Friday, July 19, 2019

THE JOAN BENNETT BLOGATHON: Man Hunt (1941)


Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting a blogathon salute to Joan Bennett running from July 19th - 21st. Click HERE to enjoy the contributions.


The history of humankind is in our fight against evil. In our Industrial and Technological ages, it is the fight against fascism as personified by the Nazi. The reality of wars is accompanied by some interesting speculative fiction. Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male published in 1939 is a thriller based on the premise of a sportsman questioning the theory of a "sporting stalk"; that someone could "take out" a dictator with obvious plans for world domination. 20th Century Fox assigned director Fritz Lang to a 1941 release based on Rogue Male adapted by Dudley Nichols, and we have Man Hunt.

Walter Pidgeon

Walter Pidgeon plays Capt. Alan Thorndike, an acclaimed hunter whose trek into Germany brings him within sight of Berchtesgaden and its infamous resident. Hitler is in his sights yet the rifle is unloaded. It would be so easy. Thorndyke tells himself that it is all in keeping with the game when he loads the rifle and takes aim a second time. Is this a lie he tells himself and will tell others? A passing guard subdues the Englishman who comes under the tender mercies of a Nazi we will come to know under the alias of Major Quive-Smith played by George Sanders.

George Sanders, Walter Pidgeon

"Nothing betrays the hypocrisy of the English more than their use of that phrase "playing the game." You play a game to win, Thorndike."

Quive-Smith understands the thinking of a hunter, having given up the sport to dabble in the more high-stakes sport of politics. His plan is to have Alan sign a confession that he was sent by the British government to assassinate Hitler. Alan refuses to play into the enemy hands and withstands torture. He will be one man to say no to the Nazi use of force.

Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowell

"My word, you seem to be knocked about a bit."

Quive-Smith sets up an accidental death for the nobly born Thorndike, but a fluke in the plan allows him to elude his captors. Roddy McDowell plays Vaner, a young cabin boy on a Danish ship who assists Alan in getting to England and avoiding a spy set on board. John Carradine plays the Nazi who is traveling under Alan Thorndike's passport. Vaner describes this mysterious passenger as "a walking corpse."

Thinking himself free once back on British soil, Alan's life continues to be one long chase to avoid capture, to avoid being used, and to thwart the plans to make England the aggressor in the war so desired by Germany.

Joan Bennett

"Jerry"

"You're like that little arrow in your hat, straight and shiny. And that's the way I'll always remember you."

The softening, humorous and touching presence represented by the character of Jerry Stokes played by Joan Bennett is an addition to the story for the sake of the film. Jerry is a young Cockney woman whom fate throws in the way of Alan Thorndike and his trials. Like Vaner, her instinct tells Jerry that Alan is trustworthy. She is also susceptible to his nonchalant charm and manners. Alan Thorndike wasn't working any magic, but Jerry fell under his spell.

We are given to understand from her shabby surroundings and speech that Jerry is more than a few classes below Thorndike. The sewing machine in her room hints at a respectable profession, while her manner and knowledge of the streets hint at something seedier. Nonetheless, her open and frank face shows us her regard for Alan. Her honest refusal of money is a sign that her loyalty and help is not something that can be bought, but is freely given.

Heather Thatcher, Joan Bennett

You wouldn't expect it, but in the course of an evening, Jerry wins over and influences Heather Thatcher's snooty Lady Risborough, Alan's sister-in-law in an amusing encounter. We do expect Jerry's courage when she encounters the Nazi threat. The audience is on her side from Joan Bennett's first scene as this engaging and brave character. Joan's accent may come and go, but her sincerity is never in doubt, through her expressive face and fiery determination. Alfred Newman's use of the popular strain of the day, A Nightengale Sang in Berkeley Square as a theme for Jerry, helps to establish her as a character worthy of admiration and affection.

John Carradine

Alan Thorndike is constantly being run to ground. First by the Nazis and their hounds in Germany. In the familiar environs of London, among crowds of people, he is pursued by more Nazis hiding in plain sight. Lang and Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur Miller (How Green Was My Valley) give us the noir feeling of everything closing in on our hero. He is pursued to the Underground by the "walking corpse" in a scene both beautiful and fraught with tension.

Eventually, Alan retreats to rural England where he is isolated and living underground in a cave. Still, Quive-Smith has found his man. Still, even with the war begun, Quive-Smith desires the signed confession. And even more, he wants the admission from Thorndike that not only could he kill Hitler, but that had been his plan all along. Is this a truth Alan has discovered about himself?


