Classic Movies

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

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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 PatrolJudge PriestThe 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.

manhunt2Man 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 WindowScarlet Street) or her later maternal turns (The Reckless MomentFather of the Bride) might fall for her charms in this movie in the same manner as I did.

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George Sanders in Man Hunt (1941)

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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