Original release: June 13th, 1941
Running time: 105 minutes
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Geoffrey Household, Dudley Nichols
Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall
Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) all have a few things in common. For one, they contain Fritz Lang’s early signature style of filmmaking influenced by the Weimar Republic; characterised by their chiaroscuro lighting, two dimensional sets, and exaggerated form of acting.
Manhunt, Made after the Weimar Republic and based on the 1939 novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, came as something of a surprise for me then.
Set just prior to World War II, it tells the story of Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), a British hunter on holiday in Bavaria who stumbles upon Hitler’s country house. When he spots the Führer in his garden, Thorndike takes aim with his empty rifle. After a while he decides to load a bullet and take aim again, but just as he’s about to fire, he’s discovered by a guard.
Captured and interrogated by members of Hitler’s Gestapo, Thorndike eventually escapes and manages to stow away on a ship heading to the East India Docks in London. Once there, he’s aided by local seamstress Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) when he discovers German agents are on his tail. On the run again, Thorndike hides out in Africa to avoid being extradited but eventually is forced to confess his assassination attempt before getting another chance to finish what he started.
What I found surprising was how far removed Manhunt was from those films from Lang I’d known and loved for so long. Manhunt at times swings more towards Film Noir, especially in the scenes where Thorndike is about to be interrogated; dragged to a chair in a darkened room where the door had been left ajar; we only recognise his silhouette as it stretches forward in the long shadow cast by the intruding light.
The film in some ways mirrors Lang’s own experiences, having fled from Nazi Germany when he learnt that not only had Hitler enjoyed Metropolis, but that the minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, wanted to hire him as the head of UFA. He found his own ways of standing up to fascism through filmmaking, despite the constraints the Hays Office (aka the Motion Picture Production Code) put on him during the film’s production.
Although Lang would later move into the Film Noir genre with Scarlet Street (1945), Manhunt seems more like a transition period. That being said, it’s a very enjoyable story about a man caught up in what was to become World War II; moving from a pacifist to someone who takes a stand against fascism. Roddy McDowall is gives a delightful performance as Vaner, the cabin boy who helps hide Thorndike and I would’ve liked to have seen him in a bigger role in the film as he’s so memorable, whereas Joan Bennett as Jerry seems to lack the motivation I would expect her to have if she’s about to risk so much to go along with Thorndike.
Manhunt, nevertheless, is a very enjoyable film and will certainly appeal to those with an interest in Lang’s films and World War II thrillers.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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