A commentator on this release calls this a minor Lang film, and maybe it is, but it’s made with a taut understanding of the tension required in a wartime spy thriller. Ray Milland feels well-cast as a sort of bland everyman who falls into a mysterious Nazi spy ring plot — not unlike, say, Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much; indeed, the ordinary person happens upon bad goings on is a pretty common trope to cinema of this period, it feels like, perhaps because it was rooted in an everyday reality. Lang keeps the tension high — even during a village fête cake raffle, rather remarkably — and everyone, whether Nazis, suspected Nazis or British police detectives, is filmed as though a looming and dangerous presence, because in a sense they all are for a hero who has just been released from an asylum, in a rather wonderful opening sequence that is heavily freighted with symbolism around time running down and things coming full circle.
- There’s a 15-minute interview with scholar Joe McElhaney, who draws out many of the themes and symbols deployed by Lang in this film and others of his wartime period, quite an interesting piece, and one which deepens my feeling toward the film, which is what you want in any discussion.
- The only other extra is the trailer, which feels very of its time, with a breathless narrator telling us the excitement we should expect from the film.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Fritz Lang; Writer Seton I. Miller (based on the novel The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene); Cinematographer Henry Sharp; Starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at the Embassy, Wellington, Wednesday 17 June 1998 (and more recently on Blu-ray at home, Melbourne, Sunday 4 June 2023).