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Man Hunt: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Man Hunt (1941) movie poster Man Hunt

Theatrical Release: June 13, 1941 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Fritz Lang / Writers: Dudley Nichols (screenplay), Geoffrey Household (novel Rogue Male)

Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Captain Alan Thorndike), Joan Bennett (Jerry Stokes), George Sanders (Major Quive-Smith), John Carradine (Mr. Jones), Roddy McDowall (Vaner), Ludwig Stossel (Doctor), Heather Thatcher (Lady Alice Risborough), Frederick Worlock (Lord Gerald Risborough), Roger Imhof (Captain Jensen), Egon Brecher (Jeweler), Lester Matthews (Major), Holmes Herbert (Saul Farnsworthy), Eily Malyon (Postmistress), Arno Frey (Police Lieutenant), Frederick Vogeding (Ambassador), Lucien Prival (Umbrella Man), Herbert Evans (Reeves), Keith Hitchcock (Bobby)

Buy Man Hunt on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

Fritz Lang cemented his name in film history books with Metropolis, the landmark 1927 sci-fi silent that was the most expensive movie made up until then. Nearly ninety years after its release,
that film is still highly regarded and widely considered one of a handful of pre-sound works you must see to enhance your appreciation and knowledge of cinema. Its German-Austrian maker was just 36 years old when Metropolis was released and he was far from finished with the medium. Lang made his entrance into talking pictures with 1931's M, still one of the most esteemed films of the first full decade of synchronized sound.

Though Lang was raised as a devout Catholic, his mother was born Jewish and he feared that heritage could create trouble for him in Austria with Hitler and the Nazis in power. Following the banning of his crime sequel The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and an invitation by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to head a studio, Lang fled to Paris in 1934. Two years and one French movie later, Lang came to the United States, where he would spend most of the rest of his career and life.

Perhaps nothing from his twenty years of helming American movies reached the same level of legend as Metropolis, M, and Dr. Mabuse, but Lang directed films regularly through 1956 and many of them were taken seriously and are still deemed important, including such noir classics as The Big Heat, The Woman in the Window, Fury, and Scarlet Street.

Most of those had yet to come when Lang's thriller Man Hunt arrived in 1941 during a period that produced a number of films still held up among the greatest of all time. Citizen Kane had its New York premiere a month earlier, Casablanca was just a year and a half away, and MGM's 1939 Technicolor masterpieces The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were still fresh in mind. Obviously, Man Hunt didn't ascend to such lofty heights, but it put Lang on the right track for a distinguished Hollywood career specialized in noir.

Is this simply a sporting stalk or does Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) truly intend to assassinate Adolph Hitler? The film lets you decide. In his first American film role, young Roddy McDowall plays Vaner, a British cabin boy who sympathizes with Thorndike and keeps him hidden from the Nazis.

Adapted from George Household novel's Rogue Male (which had first been published in serial form in Atlantic Monthly Magazine), Man Hunt opens in July 1939 with an Englishman named Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) setting his precision rifle with none other than Adolf Hitler in the crosshairs. Thorndike's clean shot is thrown off by a fallen leaf and then he is tackled by a Nazi officer.

Taken into custody, Thorndike is questioned by German Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), whose initial friendly airs are less telling than his monocle. The Major expresses familiarity with and appreciation of Thorndike, from one big game hunter to another. The Brit tries to explain that although his weapon was lined up with the distance estimated almost perfectly, he had no intention of actually shooting Der Führer. It was merely a "sporting stalk", the extent of his hunting these days.

Quive-Smith doesn't buy the explanation. He offers to let Thorndike go, so long as he signs a confession saying he was acting as an assassin of the British government. He won't, even under torture, insisting it's not true. So, Quive-Smith and a fellow officer throw Thorndike off a cliff, staging it to look like a fatal fall. When they come back the next morning to "discover" the body while hunting, they are surprised to find Thorndike clinging to life and slowly getting away.

The Brit makes it to water and sneaks onto a Danish ship headed for London. Thorndike is hidden by Vaner (a young Roddy McDowall), a precocious British cabin boy, who makes sure the German authorities that quickly board and search the boat do not find his fellow countryman. Thorndike thinks he's home free once the ship reaches port in London, but he's not. Every street corner there seems to hold someone out to get him. Thorndike narrowly eludes his persistent tails with the help of Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett), a Cockney naïf who loans him all the money she has and insists on joining him on this dangerous adventure.

Thorndike repays the small loan many times over upon reuniting with his usual high class company (apart from the scar across his jaw, he's no worse for the wear), but Jerry continues to tag along, while Thorndike pretends he doesn't like her company. Keeping him safe in her small home, she introduces him to the joys of eating fish and chips with one's fingers. He buys her a pendant for her hat. They're not in the clear, yet, though with Quive-Smith unleashing a seemingly endless supply of minions (including one posing as Thorndike, complete with his passport), determined to get the signed confession that would be a license to take aim at England.

Cockney streetwalker Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) and distinguished socialite Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) make for an unlikely pairing in Fritz Lang's "Man Hunt."

It is interesting to see the world at this pivotal moment being used for fictional entertainment with no delay for perspective. The upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco The Interview, in which the CIA recruits two journalists to assassinate North Korean's dictator, may be the most comparable thing we have today and this presumably crude farce
is already creating controversy and trepidation. Man Hunt is dead serious about taking down Germany's powerful leader. It can even be read as a persuasive call to action or as propaganda. Within six months of its debut, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and the United States entered World War II.

On-the-nose politics may have provoked a different reaction back then, but we're more than removed enough from such events now to appreciate Man Hunt purely as cinema and highly skillful cinema at that. Not without some personal connection to the story, Lang brings it to life quite tastefully.

