Cast & Crew
In July 1939, English big-game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike infiltrates Adolph Hitler's retreat Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps and takes aim at Hitler with his high-powered rifle. Although Thorndike had intended to carry out a "sporting stalk" only, and does not have bullets in his gun, he loads the weapon after locating the target. A German soldier surprises him, however, and his bullet goes astray. Thorndike is brought to Gestapo Major Quive-Smith, to whom he explains that he did not intend to kill Hitler. Quive-Smith does not believe him, however, and orders him to confess that his assassination attempt was at the request of the British government. Although Quive-Smith promises him freedom, Thorndike refuses to sign the prepared confession and is tortured by the Gestapo. When Thorndike still refuses to sign, Quive-Smith arranges for him to be thrown off a cliff in what will look like an accident, but he falls into a river and survives. The next day, the Gestapo searches for Thorndike but he eludes his pursuers and reaches a harbor, where he boards a boat bound for Britain. An intrepid cabin boy named Vaner hides him while one of Quive-Smith's men, Mr. Jones, boards with Thorndike's passport. Vaner keeps Thorndike hidden during the journey, but once he is ashore, Thorndike realizes that Jones and other Gestapo agents are following him, and he ducks into an apartment to escape. He appeals to the apartment's resident, a young Cockney woman named Jerry Stokes, for aid, and she helps him get to his brother's house. Thorndike's brother, Lord Gerald Risborough, is an ambassador, who warns him that the German embassy is looking for him, and that England must acquiesce if Germany demands his extradition. Thorndike vows to disappear from England, then leaves with Jerry and sleeps on her couch. The next morning, Thorndike outlines his plans and does not notice that Jerry has fallen in love with him. She pouts until he takes her to buy a pin to replace the one she lost from her tam-o'-shanter, and she chooses a large chromium arrow. Jerry then accompanies Thorndike to the office of his solicitor, Saul Farnsworthy, where he tries to give her five hundred pounds. She refuses the money, and their squabbling is cut short when an assistant announces that Quive-Smith and Jones are on their way to the office. Thorndike and Jerry escape to the Underground, where Thorndike is chased by Jones. After a fight, Jones is electrocuted on the third rail, and, because he still carries Thorndike's passport, his corspe is identified as the hunter. Realizing that the British police are now after him as well, Thorndike instructs Jerry to write to him at Lyme Regis in three weeks with any news. After a tearful farewell, Jerry returns to her apartment, where Quive-Smith is waiting for her. Three weeks later, Thorndike, who has been living in a cave in the woods, goes to the post office to pick up Jerry's letter. When he returns to his cave, Thorndike discovers that the letter is from Quive-Smith, who has followed him and blocked the cave's opening. Through a small opening, Quive-Smith hands Thorndike Jerry's tam-o'-shanter and says that she was found dead on the street after jumping out her window. Enraged by Jerry's murder, Thorndike finally admits that he did intend to kill Hitler, although he did not realize it at the time. Stalling for time, Thorndike agrees to sign the confession and constructs a bow while Quive-Smith opens the entrance to the cave. As Quive-Smith reaches for the signed confession, Thorndike shoots him with the arrow from Jerry's hat. As he dies, Quive-Smith shoots Thorndike with a pistol, but before he collapses, Thorndike destroys the confession. Months pass as Thorndike recuperates and Europe is thrown into war. Once he has recovered, Thorndike joins the RAF, and on a reconnaissance mission over Germany, bails out with a high-powered rifle, intent on fulfilling his purpose this time.
Wiard B. Ihnen
Darryl F. Zanuck
Man Hunt (1941)
Fritz Lang's Man Hunt (1941) represented a major breakthrough in Joan Bennett's already extensive film career--the role of Jerry, a Cockney prostitute, allowed her to demonstrate a greater range than ever before. It also marked the start of her mutually beneficial collaboration with Fritz Lang. The script was adapted by Dudley Nichols from Geoffrey Household's novel Rogue Male, about a big game hunter who stalks Hitler and is captured and tortured by the Gestapo, only to escape to England and become hunted himself by German spies. Household's book was published serially in the Atlantic Monthly in 1939 and in hardcover the same year by Little, Brown. Charles Poole, the reviewer for the New York Times, wrote of Household's novel: "We haven't seen as exciting a man-hunt as this one in years. [...] He drives ahead tautly and precisely, piling suspense upon suspense with the ease of a master."
At first John Ford was slated to direct the picture, but he turned it down and eventually settled on How Green Was My Valley (1941). Kenneth Macgowan, who admired Lang's work, convinced Darryl Zanuck to give the picture to him instead. Up to that point, Zanuck had only given Lang two Westerns to direct at Fox: The Return of Frank James (1940) and Western Union (1941). While Lang had a sincere interest in the genre and had traveled extensively in the West, the two films were nonetheless routine studio assignments and didn't mesh with Lang's real directorial strengths in the way that Man Hunt arguably did, with its focus on espionage and its theme of relentless pursuit.
