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