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Blu-ray Review Ministry of Fear Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Matt Hough
An unmistakably entertaining espionage thriller for the World War II years, Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear keeps the viewer off balance for much of its running time, and like Hitchcock spy thrillers from the same period of the 1940s, the innocent man wrongly accused makes for a crackerjack caper that’s atmospheric, suspenseful, and moves with such quickness that it’s nearly over before it begins.

Ministry of Fear (Blu-ray) Directed by Fritz Lang Studio: Criterion Year: 1944 Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 87 minutes Rating: NR Audio: PCM 1.0 English Subtitles: SDH

Region: A MSRP: $ 29.95

Release Date: March 12, 2013

Review Date: February 25, 2013

The Film

4/5 After being mistakenly given a cake meant for someone else at a local charity fete, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) is plunged into a baffling world of spies and villains: from a combative blind man who isn’t blind, a private detective (Erskine Sanford) who’s reluctant to investigate the attack, an Austrian brother and sister (Carl Esmond, Marjorie Reynolds) whose open friendship seems perhaps a bit too convenient, a medium who lies about her whereabouts (Hillary Brooke), and a suspicious Scotland Yard detective (Percy Waram). Amid shootings and séances, bombs and bullets, the unsteady Neale, having just been released from an asylum after a two year stay, finds it hard to trust anyone or to get anyone to believe his fantastic stories. Adapted from a novel by Graham Greene by Seton I. Miller, the script doesn’t take many breaks for either the protagonist or the viewer to collect his thoughts and assess the clues that have been presented so willy-nilly and at such a momentous pace. Fritz Lang keeps the forward trajectory of the film constantly pushing ahead, and even brief breaks like the séance, moodily and quite effectively filmed cross-cutting between close-ups of its eclectic participants and from an elevated position where we can see them all joined by hands before a murder takes place, keeps things hopping. The film cheats a little bit blaming the séance murder on Neale when it’s quite obvious his gun hasn’t just been fired (no heat on the barrel or bullet casings, no gunpowder residue), but Lang makes sure that the scene changes quickly to sidestep that concern. Because this is one of those films that features a number of individuals who are not as they appear, the fun comes as each disguise is lowered to see who the players really are in this espionage game. With the elements of noir (darkness, deep shadows, femme fatales and weasels operating covertly) and Lang’s quick tempos (danger really seems omnipresent here from that weird charity fair onward), the movie’s breathless rhythm and moody mystery make for a quirky and entertaining hour and a half. Ray Milland plays the mentally fragile hero quite well, eager to put his past behind him but horrifyingly finding himself involved in a murder of which he’s innocent and the unwitting target for venal spies. Marjorie Reynolds’ Austrian accent fluctuates a bit, and the screenplay doesn’t really offer her an adequate amount of time to get the audience invested in her as either a romantic partner or a femme fatale for Milland. Carl Esmond has the slick Continental charm that might easily be masking a cobra, and Percy Waram’s waxen looks serve a similar function as the Scotland Yard inspector. Dan Duryea makes three memorable appearances in the film as a man of mystery, and you’ll never forget the final one wielding a lethal pair of oversized scissors. Hillary Brooke’s mystifying medium Mrs. Bellane is effective early-on, but her character inexplicably fades from view in later reels.

Video Quality

4/5 The film’s original theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is very good throughout, and the grayscale features strong whites but sometimes mediocre black levels. While scratches and dust have been effectively dealt with digitally, a couple of hairs and one piece of overhanging debris have been left intact. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.

Audio Quality

4/5 The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is exactly what one would expect from a film of this period with the track being shared by dialogue, Victor Young’s music score, and the sound effects. Fidelity is rather good (the bombs dropping on London and an explosion in an enclosed room have some heft to them, and the music has some bottom end) though the quietest scenes reveal a bit of attenuated hiss on occasion.

Special Features

2.5/5 Fritz Lang scholar Joe McElhaney contributes a video essay on the movie with specific comments on the changes from Graham Greene’s novel to the film screenplay and how this compares to Lang’s other work in Germany and in America. It runs 17 ¼ minutes in 1080p. The theatrical trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p. The enclosed pamphlet includes the cast and crew list, information on the video and audio transfers, and film critic Glenn Kenny’s analysis of the movie. The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average) Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear is a good middle-of-the-road thriller of the war years featuring a terrific central performance and fast-paced direction by a cinematic master. Recommended! Matt Hough Charlotte, NC

 

Ruz-El

Fake Shemp
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Put this one on a blind pre-order since amazon.ca had it up briefly without the typical insane price gouge. Nice to hear it's another winner from Criterion! Thanks for the review, it sounds like fun watch.
 

Van594

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This is one of my favorites...can't wait to pick it up. I was beginning to wonder if it would ever get a real release but for Criterion to release it just makes it worth the wait. It's a quirky movie with quirky characters which is why I think I like it so much. Now if they would only get to The Uninvited with Milland.
 

Lromero1396

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Leon Romero
I'm overjoyed that Ministry of Fear has finally been released on a digital format in the U.S.! I've only had the (dis)pleasure of seeing it in the low-res, chroma-heavy, VHS the Universal put out years ago. It'll be nice to hear the sound on the Criterion release with so much of that surface noise removed. :D
 

JoeDoakes

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Ray
Just watched this for the first time. Especially considering the actor playing Marjorie Reynolds’s brother was actually from Austria, one wonders why she was allowed to attempt a German accent. It would have made more sense to have explained away her improbable accent by saying she was educated in America or something.
 

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