The role of "Jerry" was initially intended for Ida Lupino and later Gene Tierney; Anne Baxter and Greer Garson were also under consideration. However, Lang already knew Joan Bennett since she shared the same agent--Sam Jaffe--and was the wife of Walter Wanger, who had produced Lang's You Only Live Once (1937). Bennett rehearsed her role extensively and received dialogue coaching from Queenie Leonard, the English music hall performer who specialized in Cockney roles in Hollywood. Bennett later recalled: "It was the only movie I ever made in which I knew the entire script, like a play, beforehand."
Before the film even launched into production, the Production Code Administration held the project under special scrutiny due to its content. In his memo to the studio dated March 4, 1941, Joseph Breen declared the script "unacceptable on two major counts": for its "excessive brutality and gruesomeness"--especially during its representation of Thorndike's torture by the Germans--and for the indications that "Jerry" was a prostitute. Breen pointed out that the script was full of such hints, among them the interior of her apartment, Lady Risborough's reaction to her visit, the use of the phrase "picked up," Jerry's frustration at Thorndike's refusal to share her bed, and her manner of dress. In a later memo, Breen clarified that her Tam o' Shanter, trench coat and "bag dangling at the end of her wrist" were "inescapable symbols designating prostitutes." In the finished film, the presence of a sewing machine in her apartment is supposed to imply that she is a seamstress instead. However, many of the other hints that Breen complained about remained to a certain extent, including the notorious Tam o' Shanter and trench coat.
Another point of contention was the film's uniformly negative portrayal of the Nazis. In a separate memo, Breen reminded the studio of the Production Code Administration's policy against "hate pictures," writing: "This story is unlike any story which has been submitted to us in recent years, in that in this script the Nazis are characterized as brutal and inhuman people, and the Englishman--or Englishmen--are the sympathetic characters." Breen further argued that it resembled the anti-German ("Hate the Hun") propaganda films from World War I and that a "great segment of public thought" would object to it as "inflammatory." The finished film does portray Thorndike's torture only indirectly and includes some relatively sympathetic Germans-in-exile such as the jewelry shop owner, but its representation of the Nazis remained mostly unchanged. Interestingly, when the film was screened for the British censorship board, their sole objection arose during the section set on the ship bound for England: the siren from the police launch sounded too much like an air raid warning.
Man Hunt was mostly well received and helped revive Lang's career in Hollywood. The Hollywood Reporter described it as "the most amazing job of sustained excitement in recent memory" and singled out Joan Bennett's performance for praise, including her handling of the Cockney accent. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times noted the "unremitting intensity" of Lang's direction and admired the lead actors, but criticized Dudley Nichols' script for having too many plot holes. The reviewer in Variety, on the other hand, complained that Bennett's "attempts at affected Cockney accents are always synthetic" and felt that the film "loses its grip at the half-way mark to wind up as [a] decidedly overfootaged meller and not too credulous." Today, Man Hunt stands out as a taut Langian thriller enlivened by the warmth, humor and pathos of Joan Bennett's performance.
Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Kenneth Macgowan and Len Hammond
Director: Fritz Lang
Script: Dudley Nichols with contributions by Lamar Trotti
Based on the novel "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Household Director of Photography: Arthur Miller
Art Direction: Richard Day and Wiard B. Ihnen
Film Editor: Allen McNeil
Costumes: Travis Banton
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Captain Alan Thorndike), Joan Bennett (Jenny Stokes), George Sanders (Major Quive-Smith), John Carradine (Mr. Jones), Roddy McDowall (Vaner), Ludwig Stossel (Doctor), Heather Thatcher (Lady Risborough), Frederick Worlock (Lord Risborough), Roger Imhof (Captain Jensen).
BW-103m. Closed Captioning.
by James Steffen
"Man Hunt." [Film review.] Hollywood Reporter. June 11, 1941.
"Man Hunt." [Film review.] Variety. June 11, 1941.
Crowther, Bosley. "Man Hunt." [Film review.] New York Times. June 14, 1941.
Bogdanovich, Peter. Fritz Lang in America. New York: Praeger, 1967.
History of the Cinema: selected files from the Motion Picture Association of America Production Code Administration collection. Woodbridge, CT: Primary Source Microfilm, 2006.
Kellow, Brian. The Bennetts: an Acting Family. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.
McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: the Nature of the Beast. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Poole, Charles. "Books of the Times." [Book review of Rogue Male] New York Times. August 25, 1939.