Connections:

Joan Bennett, Fritz Lang

Director Lang and actress Bennett released two films in 1941, Man Hunt and Confirm or Deny. Later collaborations are The Woman in the Window, 1944, Scarlet Street, 1945 and Secret Beyond the Door..., 1947.

George Sanders, Joan Bennett
The Son of Monte Cristo

Previous to Man Hunt, Joan and George Sanders co-starred in The Son of Monte Cristo and Green Hell, both in 1940.

Joan can also be found opposite Walter Pidgeon in Big Brown Eyes, 1936 and The House Across the Bay, 1940. My, what a busy girl!















28 comments:

  1. So... Walter Pidgeon hunts down Hitler and even gets him in his sights... just for the sport of it? I’m not sure I buy that. Is this a variation on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME?

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    1. Aha, I see you are as cynical as Quive-Smith. Most of us are when watching this movie.

      The hunt is the thing, so there is that Most Dangerous Game spin to Man Hunt. Both adventures with a philosophical bent. I don't think of the other when I'm watching one of them though.

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  2. Lovely review. I saw the movie not long ago and it's fantastic. Great cast overall. Joan is very affecting in this role though for the life of me I don't understand why they didn't just make her an American girl in London. Her Cockney accent is not good, but I can simply ignore this.

    For me though it's George Sanders who steals the show. Doesn't he always? He is spot on and really scary.

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    1. Sanders is mesmerizing.

      I agree. They wouldn't have had the bother of the fading accent if they'd just gone with a displaced Yank. It's a good thing Joan is so appealing and talented that we can forgive her.

      My rewatch of Man Hunt revived my admiration for it. Time and distance had made it fade a bit. Silly me.

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    2. Btw, Sanders's German is near perfect.

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  3. Haven’t seen it in an age but you remind me how good it is.

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    1. It really does hold up; fascinating, exciting, and emotional.

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  4. I remember JOAN BENNETT as the mother to ELIZABETH TAYLOR and the wife to SPENCER TRACY in FATHER OF THE BRIDE.(I know they had a sequel later). I like CONSTANCE BENNETT, the sister of JOAN, in MERRILY WE LIVE, a comedy we have mentioned before with the delightful BILLIE BURKE. I also like Connie in WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? which is considered a forerunner to A STAR IS BORN. I read the order of sisters was CONSTANCE, JOAN and then one Ive never seen-BARBARA that only did a few movies. I found out a year ago or so that BARBARA was the mother of MORTON DOWNEY,JR. He was the host of one of those talk shows that some people call trash TV, like JERRY SPRINGER and MAURY POVICHS SHOWS. P.S. There was another woman named JOAN BENNETT who became JOAN KENNEDY, the wife, and later ex-wife, of SENATOR TED KENNEDY.

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    1. I'm not familiar with Downey, but it is interesting that the family's legacy in the public eye is such a long one. I know Richard Bennett from The Magnificent Ambersons and If I Had a Million. Connie and Joan certainly made strong impressions with their film careers.

      Speaking of Father of the Bride/Little Dividend, you would probably enjoy a 1932 movie called Me and My Gal which paired a much younger Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett.

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  5. Great write up. I always loved Bennett and wondered why she didn't act in more films. It seems she'd been blacklisted over a "scandalous" affair. In 1951, her then husband Wagner shot her agent 3 times when he thought they were having an affair. The agent survived and Wagner only served 4 months(!). "I shot him because I thought he was breaking up my home," Wagner told the chief of police of Beverly Hills. Well, those were the days! BTW, loved her in Father of the Bride and the sequel.

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    1. Those were the days, indeed. It appears the scandal derailed things for a bit. No movie roles from 1951 until 1954. What a shame! Well, some of us would have Dark Shadows to look forward to.

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  6. I want to correct an error. Joan was younger than Barbara. Joan was once married to producer/writer GENE MARKEY. After he and Joan divorced he married two more actresses-HEDY LAMARR and MYRNA LOY! Those marriages ended in divorce also. Markey later married widow LUCILLE PARKER WRIGHT-the owner of CALUMET FARMS, the most famous horse racing stable in KENTUCKY. They were married for 27 years-until his passing in 1980. He only had one child MELINDA whose mother is Joan Bennett.

