May 17, 2009


Fritz Lang, Trailing Nazis (DAVE KEHR, 5/17/09, NY Times)

AN English sportsman (Walter Pidgeon), dressed in the full gentleman-hunter uniform of corduroy jacket and puttees, moves silently through a dark Bavarian forest, a high-powered rifle in hand. He lies on the ground to line up his shot, and through his telescopic sight we see his target moving into the crosshairs: no less than Hitler, strutting on a balcony at his mountain retreat. Pidgeon squeezes the trigger, but no shot rings out; he is merely on a “sporting shoot,” to see if he can get within range of his difficult quarry, and his gun is empty.

The opening sequence of Fritz Lang’s “Man Hunt” is still powerful today; imagine how it must have struck the audience on June 13, 1941, when “Man Hunt” opened at the Roxy in Times Square. The United States was still officially a neutral country, reluctant to be drawn into the conflicts raging in Europe and Asia, and Pidgeon’s empty gun was, in a sense, ours as well. America had the power to intervene but not, for the moment, the will.

“Man Hunt,” based on the Geoffrey Household novel “Rogue Male,” was one of many interventionist films produced by the Hollywood studios before Pearl Harbor, but it may be the best of them: clean and concentrated, elegant and precise, pointed without being preachy. Much of its air of authority comes from Lang, who had been Germany’s leading filmmaker (“Metropolis,” “M”) before he left the country in 1934. Lang became a naturalized American citizen in 1939, the year in which the action of the film takes place, backdated to precede the invasion of Poland.

These are Nazis as observed by someone who knew them intimately.

There's a BBC reading of the book that's quite exciting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 17, 2009 8:51 AM
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