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FOX

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Fritz Lang
Cast:
Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall, Ludwig Stössel
Writing Credits:
Geoffrey Household (novel), Dudley Nichols

Synopsis:
From Fritz Lang, the legendary director of M and Metropolis, Man Hunt is the tale of a British hunter (Walter Pidgeon) who, while vacationing in Bavaria, finds himself in an unbelievable position: sitting in his crosshairs is Adolf Hitler. What the hunter does next leads to his capture, vicious beating, and eventual escape back to London, where he is unrelentingly chased down by German agents and his only ally seems to be a local prostitute. This unusual 1941 noir thriller is based on a novel by Geoffrey Household.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Stereo
English Monaural
French Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 5/19/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Author Patrick McGilligan
• “Rogue Male: The Making of Manhunt” Documentary
• Restoration Comparison
• Advertising Gallery
• Artwork Gallery
• Still Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer


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RELATED REVIEWS


Man Hunt (1941)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 1, 2009)

Without the vague plot similarities it shares with 2008’s Valkyrie, would we have this DVD release of 1941’s Man Hunt? Probably not, but I don’t regard that as a bad thing.

Unlike Valkyrie, Man Hunt provides a fictional adventure. Set shortly before the start of World War II, British big game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) places Adolf Hitler in his gun sights. A German soldier thwarts this activity, and Thorndike ends up a captive at the hands of Gestapo officer Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders).

When they chat, Thorndike claims he never intended to shoot Hitler. Instead, he says he simply wanted to enjoy the sport of it all and to prove he could breach the tight security. Understandably, Quive-Smith fails to accept this explanation, but he gives Thorndike the chance to leave a free man anyway. The catch: Thorndike must sign a “confession” that indicates he intended to assassinate Hitler with the approval of the British government.

Despite torture and threats, Thorndike refuses to cooperate with this plan. Quive-Smith arranges for Thorndike to meet with an “accident” that sends him off a ledge. Thorndike survives and manages to escape back to England. This doesn’t leave him without woes, however; the Nazis remain on his tail and won’t give up until he either returns to Germany with them or signs that notorious “confession”.

Prior to this DVD, apparently Man Hunt never came out on home video in the US. I don’t know why its owners kept it in the vault for so long, but it certainly wasn’t a reflection of the film’s quality. While not an unqualified success, Man Hunt works much better than I might’ve anticipated.

The story stands out as a definite positive. Although it works from a simple conceit, it provides a complicated tale that keeps us guessing. When Thorndike gets into England, one might think that all suspense would depart. However, the film maintains its tension, albeit with a moderate suspension of logic; wouldn’t the British government be a little more willing to help one of its citizens, especially a wealthy, prominent one like Thorndike?

That quibble aside, the plot succeeds, and director Fritz Lang stages the various chase/action sequences in a masterful manner. He uses shadows to great effect. None of these scenes crackles with dynamic fights; instead, Lang makes them tense and suspenseful in a Hitchcockian manner. Those easily become the movie's best moments.

I’m less sure how I feel about Jerry (Joan Bennett), Thorndike’s love interest. I really should despise the character. Jerry exists for three reasons: 1) cheap romance for the ladies in the audience; 2) comic relief; and 3) plot device. I can live with the first two, especially since the romance between Jerry and Thorndike remains beneath the surface; heck, they never even get to kiss.

However, Jerry’s existence as a plot device becomes more troublesome. In truth, she’s unnecessary, as the story of Thorndike’s attempts to evade his pursuers would work just as well without her. As the flick progresses, it uses her in a predictable way that I also don’t much like. In addition, the movie’s ending evokes her spirit in a way that seems more like a method to rouse British troops than anything logical in the tale’s framework.

Still, as much as I feel I should dislike Jerry and her participation in the story, I don’t. Maybe it’s the light charm Bennett brings to the part. Even saddled with a broad – and unconvincing – Cockney accent and a decidedly pre-feminist personality, Bennett makes Jerry downright adorable. The movie would be just as good without her, but she doesn’t harm it like she probably should.

I must admit I wish Man Hunt had further explored the relationship between Thorndike and Vaner (Roddy McDowall), the young cabin boy who helps the escapee get home. McDowall was a very talented child actor, and he shares a good chemistry with Pidgeon. Indeed, they would reappear together a few months later as father and son in How Green Was My Valley. Vaner is about 1000 times more dynamic and resourceful than Jerry, and he’s a lot more interesting as a character. It’s too bad he leaves so early in the flick.

Maybe the filmmakers didn’t want him around because McDowall was an actor who played his own nationality. The Canadian-born Pidgeon doesn’t even attempt a British accent – shades of Tom Cruise in Valkyrie! – while New Jersey’s Bennett lays on the Eliza Dolittle. The exceedingly British Sanders stays English despite his character’s Germanic nature. It’s an odd hodgepodge that probably should hurt the film but doesn’t.

