Thursday, September 17, 2020

RAY MILLAND ON THE RUN, 1944: Ministry of Fear and Till We Meet Again


Ray Milland stars as Stephen Neale, a man who thinks his long personal nightmare may be over. On the night he is released from a sanitorium, a sentence for the mercy killing of his wife, Stephen Neale faces a new and more immediate nightmare.

Graham Greene's (The Third Man) 1943 novel The Ministry of Fear was adapted to the screen and produced by Seton I. Miller (The Sea Hawk) for Paramount in 1944. Fritz Lang (You and Me) directed with crisp cinematography by Henry Sharp (The Glass Key, 1935).

Stephen was a lucky man at a charity fete with the win of a cake made with real eggs. The cake, however, was not meant for him. It contained microfilm valuable to the Nazis and they are not a group of whom one should run afoul. The train trip to London becomes something more than routine with a not-so-blind traveler, a bombing raid, an attempt on Stephen's life, and a stolen cake.


The charity fete had been held for the Mothers of Free Nations. After hiring a rather seedy private detective played by Erskine Sanford, Stephen checks out the offices of the MoFN and becomes involved with sibling Austrian refugees. Carl Esmond plays Willie Hilfe who finds Stephen's story amusing but is also willing to play along. Marjorie Reynolds plays Carla who hopes to prove their organization blameless, and who also seems to find Stephen attractive.

Stephen and Willi follow a trail that leads to Hillary Brooke as a wealthy socialite, lending her hostess duties to an incongruous seance. The medium seems to know more about Stephen than is humanly possible. A man is murdered. Stephen is on the run and he knows he is being followed. Why has that detective disappeared?

Stephen is in a waking paranoid nightmare; pursued by Nazis and the authorities, he chases the villains to clear his name. There is no one to trust and nowhere to hide. Each safe place turns more dangerous than the last. Dan Duryea, Alan Napier, and Percy Waram are among the suspicious characters that Stephen and Carla must sort out in order to be safe. Yes, our attractive leads have joined forces. Perhaps there is one person who can or must be trusted.

Ministry of Fear is a tidy thriller that puts its cast and its audience through their paces. Shocks and plot twists abound as the race against time and a clever enemy quickens to the finale. Apparently, director Lang was disappointed with this film yet he gives us an extremely accomplished entertainment.



Barbara Britton stars as Sister Clothilde, a novice at a convent in rural France during WW2. She was eight years old and came to the convent after the death of her mother. The convent was a refuge from an abusive father and a haven she never wants to leave.

Lenore Coffee's (Four Daughters) screenplay was directed by Frank Borzage (Three Comrades) with moody cinematography from Theodor Sparkuhl (The Glass Key, 1942). Some location shooting was done on Rhode Island.

Mother Superior played by Lucile Watson knows how good and kind Sister Clothilde is with the children in their care yet still worries for the young woman whom she senses takes too much pride in being safe from the outside world.


The convent is part of the "Underground" helping trapped allied soldiers to escape the Germans. Konstantin Shayne plays Major Krupp who cannot enter the convent yet plays a verbal game of cat and mouse with the brave Mother Superior. Always in the background is the Mayor played by Walter Slezak. Mayor Vitray is not an unfeeling man, but he is afraid and fear rules his actions.

An American flyer with vital information for the allies is the latest to pass through their care. Sister Clothilde knows of his presence and inadvertently makes Major Krupp aware of his presence. She could not lie but her face and actions gave it away. The Nazis make quick work of the unspoken information. The woman who was to act as the flyer's wife to get him past the authorities is arrested. Breaking with protocol, soldiers come to search the convent and kill the Mother Superior. Sister Clothilde takes the place of the underground operative. It is her duty.

During the perilous journey, the flyer and the sister share much and become close. He shares his home life; his wife and son are everything to him. She sees that life outside the walls of the cloister can be a fine thing. She has learned what Mother Superior meant when she said, referring to the cross: "This is our symbol, Sister Clothilde. Why should we be free from suffering?"

Barbara Britton gives a lovely performance of a young woman finding unforeseen courage and understanding. Ray Milland is a very human hero; dutiful toward his cause and grateful for the help that comes his way.

"Only a few days. Only a few miles, but it's been a long journey."

Frank Borzage's films always have for me a moody romanticism and a strong sense of Fate controlling all-too-human characters. 












8 comments:

  1. Did Milland expect the cake to NOT be made with real eggs? Or was this a war shortage thing?

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    1. You hit the nail on the head. Eggs were a precious commodity during the war. I don't believe Ray had an expectation one way or the other but the folks running the fete were very proud of the fact that they hadn't had to use an egg substitute. Everyone he spoke to mentioned the glory of "real eggs."

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  2. Ministry of Fear - just love this film, one of my favorite Fritz Lang's. And I don't think Dan Duryea has ever been sleazier fun than here!

    I've not seen Till We Meet Again, but I'm interested in Frank Borzage's films. Based on your review I will definitely check it out.

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    1. I was in a Ministry of Fear mood and tripped over Till We Meet Again. Borzage pulled me in, and it was one of those cases where the longer you watch something, the more memories start to emerge.

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  3. Ministry of Fear is a "tidy thriller" indeed! It may be my favorite of Lang's American films and it tops Hitchcock's best World World II espionage pictures like Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur. I have no idea why it's not more acclaimed by critics and more beloved by film buffs.

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    1. I agree. It should be top of the list for many more people. I think it needs a primetime spot on TCM to bring the fans out of the woodwork.

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  4. PATRICIA CROWLEY(also known as PAT) was in a COLUMBO ep that starred RAY MILLAND and ROBERT CULP. Pat turned 87 yesterday. I remember that you mentioned she played MARY on the GH spinoff PORT CHARLES. I have mentioned before that I like the MURDER, SHE WROTE ep that she did. It also had STEVE LAWRENCE, GEORGE CLOONEY, BUDDY HACKETT, SHEREE NORTH and ARTE JOHNSON. I also like THE BISCUIT EATER with Pat, JOHNNY WHITAKER(earlier spelled JOHNNIE) and EARL HOLLIMAN who turned 92 last week. I am a big fan of Pat Crowley and Earl Holliman. I also like Johnny Whitaker who is best known for FAMILY AFFAIR.

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    1. Pat Crowley is a favourite. She has great appeal. The earliest I have seen her was in Forever Female in 1953. She played an actress and Marion Ross was her best friend. Ginger Rogers was the star of the movie.

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RAY MILLAND ON THE RUN, 1944: Ministry of Fear and Till We Meet Again

Ray Milland stars as Stephen Neale, a man who thinks his long personal nightmare may be over. On the night he is released from a sanitori...