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Ministry of Fear (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Suffused with dread and paranoia, this Fritz Lang (M) adaptation of a novel by Graham Greene (The Third Man) is a plunge into the eerie shadows of a world turned upside down by war. En route to London after being released from a mental institution, Stephen Neale (The Lost Weekend’s Ray Milland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister underworld with possible Nazi connections. Lang was among the most illustrious of the European émigré filmmakers working in Hollywood during World War II, and Ministry of Fear is one of his finest American productions, an unpredictable thriller with style to spare.


Though not as well known or praised as some of director Fritz Lang's other film noir efforts like The Big Heat (1953) or The Woman in the Window (1944), his 1944 thriller Ministry of Fear remains a visually striking and frequently taut blend of noir tropes and wartime espionage drama. Based on the novel by Graham Greene, the picture stars Ray Milland as a man, newly released from an asylum, who becomes embroiled in a plot by Nazi agents in England to deliver Allied military plans into the hands of the enemy. He soon finds himself the quarry of both the Axis and British police, with only comely Austrian refugee Marjorie Reynolds (Holiday Inn) to help him. Aided immeasurably by Henry Sharp's cinematography, which steeps the action in an almost supernatural layer of white fog, and Victor Young's suspenseful score, Ministry of Fear works best at depicting the mounting layers of threats, all seemingly unrelated, that weave around Milland, underscoring his questionable mental state and Lang's ability to tap into the psychological elements of noir. Once the disparate threads come together, the film becomes a bit more standard-issue thriller material, due in part to associate producer Seton I. Miller's script, which sands down the emotional complexities of Greene's source material (much to the dismay of the author, who disavowed the final product). But Lang completists and noir aficionados should appreciate this lesser effort from the director, especially with so much to recommend it, from Milland, one year away from his Oscar win for The Lost Weekend, and Dan Duryea's alarming turn as a duplicitous tailor with a pair of lethal shears, to Criterion's crisp 2K digital restoration. The Criterion Blu-ray and DVD are supplemented by a 17-minute interview with Lang scholar Joe McElhaney, who discusses the film's production, its relation to other works by the director, and its comparison to Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers, among other topics. An original theatrical trailer and liner notes by Glenn Kenney round out the extras. --Paul Gaita

Special Features

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New interview with Fritz Lang scholar Joe McElhaney
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Glenn Kenny

  • Product Details

    • Actors: Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond, Hillary Brooke, Percy Waram
    • Directors: Fritz Lang
    • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Black & White, NTSC, Full Screen
    • Language: English
    • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
    • Number of discs: 1
    • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
    • Studio: Criterion Collection
    • DVD Release Date: March 12, 2013
    • Run Time: 87 minutes
    • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
    • ASIN: B00AQ6J536
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,999 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Alejandra Vernon HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 10, 2005
    Format: VHS Tape
    Stephen Neal has spent 2 years in an asylum for what was judged as a "mercy killing," and when his sentence is completed, he leaves to find a world gone mad. It is 1944, the height of WWII, and it all starts with a cake. Neal wins a cake at a fair, and while on the train to London, is nearly murdered for it. He is then swept into a world of Nazis, spies, bogus fortune-tellers, and sinister people with aliases. We see the plot unfold from Neal's eyes, and are as perplexed as he is; trying to figure out the meaning as one is watching is a hopeless task.

    Based on a novel by Graham Greene, the direction by Fritz Lang is excellent, and it has an atmospheric, eerie score by Victor Young. The real beauty of this film is in the superb cinematography by Henry Sharp, with a use of light/shade contrasts that are spectacular, and the composition of each scene a work of art. Added to this is the attractiveness of its leading man. Ray Milland was at the top of his career (he was to win the Best Actor Oscar for "The Lost Weekend" the following year), and is marvelous, as well as very handsome as Neal. Supporting him is Marjorie Reynolds as the Austrian Carla Hilfe, Carl Esmond as her brother Willi, Hillary Brooke as the leggy Mrs. Bellane, and Dan Duryea as a sinister tailor with a big pair of scissors.