Man Hunt (1941)
Man Hunt - Walter Pidgeon & Joan Bennett Star in Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT on DVD
Man Hunt is noted for its early anti-Nazi propaganda stance. It was produced and released before the United States entered the war, when Washington was passing neutrality legislation forbidding Hollywood from taking sides in the "European" conflict. This may be the first movie in which a fanatic Nazi declares, "Today Europe, and tomorrow the world!" But it also may be the first movie depicting, even advocating the assassination of a foreign head of state. True to his reputation as the initiator of almost aspect of the espionage genre, Fritz Lang gives us a view through the crosshairs of a telescopic sight, as a marksman draws a bead on Der F&u¨hrer. In 1941, when Andy Hardy reigned supreme on American theater screens, this was pretty cold-blooded stuff.
Darryl Zanuck considered Man Hunt so topical that he rushed it through production and into theaters in record time; he wanted the film out before current events had a chance to make it irrelevant. Warners had jumped on the anti-Nazi bandwagon over a year previously, and by 1941 more than a few films were in release that protested the chaos Germany was causing on the Continent. Dudley Nichols' script has an awkward structure and some shaky characters, but back before Pearl Harbor it was the cutting edge of nail-biting spy suspense.
Sporting huntsman Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) sneaks right up to the Berchtesgaden lair of Adolf Hitler, just to prove that he could assassinate him if he wanted to. Captured by Nazi intelligence agent Quive-Smith (George Sanders), Thorndike refuses to sign a paper stating that the British Government sent him to kill Hitler. He escapes his captors and steals back to London on a Dutch freighter, thanks to the aid of a cabin boy, Vaner (Roddy McDowall in his first film). But following the fugitive to England is the Reich agent Mr. Jones (John Carradine), who links up with a network of spies working the docks to recapture Thorndike and force him to sign the confession. On the run in his own city Alan enlists the aid of Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) a sweet cockney seamstress who immediately falls in love with her "gentleman rogue".
Some of Man Hunt has credibility issues: the cavalier, relaxed way that the Nazi Quive-Smith treats Pidgeon's maybe-assassin, for instance, or the way the Germans casually assume that their captive has been killed by a fall from a great height. The basics of anti-Nazi films hadn't quite been codified at this time. Considering the primitive state of cinema espionage in 1941, Man Hunt is really quite sophisticated, especially in action scenes. Lang opens with several dialogue-free minutes of action as Thorndike stalks his prey in the Bavarian mountains. Several other scenes play out in purely visual terms as well. As Thorndike strolls away from the London docks, he notices that several barflies and loiterers are paying him more attention than they should. John Carradine's Mr. Jones is described as a "walking cadaver", like one of the grotesques of Lang's silent Dr. Mabuse or Spione. Thorndike and Jones engage in a no-dialogue sidewalk pursuit that leads to a violent confrontation in the London Underground, a sequence with similarities to the subway chase in William Friedkin's The French Connection.
Man Hunt comes to a standstill in dialogue scenes. The chatty Quive-Smith interrogates Alan Thorndike for minutes, giving up much more information than he gets. Thorndike builds a warm friendship with the helpful (but not MGM-cloying) Roddy McDowall, but the static scenes are limited to a single set. Finally, the would-be spy falls into a sentimental romance with Joan Bennett, who lives in a slum and dressed like a streetwalker. Yet the Production Code insisted that she be a virgin with a heart of gold. A sewing machine is planted in Jerry Stokes' room to show how she makes her living, but Bennett has a tough time making her too-cute character anything believable on the foggy London streets. The comedy is on the tepid side when Alan introduces Jerry to his upper-class relatives; but the film comes to life when Lang lets a decorative hat pin represent Jerry's growing affection for Thorndike -- it becomes another iconic piece of Lang shorthand.
Alan Thorndike is a contradictory character as well. He's a bit like Michael Redgrave's open-minded and slightly eccentric Englishman in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. He's also a precursor to Alfred Hitchcock's Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, an amateur forced to play deadly games with professional spies. Yet Thorndike is also supposed to be a tough guy with previous "adventuring experience" in Africa. The movie is ambiguous on the issue of whether Alan really intended to shoot Hitler. The obvious point of the film is that, like Alan Thorndike, the audience is meant to make up its mind that Hitler is a mortal enemy well worth killing.
Through sheer luck and the help of strangers, Alan survives long enough to see how the London agents operate. He learns how ruthless the Nazis can be when the Nazis try to get to him through the innocent Jerry. Man Hunt races to a violent finish in a cave outside a rural English village. Earlier on, Quive-Smith had remarked on the "sporting spirit" with an allusion to The Most Dangerous Game. When he traps Thorndike in the cave, they become locked in a decisive death struggle.
