(director: Fritz Lang; screenwriters: from the novel “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household/Dudley Nichols; cinematographer: Arthur Miller; editor: Allen McNeil; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Walter Pidgeon (Captain Alan Thorndike), Joan Bennett (Jerry Stokes), George Sanders (Major Quive-Smith), John Carradine (Mr. Jones), Roddy McDowall (Vaner), Ludwig Stossel (Doctor), Heather Thatcher (Lady Alice Risborough), Frederick Worlock (Lord Gerald Risborough), Roger Imhof (Captain Jensen); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Darryl F. Zanuck/Kenneth Macgowan/Len Hammond; Fox Home Entertainment; 1941)
“This farfetched thriller offers some well-crafted noir-like breathtaking chase sequences that are tense and absorbing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Fritz Lang (“M”/”Western Union”/”The Return of Frank James“) directs this involving Hollywood espionage thriller taking place on the onset of World War II.It started out as a 1939 magazine article by Geoffrey Household in Atlantic Monthly Magazine and was in that same year published as a novel entitled “Rogue Male.”Dudley Nichols is the screenwriter who awkwardly waters down in tone much in the novel but still retains its exciting development of a big game hunter being hunted down in London by Gestapo agents.
Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) is a celebrated aristocratic English sportsman and adventurer who in the Bavarian Alps trespasses undetected in the closely guarded compound of Berchtesgaden, where Hitler vacations. The idealist Thorndike takes a practice shot with an unloaded precision rifle on Hitler to showoff his skills as a hunter without carrying through with the kill (calling this a ‘sporting stalk’), and then loads his weapon to perhaps take another shot but is stopped by a sentry. Interrogated by the sinister Gestapo head Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), Thorndike refuses to sign a confession that he was on assignment from the British government to assassinate Hitler in order to be freed because that’s not true. The confession is wanted to embarrass the British internationally and to make it seem as if they were responsible for starting a future war. Thorndike is tortured and then thrown off a mountain ledge, but surprises the Gestapo by escaping from their clutches by hiding, with the help of a cabin boy (Roddy McDowall), as a stowaway on a Danish steamer conveniently sailing for London. In London Thorndike’s pursued by a shadowy English-like Gestapo agent Mr. Jones (John Carradine), and only escapes from the clutches of his minions because of the help from a trusting Cockney prostitute, Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett). She gives him shelter and taxi fare to his brother’s estate, while falling in love with him. There Thorndike tells his diplomat brother, Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock), his fantastic tale and how he must hide out somewhere in Great Britain or else the Nazis will carry out their deceitful plan.
The best scene is the exciting chase sequence in the London Underground, with the deadly Mr. Jones tailing Thorndike.
The well-executed thriller, one of Lang’s lesser works, is spoiled by a story so incredulous that it seems like just so much Hollywood nonsense and is ruined further by Bennett’s phony Cockney accent and stilted acting. If the viewer can get over these shortcomings, this farfetched thriller offers some well-crafted noir-like breathtaking chase sequences that are tense and absorbing.
REVIEWED ON 2/4/2012 GRADE: B