All of you Fritz Lang fans out there may finally breathe a sigh of relief. Fox Home Entertainment has finally released the iconic director’s World War II thriller Man Hunt to home video.
Based on the classic novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, Man Hunt opens with British sportsman Thorndike (Canadian-born actor Walter Pidgeon, sans any sort of English accent whatsoever) sneaking about the woods of Berchtesgaden in 1939. Ascending to the top of a ledge, Thorndike takes out his precision rifle and soon has Adolf Hitler (bit player Carl Ekberg — who played Hitler more times in film than probably anybody else) in his sights. He fires, but there is no shot since he has deliberately not loaded his gun. Thinking it over for a moment, Thorndike decides to load a shell into his weapon — but is then captured by a Nazi officer on patrol.
Held captive by Hitler’s security chief, a monocle-clad man named Major Quive-Smith (English actor George Sanders), Thorndike is asked to sign a confession stating he was assigned by his country to assassinate the “strutting little Caesar.” With such a confession, Hitler and his army of madmen will have reason to invade Great Britain. He refuses, and is tortured and finally thrown from a cliff.
Miraculously surviving, Thorndike makes his way back to England. There he finds the Gestapo on every corner looking for him, and a caring young woman (American actress Joan Bennett, who does try her hand at an accent — and poorly at that) who may be the only person he can rely on in a world full of spies. John Carradine is at his menacing best in a supporting role as one of the spies, and a young Roddy McDowall hams it up in his first American role.
Man Hunt may not have the best script in the world (the whole production was rushed and made in only three months), but nevertheless it is a film that is practically required viewing for any WWII enthusiast. When Man Hunt was being filmed, America was still neutral to that Hitler guy’s rampaging in Europe. The Hays Office wasn’t quite sure if this was a British propaganda film or not (and then, a few months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked and, well… the rest is history isn’t it?).
Another thing that keeps the film afloat is Fritz Lang’s unmistakable touch. The lighting is undeniably expressionistic. The foggy, dimly-lighted streets of London (although Hollywood-created) give the film a unique atmosphere that one cannot dispute. And the restoration job that Fox has done with this vintage title is remarkable.
The movie is presented in its original standard 1.33:1 ratio, with solid blacks throughout. I did notice that the right hand of the screen tended to have an odd “blue-ish” tint to it during some scenes (particularly during the middle of the film), but it isn’t something that should discourage viewers (or perhaps it was just me). Audio-wise, we are treated to the original English mono soundtrack as well as an English mono stereo one. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
It’s rare to see special features with an older “catalogue” title. But, for once, that oversight has been corrected, and Fox has given us a few goodies to gloat over. First off is an audio commentary with Lang author Patrick McGilligan. Although he sounds like he’s scared shitless, McGilligan gives us a lot of information about the film, the stars, director Lang, and notes many of the film's strong points as well as the low ones.
Additional bonus materials consist of the featurette “Rogue Male: The Making Of Man Hunt” (16:43); a trailer (1:49) that seems to be missing all of its titles and captions; a restoration comparison; and several galleries.
While it may seem dated to the average modern moviegoer, Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt takes us back to a pre-World War II era and gives us a fascinating (and historically important) political message. Okay, so Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett don’t exactly make the most convincing English people, but George Sanders’ German more than makes us for that. It’s a fun movie, too.