Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - MAN HUNT on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Twilight Time - MAN HUNT on Blu-ray

MAN HUNT (1941; Fritz Lang)
You know what would make a lot of mediocre movies way better? A good villain. I have a (perhaps obvious) theory that the better the villain, the better the movie. This can't be applied as a blanket statement across all of cinema, but I've found that more often than not, the villain is kinda the crux of everything, especially in any kind of thriller. Some of the best kinds of villains just keep coming at the hero relentlessly. They absolutely will not stop until he/she is dead. Case in point: THE TERMINATOR, or George Sanders in MAN HUNT. Don't get me wrong, Sanders ain't no Cyberdine Systems model 101. He's human, and faux-English and wears a monocle. He's kinda the opposite of a Terminator. But what the two have in common is a tenacious determination that is quite unsettling. I've seen the occasional bad guy role from Sanders, but this tops all of them. To be completely honest, I find Sanders to often be a rather bland screen presence, but that low key nature works well here to make him more menacing as the heavy.
The lead role in MAN HUNT is played by the affable Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon is one of those actors whose work I've come to know more intimately over the past few years. I've been a gigantic FORBIDDEN PLANET fan for some time and was always aware of him there (where he plays the not-so-good guy himself), but I was unaware of some of the work he did as a younger man like the NICK CARTER films or all of his collaborations with Greer Garson. MAN HUNT opens rather memorably with Pidgeon's character creeping up to a villa, pulling out a high powered rifle and training his scope on Hitler himself. It's a powerful opening to a movie because it sets up the idea of the "sporting stalk" which becomes a recurring paradigm throughout. You see, Pidgeon's character is a renound big game hunter and he becomes the "prey" of George Sanders' nazi major who just will not let him get away. They have a few great scene se together. As I mentioned, I can often find Sanders to be less than vibrant and Pidgeon isn't always an energetic dynamo himself, but they both really shine in this film.
The only occasionally distracting thing about MAN HUNT is Joan Bennett's performance. Let me start by saying I like Bennett quite a bit and think she's rather lovely (she reminds me of a young darker haired Lucille Ball for some reason). In this film she plays a rather working class type girl who's supposed to have something of a cockneyed accent. Herein lies the problem. I'm not sure what they had in the way of dialect coaches back in the day, but Bennett could have used one. Her accent is just at the edge of passable and often feels like she's not making much of an effort with it. This was my second viewing of the film so it stiff out to me a little more this time. It's a tough thing too because her portrayal is otherwise pretty strong, emotional and quite sympathetic. Overall, it's a minor quibble and I must admit to being a bit more easily distracted by accents than perhaps other viewers will be.
The cast is rounded out with a nice turn by John Carradine (as part of Sanders' evil crew) and a very charming turn by an extremely young Roddy McDowall. It is especially rewarding to see McDowall here as he is free of a lot of the unique cadences he would develop in his later years as an actor. Don't get me wrong, I love those cadences and the way he throughfully delivers dialogue in general, but it was interesting to see him a little less inhibited and just starting out as an actor (he was about 13 when he made this film). He and Walter Pidgeon play well in their handful of scenes together. McDowall would work with him again, also in 1941, on HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. What a year for the young actor - to work with Fritz Lang and John Ford must have been something quite memorable for him.
MAN HUNT is really well shot and shows the deft hand of a true artistic genius behind the camera. Many of the compositions are wonderful tableauxs of shadow and light that feel so meticulously designed and yet not distracting in their effortless loveliness. The use of darkness and contrast in each frame also plays perfectly into this underlying sense of paranoia that envelops every scene. I instinctively think of Hitchcock when it comes to this kind of thriller material and shooting style, but Lang has a much grittier sensibility about him. He really creates a stylized canvas on par with anything Hitch did in this period with MAN HUNT. It's one of his best and yet still slightly underappreciated films.

Bonus Features:
Included on this disc is a commentary track by Patrick McGilligan, author of the book Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. McGilligan does a nice job on this track and touches on many aspects of Lang and the history of this movie and it's place in his filmography. He is quite thorough and comments on actors, performances, music, cinematography, the screenplay and other elements. This tracks reminds me of an old Critetion Laserdisc commentary from back in the day. Good stuff.

Also included is "Rogue Male: The Making Of MAN HUNT" (17 mins) 
Talks about the "Lang-ian" aspects of the film, the source novel, other directors who might have made the film (John Ford),how quickly MAN HUNT was made, how Fritz Lang's process worked, and the political fallout following the film's release.
Kim Newman, Patrick McGilligan, Dr. Drew Casper, Steve Haberman, Paul M. Jensen, and others are featured interviwees for this featurette.

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

It's a fine and very underrated Lang movie and I agree entirely about the performance of George Sanders.