Tuesday, February 05, 2008

MAN HUNT (1941)

In July, 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII in Europe, big-game hunter Walter Pidgeon, tramping through the woods, comes upon Hitler standing alone at his forest retreat. Pidgeon takes careful aim and fires, but with his gun unloaded, we realize he's doing it for sport. When he sees how easy it is, he seems to have a change of heart and reaches for his ammo, but is jumped by a Gestapo guard. Pidgeon tells Nazi official George Sanders that he was just doing a "sporting stalk," not intending to kill, but Sanders wants him to sign a "confession" that he was part of a British government plot to assassinate Hitler. Pidgeon refuses, so he is tortured and left for dead, but he is made of tough stuff and escapes, winding up half-conscious on a Danish ship headed for England, where he gets some assistance from young Roddy McDowell. Once he's back home, the Germans want him extradited for trial and the British are caught in a tight place, as they do not want this incident to ramp up tensions between the two countries, so Pidgeon has to evade both sides, with some help from "good time girl" Joan Bennett. We soon discover he's being stalked by creepy Nazi spy John Carradine and there follows a tense cat and mouse sequence in the London Underground. Eventually Sanders himself gets involved and the climax plays out in another cat and mouse scene in a cave. Fritz Lang directed this early WWII film which avoids overt propaganda and is a solid adventure/thriller with nice use of exterior "locations" (stagy but still effective). Pidgeon is a rather wooden actor, but here he comes off as stoic, which works OK. Sanders outshines him (and speaks pretty good German in one scene) and Bennett holds her own even with a Cockney accent. I like the ambiguity of the opening scene; despite what he says to the Gestapo, I'm still not sure if he would have killed Hitler or whether he really was playing a dangerous game. [FMC]

No comments: