B&W, 1941, 102 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall, Ludwig Stössel, Heather Thatcher
Signal One (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Man Hunt

Man HuntMany European directors who emigrated to Hollywood in the years leading up to World War II threw their hat in the wave of films urging American involvement in the war against Axis forces, with Alfred Hitchcock among the leaders courtesy of Foreign Correspondent. Fritz Lang quickly followed suit with a trio of excellent films making a case for resistance explicitly against the Nazi threat, starting with the fast-paced and gripping Man Hunt and followed by Ministry of Fear and Hangmen Also Die. The film also marked the start of a four-film collaboration between Lang and actress Joan Bennett (of future Dark Shadows and Suspiria fame), which would result in some of their finest work.

The action starts "Somewhere in Germany - shortly before the War," as ethical hunter Alan Thorndike (Pidgeon) is scouting around in the woods near an estate where Adolph Hitler is having a meeting. As the Führer stands outside, a curious Thorndike sees whether he can get him in sights -- and tries pulling the trigger of his empty rifle just for kicks. After he puts a bullet in a chamber, a nearby officer spots him immediately takes him into the custody of imposing, monocled Major Quive-Smith (Sanders), who also enjoys hunting but is intrigued by Thorndike's claim that he never kills; the thrill is matching wits and seeing whether a clean shot is possible. An offer is made to let Thorndike go free to England if he signs a confession that he was an assassin working for the English government, but Thorndike refuses -- setting off a violent retribution that leaves a nearly dead Thordike Man Huntescaping to England for his life on a departing ship. Back home he finds himself hunted by a blade-wielding German agent named Mr. Jones (Carradine) and seeks the aid of Man Huntsweet-natured seamstress Jerry (Bennett) to help avoid the men who want him to sign that inflammatory confession at any cost.

Long unavailable on home video in any format, Man Hunt finally appeared on DVD from Fox in 2009 with a fairly solid transfer and extras consisting of a worthwhile audio commentary by Patrick McGilligan (who covers the film's placement in pro-intervention cinema before America jumped into World War II, Lang's career in Hollywood at the time, and fun bits like the very screen appearance of Roddy McDowall), "Rogue Mate: The Making of Man Hunt" (16m37s), which takes its title from the Geoffrey Houshold source novel and studies the film's Langian visual motifs and significance in World War II spy films with interviewees including Kim Newman and Steve Haberman, and the original theatrical trailer. Bizarrely, the film was originally announced for a DVD release in 2007 as part of one of Fox's classic horror movie collections, and apparently someone pointed out the rather obvious fact that this didn't fit the genre in any way whatsoever apart from a vague, partial resemblance to The Most Dangerous Game in the scenes with Sanders. A Blu-ray followed from Twilight Time in 2014, featuring a stellar HD presentation, all of the extras from the DVD, and an isolated score track to boot featuring Alfred Newman's score.

In 2017, the film made its HD bow in the UK courtesy of a dual-format Blu-ray Man Huntand DVD release from Signal One that marks the film's most expansive special edition to date. The Fox transfer was already excellent and still is here, and the English LPCM mono audio is crystal clear with optional English SDH subtitles. The commentary, featurette, and trailer are carried over from the past two releases, but Man Huntthere's a nice helping of new material here, too. In addition to separate galleries for promotional material and stills, Fiction Factory's "The Biggest Game: Jan-Christopher Horak on Fritz Lang's Man Hunt And Hollywood s Anti-Nazi Films" (20m57s) goes further into Hollywood's anti-intervention status at the time, the source novel and plans to have it filmed by John Ford, Lang's experience with Goebbels before leaving Germany, and plenty more. "The Woman Is Dangerous: Vanessa Wanger Hope On Joan Bennett, Walter Wanger And Fritz Lang" (26m30s) features Bennett's granddaughter (and the only one to end up in the film business and keep the name of Bennett's husband Walter Wanger) exploring the early Hollywood history of both Bennett and Wanger and goes into the string of Lang films including this one, Secret Beyond the Door, Scarlet Street, and The Woman in the Window. with a note about how the seamstress angle was added to appease the Production Code and barely ward off the impression that she was a prostitute. She also notes the oddness of the Code being fine with a scene in which Bennett poses as a streetwalker and definitely has issues with the "little monkey" business, after which she goes into the possible affairs on both sides that culminated in one of the more notorious moments of 1950s Hollywood history. Both are quite fascinating additions and well worth exploring in what could remain the ultimate edition of a top-notch Hollywood thriller that hasn't lost a bit of its tension or impact.

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Reviewed on June 19, 2017.