead by Pidgeon, who’s strength lie in his ability to be charming and debonair, albeit not a convincing portrayal of a Brit. As aforementioned, George Sanders is excellent as Major Quive-Smith, his stoic nature adding a layer of brutality to his calculated actions. While the male leads are memorable, it is the female lead, Joan Bennett as Jerry Stokes, who emerges as the strongest. Her role—arguably a coded prostitute—manages to transcend its lowly stature. The result is a funny and charismatic representation of lower class Britain. Yes, her accent is a bit overdone and she even falls into caricature-like performances, but there is a strong humanity hidden beneath every line of dialogue. She embodies a strong sense of pathos with every word, every action, and every look.
It is nothing short of a pleasure to see this AVC Encoded 1080p 1.33:1 transfer of Man Hunt. The high contrast, sharp black and white depictions of the London’s underbelly are handled with a keen attention to detail. Blacks are accurate, grain is kept beautifully intact, and the image is dynamic. There are moments of slight age related issues, but this can be expected from a print over 70 years old. What is on display is a faithful depiction of Lang’s vision that lacks any signs of overt digital restoration.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono audio track is nearly without flaw. The range is dynamic, and the balance between elements is handled in a proper manner. There is nothing of note to criticize.
Twilight Time has been the subject to a lot of widespread criticism due to their often barebones style packages. However, while past collections may have been lacking in features, the Man Hunt release is a pleasant surprise. The first feature, Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt, is a 16-minute segment including the insight by various specialists about the history of the film and its importance. While short, the featurette is very informative and worthwhile. The second piece that Man Hunt fans will enjoy is an audio commentary track with Lang Biographer and Author Patrick McGilligan. Like the Rogue Male featurette, the commentary is a great source for background information that helps place the film in its historical context.
Fritz Lang was the one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. His works spans both decades and continents. While his style altered over the years, following his immigration to America and transition into Hollywood, his vision was nonetheless consistent. Man Hunt is one of the best examples of his transitional period, featuring both aspects of what will shape his American films, and what had already earned him respect in Germany. Packaged with a beautiful cover, menu design, and an attractive booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo, Twilight Time’s Man Hunt is one of their best efforts yet. If you only own one Twilight Time release, this should be it.