Man Hunt (1941 film)
|Directed by||Fritz Lang|
|Produced by||Kenneth Macgowan|
|Written by||Geoffrey Household (novel)
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Edited by||Allen McNeil|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation|
|Running time||105 minutes|
Man Hunt is a 1941 American thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett. It is based on the 1939 novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household and is set just prior to the Second World War. A liberal, of Jewish ancestry, Lang had fled Germany into exile in the mid-1930s – this was the first of his four anti-Nazi movies. It was Roddy McDowall's first Hollywood film: he had been evacuated across the Atlantic following the London Blitz.
On July 29, 1939, renowned British big game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) slips through the forest undetected near the Berghof, Adolf Hitler's residence near Berchtesgaden. Getting the dictator in his telescopic sight, he pulls the trigger on his unloaded rifle and gives a wave. He ponders a moment, then loads a live round, but is discovered at the last second by a guard, and the shot goes wild.
After being beaten up, Thorndike is taken to Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders). Quive-Smith is also a devoted hunter and an admirer of Thorndike. Thorndike explains that it was a "sporting stalk", not to kill, but just for the thrill of going after the biggest game of all. The Nazi half-believes him, but insists he sign a confession that he was in fact working for His Majesty's government. When Thorndike refuses, he is tortured, but remains steadfast and warns of "questions being asked in high places" if he is killed, as his brother, Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock), is a very important diplomat. The phrase gives Quive-Smith the idea to have Thorndike thrown off a cliff to make his death look like an accident.
Thorndike survives when his knapsack gets caught in a tree, breaking his fall. He eludes his German pursuers and reaches a port. He steals a rowboat, but is forced to abandon it hastily when a patrol boat comes near. He swims to a Danish ship about to sail for London. Vaner (Roddy McDowall), the English cabin boy, helps Thorndike hide. The Germans find Thorndike's coat and passport aboard the rowboat and search the nearby ship. Though they find nothing, they place agent Mr. Jones (John Carradine) on board using Thorndike's passport to continue looking even after the ship leaves the harbour.
Jones is met by German agents in London. Thorndike, mistakenly believing he is now safe, casually debarks and is spotted. He manages to shake off his pursuers by ducking into the apartment of Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett), a young woman. Jerry lends him money so he can reach his brother.
When Lord Risborough tells his brother that the British government, continuing its pre-war policy of appeasement, would have to extradite him if he were found, Thorndike decides to hide in Africa. Jerry tries to refuse a large cash reward, leading Lady Risborough (Heather Thatcher) to assume that it is payment for other services, but Thorndike insists. He also buys her a new hatpin, as she had lost hers when they first met. She chooses a cheap chromium arrow and insists Thorndike present it to her. Thorndike likens it to her, saying both are "straight and shiny". By this point, Jerry is in love.
Quive-Smith arrives in London to join the hunt. When Thorndike calls on his solicitor, Saul Farnsworthy (Holmes Herbert), the Nazis are once again on his trail. Chased into a London Underground station, Thorndike struggles with Jones, who is killed when he is thrown onto an electrified rail.
Thorndike tells Jerry to have Lord Risborough send him a letter in three weeks time care of Lyme Regis Post Office. As in the novel, Thorndike hides in a cave. However, when he goes to pick up the letter, the postmistress (Eily Malyon) seems alarmed and sends a girl on an errand. Thorndike grabs the letter and beats a hasty retreat. Back at his cave, he finds the letter is from Quive-Smith, who has followed him to his lair.
Quive-Smith seals the only entrance and passes his quarry the confession and a pen through an air hole, threatening to leave him trapped inside. Quive-Smith also slides in Jerry's beret with the arrow pin, informing Thorndike that she was thrown out a window to her death when she would not betray him. They only discovered Thorndike's location through the address he had written down for her. Badgered by the Nazi, the grief-stricken Thorndike finally admits that he subconsciously intended to assassinate Hitler after all. He then agrees to sign the confession. Quive-Smith unblocks the entrance, but waits to shoot him as he crawls out. Thorndike however has other plans; he uses his belt, a slat from his bed, and a stick to fabricate a bow, using Jerry's pin as the tip of a makeshift arrow, and shoots the German through the air hole. When Thorndike emerges, Quive-Smith manages to wound him before dying. By the time Thorndike recovers, the war has started.
- Walter Pidgeon as Captain Thorndike
- Joan Bennett as Jerry
- George Sanders as Quive-Smith
- John Carradine as Mr. Jones
- Roddy McDowall as Vaner
- Ludwig Stössel as Doctor (as Ludwig Stossell)
- Heather Thatcher as Lady Risborough
- Frederick Worlock as Lord Risborough
- Roger Imhof as Captain Jensen
- Egon Brecher as Jeweler
- Lester Matthews as Major
- Holmes Herbert as Farnsworthy
- Eily Malyon as Postmistress
- Arno Frey as Police Lieutenant
- Frederick Vogeding as Ambassador (as Fredrik Vogeding)
Man Hunt became the first war film to attract the attention of the then neutral America's Hays Office. Joseph Breen was alarmed by the script when he read it in 1941 calling it a "hate film". Breen felt in the Isolationist atmosphere of 1941 America the film showed all Germans as evil unlike other films showing both good non-Nazi Germans as well as evil National Socialists. Breen insisted that the Germans could not be characterised as so brutal; the office would only pass the film if it would only "indicate" brutality rather than show it. Therefore cuts did not show Thorndike's torture but left it in the mind of the audience.
Darryl F. Zanuck was also worried about Lang's anti-Nazi enthusiasm and banned him from the editing room. However Lang and his associate Gene Fowler, Jr. secretly edited the film without Zanuck's approval.
The film features an instrumental version of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" by Eric Maschwitz, Manning Sherwin, and Jack Strachey as a recurring romantic theme.
- Rogue Male, the 1976 BBC television version of Household's novel
- Operation Foxley, a British Special Operations Executive plan to assassinate Hitler in 1944
- Variety film review; June 11, 1941, page 14.
- Harrison's Reports film review; June 21, 1941, page 98.
- The Observer, The New Review section, Philip French's Classic DVD p.26, 6 February 2011
- p.58 Glancey, H. Mark When Hollywood Loved Britain 1999 Manchester University Press
- p.97 Kalat, David The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse: A Study of the Twelve Films and Five Novels 2005 McFarland
- Man Hunt at the Internet Movie Database
- Man Hunt at AllMovie
- Man Hunt at the TCM Movie Database
- Man Hunt review at Mystery*File (David L. Vineyard)
- Man Hunt DVD review, The New York Times, May 15, 2009 (Dave Kehr)