Blu-ray Review: Man Hunt (1941) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Fritz Lang’s 1941 Man Hunt tells the improbable tale of Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), an English game hunter who manages to sneak undetected into Germany to “hunt” Adolf Hitler. Retired from actually killing animals, Thorndike now exclusively practices “sporting stalk.” In this variation on shoot-to-kill hunting, the hunter merely tracks his prey until it’s within his sites, proving to himself that the target’s death would be a mathematical certainty. The rather tense opening scene finds Thorndike apparently on the fence about whether or not to take Hitler out (he has a perfectly clear shot), before a German soldier discovers and apprehends him.

Man Hunt cover (215x280).jpgIt’s important to realize that Man Hunt, recently released by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 copies) Blu-ray, was produced before U.S. involvement in World War II. The story is set in mid-summer of 1939, before Great Britain had entered the war. As a result, Lang’s vision was compromised by Hays Office interference who, odd as it may seem today, felt the film was too biased in its negative depiction of Nazi Germany. At any rate, once Thorndike manages to slip the clutches of the Nazis, Man Hunt resembles a Hitchcock thriller. Unfortunately the leaden pacing strips it of any real thrills. And the circumstances surrounding Thorndike’s escape, without revealing an unnecessary amount of plot points, are far from convincing. In fact, the lackadaisical attitude of Germany’s Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders) in the face of an assassination attempt against the Führer is downright silly.

As Thorndike finds himself being hunted rather than doing the hunting himself, stalked by the Nazis throughout London, there are numerous stylishly executed sequences. A very young Roddy McDowall turns up as a helpful cabin boy in what was his U.S. film debut. Thorndike manages to strike up a romantic relationship with a Cockney streetwalker with a heart of gold, Jerry (Joan Bennett). Though she looks fetching as can be, Bennett’s laughable accent is nearly unlistenable. Though the final showdown that serves as the film’s climax is well staged from a technical vantage, Lang doesn’t know when to quit. An awkward series of final scenes stretch the story’s already tenuous believability to the breaking point.

Lovers of ’40-era cinema will bask in the beauty of this high definition presentation. Arthur C. Miller’s striking back-and-white cinematography, dripping with atmosphere, benefits greatly from this transfer. The superlatives start to sound a bit empty after reiterating praise for one solid Blu-ray release after another, but Man Hunt truly deserves the accolades even more than many films of this vintage. It’s simply as close to perfect as one could hope for. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 lossless mono mix does a fine job of serving up the film’s simple sound design without any discernible problems.

A couple of useful supplements help contextualize Man Hunt, the primary one being Fritz Lang biographer Patrick McGilligan’s audio commentary. This is one of those “audio history lesson”-type commentaries that offers a ton of great info for those wishing to know more about the film and Lang in general. “Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt” is a 17-minute featurette that’s a suitable alternative to the commentary for anyone tight on time. Standard Twilight Time supplements include Alfred Newman’s score as an isolated track and a new booklet essay by film historian Julie Kirgo.

However interesting from a historical perspective, Man Hunt doesn’t quite engage on a purely entertainment-based level. Collectors of Fritz Lang’s films will of course want this Twilight Time release. Interested parties should proceed to Screen Archives, where the limited edition Blu-ray can be ordered while supplies are still available.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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