The acting is secondary to the film's bold political theme. Walter Pidgeon is no Michael Redgrave or Cary Grant and Joan Bennett must work far too hard to make her character credible. The supporting performances are fine, right down to the raffish street agents who look like sinister escapees from "M".
Lang initially got along fairly well with Darryl Zanuck, making two westerns and this spy chase picture in quick succession. But he finished his Fox contract helping out on films signed by Archie Mayo. Producer Kenneth MacGowan had a falling-out with Zanuck over front office interference; legend has it that Zanuck refused to okay the important bridge farewell scene between Jerry and Thorndike, so Lang and his cameraman Arthur Miller filmed it at 3am when nobody was looking, with a skeleton crew. Doing end runs around studio heads is not recommended behavior for ambitious directors. Lang would spend the rest of his impressive Hollywood career bouncing between brief studio assignments and independent productions.
Fox's DVD of Man Hunt presents Fritz Lang's exciting spy chase in perfect condition after a thorough restoration. The Comparison extra shows one shrunken scene that won't ride steady in the gate, but in the restored copy it is rock solid.
Lang biographer Patrick McGilligan talks about the film's genesis and the legendary's director's relationship with Fox. John Ford apparently turned down the assignment before it was offered to Lang. A featurette sticks with generic observations as well. The fascinating Joan Bennett worked with Lang on three more films but we don't learn much about her. Artwork, still and advertising galleries are included as well as an original trailer, which lacks text and narration. Fox's disc cover art is very eye-catching.
For more information about Man Hunt, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Man Hunt, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Man Hunt - Walter Pidgeon & Joan Bennett Star in Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT on DVD
The working title of this film was Rogue Male. Geoffrey Household's novel first appeared as a serial in Atlantic Monthly (Jul-September 1939). According to Hollywood Reporter news items, John Ford was originally scheduled to direct this film, but instead chose to direct The Eagle Squadron for his own Argosy company. [The Eagle Squadron was not produced, however, and Ford directed How Green Was My Valley for Twentieth Century-Fox later in 1941]. The Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Produced Scripts Collection, both located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, disclose that although Jules Furthman wrote two treatments for Man Hunt in June 1940, it is unlikely that his work was included in the final screenplay.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, first Ida Lupino, then Gene Tierney were set for the role of "Jerry." Virginia Gilmore was also tested for the part, according to Hollywood Reporter, and a February 20, 1941 conference with executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck, located in the studio records, reveals that Anne Baxter and Greer Garson were also under consideration for the part. Walter Pidgeon was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, which marked the American screen debuts of English child actor Roddy McDowall and his sister, Virginia McDowall. The part of "Vaner," who is an adult in Household's book, was specifically re-written for McDowall. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that after filming began, associate producer Kenneth Macgowan left the studio to take a government post, and his duties were assumed by his former assistant, Len Hammond.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the film was of special concern to the PCA. In a March 4, 1941 memo to PCA head Will H. Hays, official Joseph I. Breen asserted that the final shooting script of the film suggested the "possibility of a very important question of industry policy" due to the depiction of all the Nazi characters as "despicable" and all of the English characters as "sympathetic." Breen feared that the lack of "balance" between the characters would be "judged by great groups of our patrons as 'inflammatory'" due to its resemblance to the "hate pictures" produced during World War I. Breen apprised Jason Joy, the studio's head of public relations, of his concern in early March 1941, as well as warning that the shooting script was unacceptable due to "excessive brutality and gruesomeness" in the scenes depicting "Thorndike's" torture by the Nazis and "the characterization of Jerry as a prostitute."
On March 11, 1941, Breen again wrote to Joy about a March 7, 1941 draft, stating that the depiction of "Jerry" was still unacceptable, although he believed "that this objection could be easily overcome if Jerry were to use some other garb than a tam[-o'-shanter], a trenchcoat, and a bag dangling at the end of her wrist, which three articles are inescapable symbols designating prostitutes." The sequences of "gruesomeness" had been altered to Breen's satisfaction, however. Breen also wrote to Hays on May 11, 1941, informing him that the film would no longer fall within the category of a "hate picture" and noting: "After an extended discussion with the studio in which we sought to point out the great danger involved in this undertaking, it was agreed that the first part of the picture, showing the shocking brutality of the German officers, would be very materially changed, and that, while it would be indicated that the English Captain would be definitely mistreated, much of the detail of the brutalization would be omitted from the finished picture."
According to modern sources, English actress Queenie Leonard acted as Joan Bennett's dialect coach and Ben Silvey served as the unit manager. In 1976, Household's novel was filmed again as Rogue Male by the BBC television network. The British version was directed by Clive Donner and starred Peter O'Toole and John Standing.