Ministry of Fear DVD
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Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced in 1944
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Graham Greene was seldom fond of what Hollywood did to his novels, but he was especially caustic about this adaptation of his wartime ‘entertainment’ Ministry of Fear. He felt Fritz Lang (who he admired) had failed to grasp his story, using incidents and characters without capturing the tone or texture. Certainly, the film owes little to Greene’s book but in other respects his assessment is way off beam. Ministry of Fear is a masterpiece; one of Lang’s greatest American-era films and a relentless scorched-earth thriller.
Freshly released from the asylum, Stephen Neale (Milland) decides to visit what seems to be a simple village fête. After a tip from the fortune teller, he walks off with a prize cake – little realising that it was actually intended for a Nazi spy ring. Needless to say, they want it back and set their dogs after him. Hunted across London, Stephen isn’t sure who he can trust. Can he even trust himself? Or does he need to return to the asylum?
Lang bathes the whole thing in shadow and cranks up the pace: an early fight, played against the backdrop of a bombing raid, has an intensity few directors could match. The whole film is a near-perfect example of the auteur theory in action: what had been envisaged by its writer/ producer as a pastiche of one of Hitchcock’s British pictures (ruthless international gangs at play in sedate English environments) is transformed into a full-on Fritz Lang film by the way he organises his frames and cuts sequences together.
In many ways, it’s the most Germanic of his American films, the missing link between German expressionism and film noir. It’s filled with moments that might have come from those UFA films of the 1920s, most obviously a brilliantly stylised séance that ends in a murder and the final shoot-out on an angular staircase, which plays almost like a violent out-take from Metropolis.
Because of Greene’s opinion, Ministry of Fear has been overlooked and underrated. This is a shame, because when it’s judged on its own terms, it stands revealed as one of its director’s best films.
James Oliver on 17th August 2007
Author of 147 reviews
Ray Milland stars as a paranoid, persecuted man who, after spending two years in an asylum following the death of his wife, is released into wartime England. He stumbles across a spy ring, but the police are the last people he wants to deal with...
An atmospheric film noir full of typically Langian cinematic touches, it was based on the novel by Graham Greene - though Lang wrote to him apologising for what had been done to his story.
Publisher: Optimum Releasing
Length: 83 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3 Full Frame
Cat No: OPTD1035
Format: DVD B&W