Friday, August 8, 2014

Ministry of Fear - 1944


Part Of Synopsis From Back Cover:

On his way to London after being released from a mental asylum, Stephen Neale (Ray Miland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister, possibly Nazi-connected underworld.

I'm almost positive that Yvette of in so many words... is responsible for me seeing this movie, at least the first time around.  She reviewed it on December 28th, 2010.  I read her review on December 29th, and watched the movie on February 2nd, of 2011.  I only know this because I just went back and read the comments I made on her post.  I've always found Ray Miland rather dashing, and I'm in love with him in The Uninvited, so when she wrote up her review, I knew I had to watch it.

The Criterion Collection just released it on Blu Ray last year, and I'm pretty sure I bought it the week it came out.  How can you not love a movie that starts off with Ray Miland's character being released from an asylum, where he was committed for two year after buying the drugs his wife used to killer herself.  She was dying a horrible death, and she asked for his help in ending it.  Once he bought the drugs, he was unable to go through with the plan, but she got a hold of them anyway, and that was that.  So he was there for two years, and the first thing he does is hope decide to hop on a train for London.  Once he is at the station, he sees a little fete across the way, and since he has time he joins in.

Long story short, he ends up with a cake, meant for someone else.  He is followed onto the train by a fake blind guy steals the cake, jumps off the train, and Ray Miland starts chasing after him.  The guy is killed by a German bomber, dropping bombs on the innocent countryside.  Which if you think about it, a German spy getting killed by a German bomb, is rather hilarious.

Once in London, Milan decides to look into the charity that hosted the fete, he meets the Austrian refugees who run the organization, and the games really begin.   For the rest of the movie, we are treated to some of the craziest, most convoluted actions on the face of the planet.  The plot just takes off, and if it can be twisted and turned, it is. But that's the genius of the movie, it's takes the most outrageous plot twists it can, and somehow you still buy into it.  You really believe that a cabal of German spies, has been able to infiltrate every level of society, stealing military secrets and using a tailor to pass them along.  The characters are over the top, just the way they should be in such a story, though some of the acting itself is rather stilted and some of the casting choices, Marjorie Reynolds, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Hillary Brooke on the other hand, who I also adore, is brilliant as Mrs. Bellane, one of the cabalists, and a fake medium.  It's through here that we are treated to one of the most memorable seance scenes I've ever seen on screen, the tension is thick through the entire thing, and the way light is used, sheer genius.  Actually, the entire movies uses light and shadows brilliantly.  There are a few scenes where the absences of light is used to it's fullest effect, two of the better ones are at the end.

Did I forget to mention that this is all taking place in a London that is in the middle of war, dealing with nightly German bombardments?  I also want to make sure I mentioned the many gun fights, an apartment explosion, and one of the coolest book stores (also a Nazi front), that I've ever seen.  I won't get into how many characters die, or the one who has to die twice.  I won't even mention the lack of resolution concerning some of the characters, such as Mrs. Bellane.  You just have to assume that in the end, they are all rounded up.

What I will say, is that with every viewing, I find myself falling in love with this one more and more.  Fritz Lang, though the movie is supposed to be quite different in tone from the Graham Greene book it's based on, directed a terrific example of Noir, and it plays those tropes to the hilt.  It is quickly becoming one of my favorite movies, and I'm sure it is one that will have many more viewings in my home.


1 comment:

Irene McKenna said...

This sounds like an absolutely insane plot. :-) I should give this movie a try.