This is gripping noir. It's a touch slow, perhaps, but easy to fully invest in. Lang uses the art form uniquely and artistically. He plays with light and shadows in a way only black and white allows. He also repeatedly opts for complete silence or at least stretches with neither score nor dialogue. It's not just the director longing to return to the days of silents. It's his way of maximizing suspense and viewer involvement. A chase set to the sound of a whirring underground train tends to be more evocative and arresting than one set to even the most suitable Alfred Newman score.

Along the way, there are some iffy comedy bits. The class divide between Jerry and Lady Risborough (Heather Thatcher) is clearly intended as some not unwelcome comic relief and it's kind of funny, if slightly forced and inconsistent. There's also a lot of puzzling innuendo (Production Code-required) to paint Jerry as a prostitute, which she even poses as once to get out of a jam. McDowall's material is a little better about making you smile without making you forget that you're in the middle of this great chase and conspiracy.

I'm surprised that Man Hunt isn't better known and more widely appreciated. Its indictment of Hitler's Germany aligns with our prevalent view of history and even without that timely backdrop, the film still engages with its inspired direction and sharp, exciting storytelling.

Man Hunt didn't come to DVD until May 2009. By comparison, its jump to Blu-ray doesn't seem all that overdue. It became available last month as part of Twilight Time's Limited Edition Series, a godsend for those who want to own pre-1980s films in high definition. As usual, that means it's not widely available and could sell out on short notice.

Man Hunt: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($14.98 SRP; May 19, 2009)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Man Hunt may be a film over 70 years old that most people haven't heard of, but that doesn't mean that Twilight Time hasn't made the film look terrific on Blu-ray. The 1.33:1 presentation, approximating the original Academy Ratio, is truly stunning, flawless by any standard and far better than anyone would reasonably expect. I'm guessing the movie looked pretty good on DVD, seeing as how it came out so late and included a restoration featurette. But I have no doubt this Blu-ray looks even better, as it's practically perfect.

The monaural 1.0 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also pleases thoroughly. It does a good job of hiding the film's age, with dialogue somehow remaining crisp and intelligible after all these years. The film has a fair amount of foreign dialogue (mostly German) which it doesn't translate, nor do you need it to. (You might be too impressed by Sanders' delivery of it to notice you have no idea what he's saying.) The English dialogue is treated to SDH subtitles.

The fruitful partnership of director Fritz Lang and actress Joan Bennett is discussed in "Rogue Male: The Making of 'Man Hunt.'" The Man Hunt Blu-ray menu is all business.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with "Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt" (16:37, SD), a featurette produced for Fox's 2009 DVD. This fascinating retrospective saliently covers appropriate bases with comments from Lang biographers, film critics, and historians. Among the topics discussed are Lang's flight to Paris,
the film's swift production schedule (it was released just three months after filming began), the debates it created for potentially violating the US Neutrality Act (which forbade movies from encouraging US war action), and the fruitful collaboration of Lang and Joan Bennett started here. It's a must-see piece.

We also get Man Hunt's original trailer (1:50, SD), which oddly stays silent for the most part.

From the Set Up submenu, we find two additional extras. First and more significantly, there is an audio commentary on the film by Patrick McGilligan, a Lang biographer and general film authority interviewed in the featurette. In addition to being a fountain of knowledge on all things Lang, he has information to share about every actor as they first appear. When he's not addressing the personnel, he's analyzing the visuals or soundtrack or comparing the film to Household's book. He isn't hard to listen to and his almost constant remarks give the film further welcome context.

Then there is the Twilight Time standard: an isolated score. There isn't a whole lot of score in this film, which undermines the value of this alternate 2.0 DTS-HD master audio track. Still, the music sounded a little clearer here without having to compete with dialogue and effects. Interestingly, it seems to be taken from studio recording sessions, as we even hear some direction remarks over the opening Fox logo.

Not everything is carried over from Fox's 2009 DVD. That also contained a restoration comparison, which wouldn't be particularly relevant to this edition, and galleries of advertising, artwork, and film stills, the kind of interactive content that isn't easily or frequently converted to Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray uses a silent, static menu, simply adapted from the cover art. The complete Twilight Time Blu-ray catalog is presented as a navigable gallery. The disc lets you resume unfinished playback of the film.

Inside the case, we find the final extra: an illustrated 8-page booklet highlighted by a 4-page essay from Twilight Time historian Julie Kirgo celebrating Lang's career and this piece of it, while acknowledging those who contributed much to it, like Bennett and cinematographer Arthur Miller. A standard feature for Twilight Time (and Criterion), such inserts might have been taken for granted back around the turn of the millennium, but now they are easy to appreciate and go a little ways to cushioning the premium prices that the distributor's discs command.

Among those chasing Alan Thorndike is Mr. Jones (John Carradine), a spindly fellow pretending to be Thorndike. Never trust a man with a monocle. George Sanders adds to his rogues' gallery as relentless Nazi Major Quive-Smith.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Man Hunt may not be something you've even heard of, but you should see it,
for this suspenseful tale of intrigue is one of the finest films Twilight Time has licensed to date. The movie alone is strong enough to warrant a recommendation, but its fantastic feature presentation and good handful of extras only add to this disc's considerable value.

Look here, studios sitting on your catalog titles, Twilight Time is more than capable of giving them the Blu-ray releases they deserve. Their commendable efforts grow easier to appreciate as other studios grow reluctant to spend money on physical media.

Buy Man Hunt on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Reviewed September 4, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1941 20th Century Fox and 2014 Twilight Time.
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