Fritz Lang touches abound in his 1941 thriller Man Hunt. Working quite amenably with Fox assembly line motion picture making, Lang has delivered a (for the era) timely tale of espionage with suspense and some flickers of half-hearted romance even when certain narrative elements tend to let him down. Some bright star performances and an entertaining array of solid character actors give the film a most watchable quality, and the Twilight Time transfer is certainly a beautiful one.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/12/2014
Off on a sporting stalk in pre-World War II Germany, acclaimed hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) has a clear bead on Adolph Hitler with his long range rifle but doesn’t take the shot as he’s a pacifist only interested in seeing if such a shot was possible for sporting sake. Nevertheless, he’s captured by the Germans and subjected to excessive grilling by Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders) and his Nazi subordinates. He refuses even after a thorough beating to sign a confession that he was out for the life of the Fuehrer at which point he’s pushed off a cliff but through a quirk of fate doesn’t perish and by subterfuge and some lucky breaks gets smuggled back to England. But his life is still not out of danger as Quive-Smith has sent his cunning emissary Mr. Jones (John Carradine) to stalk and recapture Thorndike, and only through the help of cockney Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) does he manage to stay a step or two ahead of his pursuers. But Jerry falls hard for the captain, and now by trailing her, the Nazis have an inside track at keeping Thorndike in sight and a bargaining chip to use when they finally trap him to get that signed confession.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Dudley Nichols’ script based on the novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household contains several hyper-suspenseful sequences, but it has its problems and absurdities, too. At one point Thorndike mentions that the Germans are famous for manufacturing documents to validate whatever they want to do, so why did they not simply forge Thorndike’s signature from the start and save themselves this lengthy chase (they already had his wallet, passport, and rifle from when he was captured to use as proof of his presence there)? The stalking of Thorndike around London seems really ridiculous as London is a large city, but the Germans seem ever-present almost knowing before he does what his next move will be and clairvoyant enough to always find his hiding places (in a dense forest, in the London subway system). And though Thorndike has a world-wide reputation as an expert hunter and camouflage expert who can melt into an area and not be found, he certainly doesn’t ever really exhibit any striking ability at hiding or melting into a crowd, at least not until the last quarter hour and even then he’s tracked to his clever hiding place. On the other hand, the initial targeting of Hitler gets the film off to a cracking good start, and Lang’s famous fog-lined forests, streets, and thoroughfares keep the mood tense and unsettling. The interludes with Joan Bennett’s smitten Jerry slow down the pace and are somewhat off-putting with her continual doe-eyed infatuation and quick-to-tears frustration when she doesn’t get the romantic attention she craves, but she’s such an innocent that one can understand why her eventual fate spurs on Thorndike to his inevitable climactic decisions.
Walter Pidgeon makes a strong and hearty Captain Thorndike even if he does seem strangely clueless about Jerry’s feelings for him (obviously Lang didn’t want a sentimental wartime romantic caper; better to leave that sort of thing to Hitchcock with films like Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur). Joan Bennett’s cockney accent is a bit unsteady from speech to speech, but she’s hale and feisty for much of the picture and has never looked more fetching. George Sanders does another of his strutting villains to wonderful effect. Roddy McDowall has a fine introduction to American films as a cabin boy who aids the injured Thorndike. John Carradine is used quite effectively as the Nazi agent Thorndike simply can’t shake while Frederick Worlock and Heather Thatcher as Thorndike’s brother and sister-in-law represent the upper crusts of British society with some moxie of their own to display.
The film’s original 4:3 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is exceptional throughout the presentation as is the consistency of the contrast which makes for a most effective grayscale rendering. While black levels are often superb, they occasionally might seem a bit less than inky, but whites are crisp and true. There is no age-related dust or dirt to intrude on one’s complete satisfaction with Oscar-winner Arthur Miller’s stunning cinematography. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix displays no age-related problems like hiss, pops, or crackle. Dialogue has been masterfully recorded and shares the mono track comfortably with Alfred Newman’s background score (and quite a few orchestral renderings of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”) and the appropriate sound effects.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: author and film historian Patrick McGilligan may refer too often to things on screen as we’re seeing them, but he includes enough anecdotes about the cast and crew and enough of his own critical analysis of the movie to make up for that singular lapse.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt (16:37, SD): film historians Ken Newman, Patrick McGilligan, Dr. Drew Casper, Steve Haberman, and Paul Jensen offer information about the film’s production including the incredible fact that from the first day of production to the premiere of the film took exactly three months!
Theatrical Trailer (1:50, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains a generous selection of black and white stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s admiring take on the film.
Man Hunt is another of those films from the 1940s that most of us never expected to see on Blu-ray, and yet here it is with its entertainment quotient intact and looking like a million dollars. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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