British hunter Thorndike vacationing in Bavaria has Hitler in his gun sight. He is captured, beaten, left for dead, and escapes back to London where he is hounded by German agents and aided ... Read allBritish hunter Thorndike vacationing in Bavaria has Hitler in his gun sight. He is captured, beaten, left for dead, and escapes back to London where he is hounded by German agents and aided by a young woman.British hunter Thorndike vacationing in Bavaria has Hitler in his gun sight. He is captured, beaten, left for dead, and escapes back to London where he is hounded by German agents and aided by a young woman.
Offhand the title and idea to this movie sounds a bit routine--a man singlehandedly avoiding authorities and pursuers. Even the extra theme that the Nazis are the bad guys sounded well worn, though the fact it was shot and released during that interesting two year period of WWII before the Americans got involved is something of a hook.
But I watched mainly because the formerly German director, Fritz Lang, is one of the handful of best directors ever.
And it pays off. The clichés are made fresh--even the Nazi types are different than you'd expect. The filming is great, showing the use of shadows and ominous points of view that film noir would take up in the next couple of years. And the plot has a mixture of one man against the world survival as well as boy meets girl romance.
It's terrific stuff, hardly dated at all. And the cinematography is by one of the stalwarts of the period, Arthur Miller, so it has lots of moving camera and interesting tight compositions.
The main character Alan Thorndike is played by Walter Pidgeon, one of those leading males who hasn't always stood up well over time. The deep voice, nice guy quality he is famous for isn't always matched by a pertinent acting intensity. His physical presence in a film is often a shade unconvincing. Lang might have found a perfect balance here because Thorndike's situation is so harsh, at least at times, and there is often a contrasting focus on Pidgeon's face and the innocence it is so good at projecting.
Oddly (and maybe with some political savvy, who knows), Pidgeon is a Canadian playing a Brit, with no attempt at an accent, so this supposedly patriotic movie has a weird falseness in every scene. The reason this might be on purpose is it's carried through all along--the leading woman, Joan Bennet, is a New Jersey girl who has adopted a strong Irish (I think, or Cockney) accent. And the main Nazi is played by upper crust British legend George Sanders (who was born in Russia). And so goes this international plot.
Of course, Lang was an expatriate German Jew working for Hollywood. He was becoming known for his anti-Nazi fervor to the dismay of the right wing Hays Code commission, which we now understand better. Lang's penchant for shooting at night (which goes back to his days in the German film industry) and his ability to make people sinister without actually showing them doing sinister things is partly why this simple movie works. It's also made complicated by the large range of locations used (or invented in the studio), and by the irony of the sweet love affair in the wings in the second half.
You might say it's a propaganda film if you want to use that word loosely. It does at the very end send a message to the viewers, and to Hitler, that the British are out to get him. But really this is a movie about good against evil, about free thinking versus doing what you're told. And about love, completely unfulfilled, but so incipient you feel it and want it.
Yes, see this, if you like movies from the period, or know you like Lang's films. Or if you like film noir, since this is a pre-cursor. Or see it if you appreciate a very well made film with an edgy historical setting.
- Dec 15, 2012