    This film may not have the most cogent of plots, but it is entertaining, and lovely to look at. Fritz Lang was forced by the studio to tack on an ending that he deplored, and I have to say it is startling in its change of mood. I suspect Lang made it purposely as short and abrupt as it is, as a signal to the audience that it was not his intent. If you like noir spy mysteries, you'll like "Ministry of Fear", but don't waste too many brain cells trying to make sense of it. Total running time is 84 minutes.
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    50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Vincent Tesi on June 15, 2000
    Format: VHS Tape
    Director Fritz Lang masterfully blends Nazi espionage, psychological intrigue, and dangerous romance into the 1944 noir classic Ministry of Fear. Ray Milland stars as a man wrongfully accused of murder who must prove his innocence. Stephen Neale (Milland) innocently guesses the correct weight of a cake at a charity fair and immediately becomes entangled in a series of bizarre events. Lang's suggestive use of camera angles, dark ominous lighting, and slow tracking frames provide added suspense to his mysterious sets which include: a seance, an asylum, a train car, and a book store. Probably the most innovative murder scene ever captured on film is when Carla ( Majorie Reynolds) shoots her brother Willi ( Carl Esmond) in the pitch darkness of a hotel room. Frequent noir visitor Dan Duryea appears as Mr. Travers, a well groomed tailor who actually is a Nazi spy. The film's shadowy mood pervades the context, which is a testament to Lang's creative genius. Ministry of Fear was one of the films that inspired Alfred Hitchcock to new artistic heights.
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    29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By William Hare on February 3, 2007
    Format: VHS Tape
    Fritz Lang was one of the greatest directing talents to ever emerge from German cinema. Born in Vienna, he migrated to Berlin following service in World War One and became one of Germany's premier directors.

    When Hitler came to power, however, Lang found himself at a potentially deadly crossroad. He was summoned by Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich's infamous Director of Propaganda, and was offered the position of becoming the regime's head of filmmaking.

    The sagacious director knew a trap when he saw it. He was aware that the Nazi regime was aware of his opposition to everything it stood for as well as one other important fact. While Lang was a practicing Catholic, his mother was Jewish, a fact of which Goebbels and Hitler were surely aware.

    Lang believed that his life was at stake. He left quickly by train that evening and proceeded to Paris, leaving behind his wife and family. From there he moved to London, at which point famous producer David O. Selznick of "Gone with the Wind" fame came to his rescue by putting him under contract and bringing Lang to Hollywood.

    It was with understandable relish that Lang, after reading famous British author Graham Greene's suspense novel, desired to bring "Ministry of Fear" to the screen. The 1944 release centers on the story of a victim of fate, played by Ray Milland, becoming caught up in Nazi espionage intrigue in war torn London.

    In fact, the touching scene where Milland and Marjorie Reynolds realize that they are falling in love occurs during a blackout when they, along with other Londoners, seek refuge at an Underground Station.
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    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on May 14, 2006
    Format: VHS Tape
    Maybe Graham Greene didn't like this movie, but he was like every other author and thought his every word was gold. The movie skips all the dreary insane asylum scenes but one, and goes straight to the heart of things, in the county fair, or fete, a concept which people in the USA probably were saying, "What did he say? Fate?" No, it's a fete, and Milland walks in directly after having been let out of the asylym, hearing the music at the train station while buying a ticket out of Ledbridge. He asks the station agent, "Where's the music coming from?" and when told it's the fete, he asks if he could leave his clothes and suitcases on a little bench outside the station while he investigated, had a little unnocent fun after being cooped up for 2 years having killed his poor wife in a Dr. Death sort of provide-me-with-poison-please-darling murder case. In Graham Greene's novel, of course, the hero was headed for a brothel, not a funfair, but the movies of the 1940s had to sanitize things a bit.

    Watching this scene, with the ticket agent saying, Oh sure, just leave all your earthly belongings on this bench, nobody will take them, we just gazed in astonishment. Those were different times! They may have had blitz bombings and Nazi spy rings and people pretending to be blind just to make off with your cake, but at least you could leave your bags on a bench and no one would steal them.
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    Ministry of Fear (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
    This item: Ministry of Fear (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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