Man Hunt (Lang, 1941)


Fritz Lang levels his crosshairs at British appeasement in Man Hunt, a tensely plotted thriller set weeks before Germany’s invasion of Poland. In the Expressionist opening sequence, Lang introduces a cavalier big game hunter named Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) as he stalks through a thick and shadowy forest, finally reaching a perch overlooking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Thorndike takes aim with Hitler dead in his sights, pulls the trigger, and “click”. He laughs to himself having completed a personal victory – it is possible to stalk the world’s most dangerous man. However, this theoretical experiment makes for a dark moment of historical revisionism, pushing Thorndike down a perilous path of murder, guilt, and finally national responsibility, as he’s captured by the S.S., tortured, and pursued back to England by heinous German agents.

When Man Hunt reaches London, Lang reveals his most damning argument against the British upper class’s indifference toward the German advancement. Throndike’s ambassador brother is a squirmy rationalizing bureaucrat of Chamberlain’s ilk, stressing to the high heavens the Nazi’s wouldn’t dare start WWII. Even Throndike himself, after seeing the true audaciousness of the S.S., casually struts through the London harbor commenting on how the “fresh British air” comforts him while completely missing the German spies who’ve been waiting in the shadows. Western arrogance only leads to destruction, and Lang constructs Thorndike as an analogy for all of Britain. The aggressive and vengeful nature of the ending is alarming, and not completely unexpected considering Thorndike’s path. But ultimately, Lang’s masterful use of cinematic space feeds into his main goal – to bring the true evil of the Third Reich out from the shadows and into the forefront for the world to understand and combat against.

2 thoughts on “Man Hunt (Lang, 1941)

  1. We recently watched MAN HUNT, and I was amazed by the relevance that film still carries. And also by the fact that it is still so very much fun to view. It ranks with the best of the classics, I think. And what a pleasure to see Joan Bennett, an actress never high on my list. She has a couple of heart-breaking moments here; clearly Mr. Lang was her best director. Roddy McDowell is delightful, too, in this, one of his early credited roles. By the end of the film, you may suspect that England possessed more Nazis than did Germany, but that, too, is part of Fritz’s fun — and message.

  2. Absolutely Jim. It’s definitely one of Lang’s most political films, and scathing in my book. And Bennett’s offscreen demise really hit me, since she has such a pure heart, or at least pure purpose. But like all of Lang’s films, it’s brilliantly brutal when you think about them a few days after watching.

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