Man Hunt (1941)

10 06 2009

A few mis-steps here and there in this, one of Lang’s most (personally) important efforts. While he had already established himself as a very competent genre picture director with You Only Live Once and Fury, he shows here that he is worthy to be mentioned alongside American giants like Ford, Walsh, and Hawks. Sure, it’s not the most thrilling film that Lang himself would ever make, but it is one of his most technically refined. He makes this well-known from the very beginning with a perfectly-executed sequence of Walter Pidgeon seemingly stumbling upon a free shot at Hitler.

The quiet yet precisely edited introduction seems to anticipate, both in the bleakness and simplicity, the cinema of Michael Haneke. Yet, at the very same time, it seems like a text book reflection of early 1940s genre cinema in America. John Ford’s The Long Voyage Home begins with a similarly downplayed opening. Like Ford, Lang’s films becomes a bit more conventional there after, but that doesn’t cancel out the tonal sample that has been set before us. Sure, there’s more dialogue in the rest of the film, but the opening doesn’t seem to be from another technical or even literal world.

Following his escape from the German government, Walter Pidgeon is on the run, which is a theme that is not entirely new to Lang. If there is one unifying element of his work, it’s the concept that his protagonist always seemed to be looking over their shoulders. Pidgeon’s character returns to England, his homeland, and somehow, he is more suspicious of the citizens in his native land than the ones he encountered in Germany. It sounds like complete nonsense and well, it is, but Lang’s sophisticated command of the art form makes the dramatic turn seem completely natural and fitting.

It seems a little superflous to mention that Lang calls back, at least visually, his earlier German films. There is a very expressionistic tone in Man Hunt and it does not seem the slightest bit forced. There’s no over-emphasizing of shadows, or darkness. Lang and cinematographer Arthur Miller find the perfect balance in the contrast of their compositions. Simply stated, the movie looks beautiful. Perhaps there is a subconcious influence, but the visuals seem to reflect Lang’s past cinematic achievements (personal note: I need to see more of these) and anticipate the visual style that would be prevalent in the golden years of Hollywood genre cinema.

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