Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Walter Pidgeon is the subject of a “Man Hunt”

Man Hunt (1941) is an American political thriller directed by Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett. The film is based on the novel Rogue Male (1939) by Geoffrey Household. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti. The cinematography was by Arthur C. Miller and the music was by Alfred Newman.

The film takes place in 1939 with renowned British big-game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Pidgeon) attempting to assassinate Adolph Hitler close to his residence near Berchtesgaden. Thorndike is captured at brought before Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders). Thorndike tells the major he wasn’t really going to kill Hitler but just wanted to see if he could just for sport. Through a strange course of events, Thorndike escapes the Nazis and goes on the run. He meets Jerry (Bennett) a young woman who hides him in her apartment. Jerry acts as a go-between for Thorndike and his diplomat brother, Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock).

Will Thorndike be able to allude the Nazis and return to the sporting life he once knew?

Fritz Lang (1890 – 1976) was an Austrian-German-American director. Lang is the director of the silent film classic Metropolis (1927). After serving in World War I, Lang worked for a time as an actor in the theater and then worked as a writer at Decla Film in Berlin. Lang’s first talking picture was M (1931) a story about a child murderer. Due to his growing renown, Joseph Goebbels offered him the position of head of the German film studio UFA in 1933. Lang emigrated to Paris and then to the United States in 1936. Lang worked for all the major studios, making twenty-three feature films in the United States. Some of Lang’s films include Scarlet Street (1945), The Big Heat (1953), and While the City Sleeps (1956).

Walter Pidgeon (1897 - 1984) was a Canadian-American actor. During his long career, he was nominated for two Best Actor Academy Awards—Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Madame Curie (1943). Pidgeon worked on the stage before he entered films, making his Broadway debut in 1925. When he starting working in film, he starred in musicals. Once the interest in musicals declined, he began making a name for himself in dramas and comedies during the mid-1930s. His lead role in How Green Was My Valley restored his popularity. He was first paired with Greer Garson in Blossoms in the Dust (1941). They made a total of eight films together, making them one of the screens most popular acting teams. Some of their other films include Mrs. Miniver (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Julia Misbehaves (1948), and That Forsyte Woman (1949). Pidgeon has success on his own in films like Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and the science fiction classic, Forbidden Planet (1956). One of Pidgeon’s last film roles was Funny Girl (1968) where he portrayed Florenz Ziegfeld.

Joan Bennett and Walter Pidgeon

Joan Bennett (1910–1990) began her film career during the early sound era. A natural blonde, Bennett dyed her hair as a plot device in the film Trade Winds (1938). As a brunette, Bennett projected a sultry persona that had her compared to the brunette beauty, Hedy Lamarr. During this period she starred in two costume epics. She played Princess Maria Theresa in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) and Grand Duchess Zona of Lichtenburg in The Son of Monte Cristo (1940). Bennett was one of two finalists for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), along with Paulette Goddard. She had a very successful collaboration with the director Fritz Lang. With Lang, she starred in the classics Man Hunt (1940), The Woman in the Window (1944), and Scarlet Street (1945). Bennett acted on stage and on television where she became a pop culture icon playing Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971).

George Sanders (1906 – 1972) was a British film and stage actor who also had a fine singing voice. Hollywood was looking for a villain to star opposite a young Tyrone Power in Lloyd’s of London (1936) and Sanders more than fit the bill. His performance in that film would forever stamp him as a sophisticated bad guy. Before his acting career, he worked in the textile industry, which must have helped him with his role in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. In the 1960s, Sanders played Mr. Freeze in the Batman (1966) television series.

Man Hunt trivia

  • The film was made before America entered World War II. It was considered propaganda, encouraging American involvement in the war.
  • Director John Ford was approached to direct but he turned the project down.
  • 20th Century-Fox built a replica of the London tube station with the aid of actual blueprints.
  • This was Roddy McDowall’s American film debut. He would go on to work with Walter Pidgeon that same year in How Green Was My Valley.

To watch the movie on YouTube, click below.

To join the discussion on August 16, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you’ll receive an invitation and link to join the discussion on Zoom.

Why watch this film?

  • The director Fritz Lang is considered one of the great directors who emigrated from Europe to the United States.
  • It is the first of Lang’s four anti-Nazi films, which also include Hangmen also Die! (1943), Ministry of Fear (1944), and Cloak and Dagger (1946).
  • This was Lang’s first collaboration with Joan Bennett. Other Lang-directed films that Bennett starred in include The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), and Secret Beyond the Door (1947).

Discussion questions:

What did you think of Walther Pidgeon as the hero?

Before the film was released, the studio was concerned that it was promoting U.S. involvement in World War II. Did you see that promotion in the film?

Does the film remind you of other similar films you’ve seen?

What did you think of Joan Bennett’s performance? Did you think she and Pidgeon had good chemistry on screen? Does the romance work or would the film have been better without it?

Publicity photo of Bennett for Man Hunt

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