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Loosely based on Geoffrey Household’s best selling thriller “Rogue Male”, Man Hunt tells the story of Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), an English big game hunter who finds himself in pre-war 1939 Nazi Germany. He makes his way undetected by the SS guarding Adolf Hitler’s secure residence. Perched on a cliff with the dictator in his sniper’s crosshairs, Thorndike pulls the trigger and an empty click reverberates. Satisfied with what would have been a perfect shot, he is about to leave. But for whatever reason, (consciously or unconsciously to alter the course of history) he places a real bullet into the chamber and places the tyrant once more in his sights again with his finger on the trigger. Was it for “sporting stalk” as he later claims to his Gestapo interrogators or did he really intend to murder Hitler. We don’t get to find out as a German soldier stops him before he gets the chance.
Brutally beaten and interrogated by the Nazis, Gestapo leader Major Quive-Smith (what’s a nazi doing with such an English name???) played by George Sanders offers Thorndike his freedom and safe passage back to England on the condition he sign a “confession” that he intended to assassinate the Fuhrer on orders from the British government. Understanding that this would give Germany the perfect excuse to declare war and invade Great Britain, Thorndike naturally refuses.
When the Gestapo throw him off a cliff, Thorndike miraculously survives and escapes as a stowaway on an England bound ship. Child actor Roddy McDowall has a small but important role as the kindly cabin boy who helps hide Captain Thorndike aboard the ship.
What Thorndike doesn’t realize when he disembarks in England is that he has not entirely outwitted his pursuers. A Gestapo agent (John Carradine) impersonating him boarded the ship before it left Germany. And is on his trail along with other Nazi agents already in London.
When Thorndike realizes he’s being followed he enlists the help of street waif Jerry, played by Joan Bennett with the most ungodly Cockney accent. In the novel her character is that of a prostitute and in the movie it’s pretty clear as well. There’s a delightful scene where Jerry introduces Captain Thorndike (who’s from a much different socio-economic class) to eating fish and chips with his fingers rather than with any cutlery.
Masterfully directed by Fritz Lang no shot is wasted. He incorporates dramatic shadows and light in each frame with his signature German Expressionistic style to great effect. I love how he recreated the night time London fog. The Underground tunnel scene where the sinister John Carradine has chased Thorndike is gripping and scary.
Quive-Smith proves to be a formidable foe as he stalks his prey into the English country side but big game hunter Thorndike is no less clever and resourceful in this thrilling cat and mouse film noir.
To order Man Hunt on DVD from either Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Amazon Canada click on one of the corresponding links below.