Based on Geoffrey Household's best-selling 1939 novel, "Rogue Male," a British game hunter takes aim at the biggest prize of all, Adolf Hitler. Captured and tortured, the hunter becomes the hunted as Nazi spies pursue him back to England in a desperate fight to the death.
Fritz Lang was in peak form as a Hollywood studio director when he made Man Hunt (1941), a terrific thriller whose title, like so many things Langian, cuts two ways. First, Capt. Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), celebrated English big-game hunter, is caught near Berchtesgaden just as he's drawn a bead on Adolf Hitler. Thorndike claims he had no intention to shoot, it was just "a sporting stalk"--a notion mystifying to his Nazi captors, who aim to parade him before the world as a British government assassin. There follows a harrowing escape, in a forest primeval straight out of Die Nibelungen, and now it's Thorndike who's the quarry, pursued across Europe and home to foggy London--not that he finds much refuge there.
Based on Geoffrey Household's hit novel Rogue Male, Man Hunt itself became a big hit on the eve of World War II. It's still a grabber because Lang, abetted by top Fox cameraman Arthur Miller, art directors Richard Day and Wiard B. Ihnen, and composer Alfred Newman, created a brilliantly atmospheric and entirely studio-bound world--just like the old days at Ufa, but with superior production resources. The film is Germanic to the max, with imagery of fierce angularity and chiaroscuro, literally underground confrontations, and a scenario rife with doppelgängers and secret selves. Gestapo pursuer-in-chief George Sanders rates a bravura introduction, posed ramrod straight in a white uniform in a white room with a white mountain vista outside ... and yes, he has a monocle (like Lang's). Man Hunt marked Lang's initial association with two future partners: screenwriter Dudley Nichols, who would script the director's American masterpiece Scarlet Street, and actress Joan Bennett, who starred in three more Lang pictures. Her character--a little English streetwalker, not that the Production Code allowed her to be acknowledged as such--is key to the movie's potent emotional wallop (she anticipates the Gloria Grahame role in The Big Heat). As Lang told an interviewer three decades later, she "had all my heart." Which also cuts two ways. --Richard T. Jameson