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September 5, 2010

Flicks: Man Hunt (1941)

Oh whatta view!
Say, Sarge? What does that Tojo guy look like again?

Ex-Deutschlander director Fritz Lang (who made Metropolis in 1926 in a post-WWI Berlin) takes aim at Der Fuerher in the opening minutes of pre-WWII Man Hunt in American theaters. Walter Pidgeon stars as Canadian (!) thrill-seeking playboy and big game hunter Capt. Alan Thorndike. The Cap'n's noble efforts to decapitate National Socialism go awry when he's caught red-handed at Hitler's Bavarian hide-away with his trusty rifle in hand.

From there Thorndike, who is hastily referred to as "Eastern Canadian" but speaks with a native New Englander accent, is then gleefully tortured by the Nutzis. Despite facing top men in the field of vigorous interogation Thorndike refuses to implicate the English (er...Canadian?) government for his solo assassination attempt.

After escaping from certain death at the hands of the torture-happy Gestapo, Thorndike, eludes a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse with a Nutzi Major and finds safe passage to England aboard a Dutch freighter with 9-year old cabin boy and amateur Nazi hater Roddy McDowell. McDowell, who passed away in 1998, would later go on to star in Planet of the Apes in another 30 years. However, in Manhunt, he's a precocious English kid with a goofy smile and a keen knack for remembering lines.

After parting ways with McDowell, Capt. Thorndike flees to London with unlikely German assassin John Carradine (Grapes of Wrath) hot on his heels. Thorndike encounters the mouth-watering Joan Bennett (who also starred in Lang's Scarlet Street and The Woman in the Window) as the lovely British ingénue Jerri Stokes. The plucky Jerri attempts to aid Thorndike in eluding Carradine and his Nutzi minions in the foggy streets of old London town.

Joan Bennett in the make up chair during the production of 1950's Green Hell.
Joan Bennett in the make up chair during production of 1950's Green Hell.

The Sleaze-A-Saurus's sense of propriety demands that Joan Bennett's haunted beauty be noted. As one of the most understated beauties of 1940's American cinema, there were never a pair of more lovely, wounded eyes or a more perfect porcelain face than the luscious Joan Bennett at her cinematic peak. Her own early motivations to become an actress began as simply a way to upstage her far less attractive sister Constance Bennett. Constance herself starred in serials and minor features in the 1930's.

Joan Bennett, as Jerri, for all her heroic efforts at aiding Thordike is eventually captured and killed by guffawing Nazi henchmen. This leaves Thorndike, in the closing scene of Manhunt, to return to his quarry by parachuting bravely into Nazi Germany with his trusty rifle tucked under his arm and a stern expression on his face - this time to finish what he started.

Manhunt is interesting due to America's official neutrality regarding Hitler at the time. Manhunt was released just 6 months prior to the Axis attack at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Fritz Lang's insight into his audiences' growing (but unofficial) outrage over a brash little tyrant conquering the Old World of Europe resonated in theaters in June of 1941 when Man Hunt hit the silver screen with a bang.

IMDB, Man Hunt
IMDB, Fritz Lang
Wikipedia, Man Hunt (1941)
Wikipedia, Joan Bennett

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