Wednesday, 21 May 2014

"Ministry of Fear"

Today's film is "Ministry of Fear", released 1944.  It's directed by Fritz Lang, director of such films as "M" and "Metropolis", written by Seton I Miller and based on a book by Graham Greene.  It's a paranoid piece where you feel like you can't trust anybody, so, very noir.

Ray Milland stars as Stephen Neale, a releasee from the Asylum who goes to  an unassuming fair put on in the name of charity.  He spends the entrance fee of a shilling and goes into the tent of the fortune teller Mrs. Bellane, who tells him what he should guess to win the cake of "how much does this cake weigh" fame.  The guess is right, and he takes home the cake, or at least tries to- a blind guy knocks him out and steals the cake on the train.   He runs off and is promptly exploded by a bomb (sweet bomb effects!), leaving Neale with more questions than answers.

Helping to get to the bottom of this mystery is Carla and Will Hilfie, the people who run the charity, played by Marjorie Reynolds and Carl Esmond.  Carla is the film's love interest and the main femme of the film, and fulfills the wide-eyed, perpetually confused quota.   As the film progresses she coaxes Neale's story out of him and is generally very helpful and supportive.  Her brother is very earnest with nary a hair out of place, and is similarly helpful and inquisitive as the two discover their charity may be a front for a Nazi spy ring.

The femme fatale of the film is Mrs. Bellane, played by Hilary Brooke.  She's an interesting character; she is first introduced as an old fortune teller before she turns out to be a beautiful young dame.  I suppose in the beginning she's wearing make-up (I'm really not sure what's going on)?  At any rate, she hosts a spooky seance that heightens and explores the sense of mystery in the film.

This movie has an interesting tone.  It's mostly paranoid and nervy but there are some comic elements, such as blustery private detective George Rennit, played by Erskine Sanford, who risks alienating clients with his quick temper.  Ultimately, since the movie only breaks the tension  only once or twice it's hard to complain about it, though one wonders about the effect the film would have on your psyche without such moments to splinter the mood.

I give the film about an average rating.  It's good, but (and I admit I've never read the novel) I can't help but wonder if it would have more of an impact on the viewer's soul if it more closely followed the plot of the book.  I suppose Metropolis is Fritz Lang's masterwork, and this film doesn't upset that, but it's an interesting film nonetheless.

Best Line:  "It's the way they work all around you, knowing about everybody, everything, where to find you," spoken frightenedly by Marjorie Reynolds.

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