Wartime Man Hunt

2101 days ago
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Measured against a career studded with landmarks such as Metropolis, M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Fury, Scarlet Street and The Big Heat, Fritz Langís Man Hunt was a minor effort. But the directorís 1941 movie, out now on DVD, was an important step in his Hollywood career, gaining the German refugee his footing in the New World and pointing the way, with its chases in a dark city set like a trap, for his journey into film noir.

Itís also historically interesting as one of the first Hollywood movies to confront Nazism directly. Released in June, 1941, Man Hunt promoted the British cause half a year before America entered World War II and during a time when Congress held hearings to enforce Hollywoodís neutrality in the global conflict.

Langís anti-Nazi credentials have been disputed, but Man Hunt may well have solidified his reputation as the man who turned down a Nazi offer to head Germanyís film industry. But more moving than Man Huntís politics is the bittersweet blend of romance and fatalism, and the way Langís camera lovingly caressed the movieís tragic love interest, played by Joan Bennett.

The plot had the unmet promise of a Hitchcock thriller and was banged out with the speed of a B movie. Walter Pigeon seems far too affable an English gentleman as the man who wants to assassinate Hitler, and his foe (suave George Sanders) looks less than fully engaged. Yet, Man Hunt includes several deliciously conceived and executed scenes. As Milwaukee film historian (and Lang biographer) Patrick McGilligan says in his commentary, Man Hunt was a brave film in its moment and crucial to Lang at a time he was struggling for acceptance in Hollywoodís studio system. In Germany he was hailed as a visionary genius. In America, he was just another director on contract, hard-pressed to maintain his perspective from one studio assignment to the next.

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