Monday, June 13, 2011

“…they’re a dickens of a problem—aren’t they, sir?”

The young boy’s quote titling this post refers to the fairer sex—but he could just as easily be talking about the hired killers Captain Alan Thorndike can’t seem to shake off his trail.  Seventy years ago on this very date, 20th Century-Fox released a motion picture adapted from the best-selling suspense novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household: a now classic thriller about a British big game hunter whose half-hearted attempt to kill Adolf Hitler shortly before the start of World War II results in his being hounded by Nazi assassins in his presumed “safe” stomping grounds of Old Blighty.  Scriptwriter Dudley Nichols was signed the project by Fox because Dud had worked in such close collaboration in the past with director John Ford (The Lost Patrol, Judge Priest, The Informer) and Ford himself had been slated to helm the movie version, which would be re-titled Man Hunt (1941) for the silver screen.  Instead, the reins on the film were turned over to a man who had a close kinship with the novel/movie’s protagonist—Austrian émigré Fritz Lang, who escaped from Germany in 1934 by the skin of his teeth.

Man Hunt is now considered by many to be one of Lang’s best pictures, and I think that’s due not only to his tight direction and Nichols’ first-rate adaptation but the top-notch performances from a cast that includes Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, Roddy McDowall, John Carradine and a host of others.  It’s probably my favorite of Pidgeon performances (Advise and Consent runs a very close second) and even though I explain in this essay on the film over at Edward Copeland on Film…and More that Joan Bennett wages a movie-length battle with her Cockney accent and loses, she is so utterly beguiling that I’m willing to overlook it.  Those movie fans who know Joanie through her femme fatale roles for director Lang (The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street) or her later maternal turns (The Reckless Moment, Father of the Bride) might fall for her charms in this movie the same as I.

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear has made no secret in the past of its admiration for actor Sanders, and this movie is one of my favorites because he’s such a delectable rat bastard, able to mix that cad-like suavity of his with some genuine sinister menace.  My favorite of Sanders’ movie turns is still that of his reluctantly heroic Scott ffoilliott in Foreign Correspondent (1940) (the scene where he barges in on the spies never fails to break me up) but Man Hunt would definitely be in the top five, along with Addison DeWitt (naturally), The Saran of Gaza (Samson and Delilah) and Henry Melville Quincey (The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry).  (And if anyone from the Fox Movie Channel is reading this, now that we get FMC I’d love the opportunity to see Lancer Spy [1937] again.)

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dfordoom said...

I'm on a major Fritz Lang kick at the moment. I must add that one to the list.

DorianTB said...

Ivan, I'm a big fan of George Sanders and Fritz Lang, so I immediately knew I'd love MAN HUNT and your excellent review! While I'm sure John Ford would have done a fine job directing this classic Geoffrey Household thriller, Fritz Lang was a perfect fit. Joan Bennett touched my heart despite her on-and-off Cockney accent. For more about George Sanders and other suave types, you might be interested in a blog post my husband Vinnie and I did last year in our Suave Hall of Fame post, "Flico Suave":

Harold Gaugler said...

When MAN HUNT premiered in 1941, Archer Winsten in the New York Post wrote, "Joan Bennett's Cockney accent is so good that you have to look again to remind yourself that it's really Joan Bennett." I agree and cannot find fault with either her accent or one of her most touching performances.