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  7. Speaking of siblings GEORGE SANDERS, the brother of TOM CONWAY, married two of the GABOR sisters. He was married to ZSA ZSA for 5 years and much later he married MAGDA. Reportedly the marriage lasted a month(or maybe six weeks) and ended because of Georges drinking. George was one of the actors that played MR. FREEZE on BATMAN. His ex-wife ZSA ZSA played a villain on the last ep of that show. One of his marriages didn't end in divorce. He was married to BENITA HUME, the widow of RONALD COLMAN, for 8 years until her passing in 1967. George did a Disney movie IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS that starred HAYLEY MILLS(who is also from a famous acting family).

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    1. George Sanders has been a favourite since I first saw The Jungle Book at age 10. Tom Conway became a favourite from his RKO movies for Val Lewton, and The Falcon series which he took over from George. They played brothers in The Falcon's Brother and in Death of a Scoundrel. Tom's Disney output includes Peter Pan and One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

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  8. Did you know about GENE MARKEY and his three actress wives? He certainly married glamorous women. Regarding TOM CONWAY later an AMERICAN comedy actor got into show business and his name was Tom Conway so he changed it to TIM CONWAY.

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    1. No. I had never looked at Markey beyond his producing career.

      I read Tim Conway's autobiography a few years ago and thought the Tom to Tim story was very funny; it being such a common name.

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  9. Great look at this entertaining thriller; I think people often forget how many good films (and in different genres) Walter Pidgeon was a part of. By the way, this movie was remade for British television as Rogue Male (1976) with Peter O'Toole in the lead, and a cast that includes Harold Pinter and Alastair Sim!

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    1. So true what you say about my fellow Maritimer Walter Pidgeon. I have got to check out the 1976 movie. The premise is so interesting and that cast is phenomenal.

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  10. Being GEORGE SANDERS and his brother TOM CONWAY went by different last names that got me thinking about other brothers that did that. I thought of two right away. JAMES ARNESS and his younger brother PETER GRAVES. James played Matt Dillon on GUNSMOKE for.....20 years! If that was all he had done that would have been a wonderful legacy on its own. Peter played JIM PHELPS on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE all except the first year. Both of those shows aired on CBS. There was DANA ANDREWS, a good underrated actor and his younger brother STEVE FORREST who guest-starred on Gunsmoke AND Mission Impossible. I know Steve was on SWAT but I never saw that show. However, as Ive mentioned before, I know him from the show DALLAS where first he played BEN STIVERS for 3 episodes and then WES PARMALEE for about 3 months. Also I just remembered that he was in the first GUNSMOKE reunion movie that aired in 1987. Actually the other 4 Gunsmoke movies weren't reunion movies in that Arness was the only cast member from the show.

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    1. Steve Forrest was in four episodes of Gunsmoke before the TV movie. He played one of the worst villains, Mannon. And that's saying something when you consider twenty years worth of television villainy.

      Mission Impossible recently finished a run on local television and it was fun to catch up with the program.

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  11. I have always enjoyed Man Hunt. Fritz Lang and Joan Bennett made a good team!

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    1. Lang and Bennett certainly did make a good time. None of their films feel like any of the others and it really highlights their versatility.

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  12. Speaking of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE who were some of your favorites of the women? I was really young when it was on so I didn't know( or remember)the earlier actresses. There was BARBARA BAIN, LESLEY ANN WARREN and LYNDA DAY GEORGE. Ive read about the show and the year after LESLEY ANN was on the show they didn't have a woman be a regular cast member that year. They had different women guest stars for that job. I read that one guy wanted LEE MERIWETHER and one wanted DINA MERRILL who we have mentioned both of them before. Also the last season LYNDA DAY GEORGE went on maternity leave and BARBARA ANDERSON took over as a new character-MIMI-temporarily. P.S. About seven years ago they were showing the reruns 5 nights a week so I am familiar with all of the women more now except not so much when it comes to Miss Warren. Regarding the men I remember JIM PHELPS (of course) and BARNEY(GREG MORRIS) the most from when I was a kid.

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    1. Barbara Bain is superb and supreme in my eyes. I was surprised at how fond I became of Lynda Day George as Casey. Barbara Anderson is always Officer Eve Whitfield to me, and I'm surprised her career didn't become bigger. Perhaps she had other things to do.

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  13. I want to mention some actors or singers,etc. named BENNETT that aren't related to Joan. Theres probably quite a lot but right now Ive only come up with two of them. There was BRUCE BENNETT and currently there is TONY BENNETT.

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    1. I never pass up the opportunity to watch Bruce Bennett.

      Tony Bennett is a fave whom I saw in concert many years ago. Hard to believe we're both still here!

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  14. This is such a great, underrated film. It's so thrilling and engaging. You wrote a review that did it justice - and reminded me of how frightening Carradine was as a walking corpse.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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