Oh yes, it’s time to revisit the Lang films. After directing a couple of American West mythology stories, he got a hell of a screenplay with this one. Closely based on a 1939 novel about a hunter’s “sporting stalk” of an unnamed dictator, John Ford’s screenwriter Dudley Nichols did a find-and-replace to insert the name Hitler, this started filming in March 1941 and was opening wide in June.
Walter Pidgeon (wartime drama Mrs. Miniver, later Forbidden Planet) is our hunter, his monocled nazi captor after the pretend assassination is George Sanders from the previous year’s two Hitchcocks. Sanders wants Pidgeon to sign a confession saying the British government sent him, using this to justify war. Failing that, they hunt Pidgeon all the way to Britain after he escapes on a boat.
Tale of two hunters:
Hilarious cabin boy helps him escape, full of “I say, my word, rather” Britishisms. I didn’t know he was Roddy McDowall, but sensed right off that it was someone important. As soon as Pidgeon lands in Britain he hears a Chumbawamba song, which is accurate to my own experience. He gets out of a street-level chase by abducting Cockney Joan Bennett – extremely pretty, but whose awful accent cripples the movie for a while. Wonder if it’s meaningful that her name is Jerry (also a British term for Germans). She finally grows on you, and Lang obviously liked her, casting her in three more movies.
Presumed dead after a subway fight where Pidgeon third-rails the thug holding his passport, Pidgeon hides in a cave in the woods to wait out the hunt, so he won’t be a threat to others – but too late, the baddies track him and bring the arrow-shaped hat pin of the poor murdered girl who loved him. Pidgeon makes an absurd bow and arrow using the pin and his belt, kills Monocle Nazi Sanders with it, and gets grievously injured so we can see Joan again via fever-montage. Finally provoked into admitting that he did intend to kill Hitler after all, he heads to Germany to finish the job.
These are Nazis as observed by someone who knew them intimately. In fact the chief villain of Man Hunt, a Gestapo officer who calls himself Major Quive-Smith, wears Langâ€™s trademark monocle. Lang was also known for using his own hands for close-up shots, and the finger on the trigger of Pidgeon’s gun may well have been his own.