Actually, Bennett’s thick Cockney gets a little silly, but I could better suspend disbelief with the others, mainly because the actors seem so powerful in their roles. It’s a bit strange to see the usually droll Sanders play such an overt heavy. Through his career, he tended to be more at home with roles that accentuated his acerbic side. Quive-Smith isn’t some blunt goose-stepping stooge, but he lacks the subtlety normally seen in the actor’s parts.

Nonetheless, Sanders makes him a formidable foe. I also like John Carradine’s similarly subdued but equally chilling performance as a German spy on Thorndike’s tail. He does a lot with a little; we never see him as an active physical force, but Carradine ensures that we fear him anyway.

Some parts of Man Hunt don’t succeed tremendously well, and the movie clearly shows its World War II roots; there’s a bit of propaganda to be found. Nonetheless, it works as a whole. It gives us a taut, tense piece that consistently keeps our attention.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Man Hunt appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Making its home video debut, the transfer seemed erratic but acceptable.

Sharpness varied. In close-ups and most two-shots, the movie looked reasonably well-defined. However, wider elements tended to be less precise and could seem somewhat muddy and soft. Overall delineation was acceptable to good, however. Only mild signs of jagged edges and shimmering appeared, and edge enhancement remained minor.

Source flaws weren’t absent, but they weren’t excessive either. Actually, the first act looked the worst, as I noticed occasional examples of specks, marks and small hairs. Some of these persisted through the rest of the film, but they cropped up less frequently. While I’ve certainly seen cleaner movies from this one’s era, I’ve seen many dirtier ones as well; the movie looked reasonably free from defects.

Blacks were usually pretty good, but contrast varied. Most low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity; they allowed the subjects to vanish when appropriate and demonstrated positive clarity. However, shots with normal lighting could be too bright. This was especially true of some interiors; they became a bit washed-out in appearance. I thought this transfer was up and down, so it earned a “C+”.

Like many older Fox films, Man Hunt comes with a stereo remix. (The original monaural track also appears here.) Don’t expect a whole lot from the soundstage, as it essentially remained true to its mono roots. Indeed, I got the impression the mix simply spread the single-channel audio across the three front speakers. I noticed virtually no examples of any isolated elements on the sides, and music failed to demonstrate stereo imaging. This was broad mono and nothing more.

Audio quality showed its age but remained respectable. Noise became a minor issue when connected to speech, as those seemed somewhat rough and harsh. The dialogue seemed intelligible but not particularly warm or natural.

Actually, the rest of the track followed suit, though the flaws weren’t as noticeable. Effects came across as decent but unspectacular. They had some rough edges but lacked much distortion, at least, and could boast fair low-end; for instance, the rumble of a boat engine featured surprisingly nice bass.

Music was adequate. The score could be shrill and tinny, but that wasn’t totally unexpected given the movie’s age. In the end, this was a passable soundtrack when I factored in the flick’s vintage, but it wasn’t any better than that.

When we head to the set’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from author Patrick McGilligan. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion of the source novel and its adaptation, cast and crew, cinematography and audio elements, some production background and issues related to society at the time, and some criticism. (Actually, a lot of criticism; usually tracks like this dole out the praise, but McGilligan really slams many aspects of the film.)

While not among the best historical commentaries I’ve heard, McGilligan provides a capable and informative look at the film. I don’t agree with all of his criticisms, but I understand them, and his interpretation adds value. He also throws out some good filmmaking notes and turns this into a useful piece.

A featurette entitled Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt runs 16 minutes, 42 seconds, and includes notes from McGilligan, novelist/film critic Kim Newman, USC film professor Dr. Drew Casper, film historian/screenwriter Steve Haberman, and The Cinema of Fritz Lang author Paul M. Jensen. The show looks at the original book and its translation to the screen, thoughts about director Fritz Lang and his involvement in the film, political/propaganda elements, characters and themes, cast and performances, and the movie’s reception.

Thought it repeats some of the info from the commentary, “Rogue” manages to provide good new insights. The variety of perspectives adds to the presentation, and we find a mix of useful notes. This is too short a featurette to be tremendously insightful, but it works well enough to merit a look.

Next we find a Restoration Comparison. The piece leads us through the various steps used to bring the DVD transfer up to snuff. This kind of piece usually strikes me as self-congratulatory, but it’s moderately interesting to see the work put into the image.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find three Galleries. These cover “Advertising” (12 images), “Artwork” (5) and “Stills” (42). None are stellar, but all are reasonably compelling.

Despite a wee element of wartime propaganda, Man Hunt continues to entertain almost 70 years after its creation. The tense chase at its heart keeps us involved and occupied. The DVD provides erratic but decent picture and audio along with a few good extras. At no point does this become a great release, but it’s more than acceptable, and the movie itself is fun enough to earn my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main