Shortly before WWII, renowned British game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) is caught attempting to shoot Adolph Hitler. He denies this, claiming it was just a sporting stalk, in which a hunter only tries to get his prey within his sights. Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), fellow hunter and an admirer, doesn’t buy his explanation and offers to let Thorndike return to England if he signs a confession stating he was working as an assassin for the British government. Thorndike refuses even after being tortured, declaring it isn’t true. An attempt by Quive-Smith to fake Thorndike’s death fails, allowing him to escape, and then, as the title foreshadows, the hunter becomes the hunted.
A very young sailor (Roddy McDowall) helps Thorndike hide from the Nazis aboard a ship that takes him to London. Soon after docking, Thorndike is discovered and is chased by a group of men led by Mr. Jones (John Carradine), but a chance meeting with Jerry (Joan Bennett), a prostitute, though her occupation is only hinted at because of the film censors of the times, keeps him one step ahead of his pursuers for a while. Thorndike is tracked down by Quive-Smith and the hunters have it out.
Man Hunt starts off as an intriguing adventure film, but the middle third really bogs down as the poorly constructed romantic angle is played up. This is unfortunate as the film’s pacing was already slow to begin with due to its age. The action elements return for the last third and salvage the film, but it’s a tough slog and I’d recommend skipping ahead chapters to the viewer who gets bored.
Based on Geoffrey Household’s novel, which first ran as a serial in Atlantic Monthly, Man Hunt was directed Fritz Lang, who made classic films belonging to the German Expressionism movement, such as Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). He had firsthand knowledge of the Nazis and left Germany in 1934. The film, which was shot in 1940 before America’s involvement in WWII, encourages the viewer to join the fight against them.