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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Fox Flinches At Naming Their Target

It's A 1941 Man Hunt --- But What Man?

Big-game hunter Walter Pidgeon has a clear shot at, and could pull a trigger on, Adolf Hitler, thereby ending all our troubles, but he's a sporting man, and won't kill unless well prodded, which he'll adequately be by a finish of this pulse-pounder directed by Fritz Lang. The message of Man Hunt rings clear: this will be no war for clean sportsmen. If we want Hitler and his bunch, it'll be necessary to play by their utter lack of rules. Man Hunt was another wave crashing upon isolationism (released June '41) with warning unmistakable that a fight was coming to our shores lest we head it off. Pidgeon is an Englishman least safe on home ground, a scary prospect for those watching who imagined solace could be had for crossing out of Germany. Fox meant to close margins of doubt as to whether we should enter this war. Surely anyone watching Man Hunt knew it was but a matter of time, as in short months.

A lot is fanciful; you'd think Axis agents quietly controlled Britain from the inside, and I can imagine Man Hunt making a lot of UK folk figure every neighbor a spy, but intervention's message was an urgent one, and yes, Hollywood's call to arms was unabashed. Man Hunt would embark George Sanders and John Carradine, plus minor others, upon service to the Reich. Both would double their workloads essaying Axis heavies. Walter Pidgeon escaped support and B-leads to represent resilience we'd all aspire to through long haul of the conflict; he was one actor who'd gain tremendously thanks to a world war. London streets became black pools under Lang's baton, as does sinister underground train service where sudden death comes of slightest misstep. Man Hunt is mostly chase and suspense but for Joan Bennett as sacrificial lamb for freedom. She's the "mere child" who helps Pidgeon, theirs a romance more effective for being subdued.

20th Fox did not mention Adolf Hitler through the whole of its Man Hunt pressbook. It is stated that big game hunter Walter Pidgeon is stalking "the most hated man on earth" (publicity at top) but no photos or art identify Hitler. Suggested ads are also no tip-off, all having been prepared prior to the film's mid-1941 release, and months before Germany declared war on the United States. Fox naming Hitler as Man Hunt hero's quarry would certainly have played them into the hands of Senate investigators looking to link Hollywood with intervention efforts. The Hitler theme had to be played way down at least until showmen got hold of Man Hunt and applied their own energies to what by now was a country much closer to war and eager to take gloves off. I can visualize Fox territory reps and field men spreading ways to push the Hitler gag and juice up patron bloodlust. Grassroots bally through summer and into fall 1941 made explicit the desire of millions to see Hitler done in by whatever means necessary. Lobby shooting galleries went up far/wide to give customers a chance to take their own shot at the Fuhrer, this still ahead of war's start. We can analyze Man Hunt till cows come home and have no idea of impact it had when rifles (even if play) were issued at entrance doors and radios live-broadcast Roosevelt speeches just inside. Exhibitors, at least go-getter ones, knew the temper of their crowd, and how to exploit it. Man Hunt was rawest meat thrown to this school of salesmanship. Mere shadow of that experience may be had various places with HD streaming, and Man Hunt is available on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the world backdrop to MAN HUNT (Part One):

I am reading William L. Shirer’s “Berlin Diary,” a book that was published by Alfred E. Knopf on June 20, 1941, just about the time “Manhunt” was being released. No doubt the imminence of war was a factor in its release as well.

Shirer had been a free lance correspondent in Germany, beginning in 1934, and from 1936 on, had worked for CBS Radio under Edward R. Murrow. He finally left in 1941, when he found that Nazi censorship made it impossible for him to report the news in any meaningful way.

The book provides his insight as to the nature of the Nazi regime in Germany and its ambitions, which he thought that the Western world was ignorant of and unprepared for. He believed that it sought world dominion and that its actions, whether within Germany or in relations with other countries, was directed with that in mind. As such, it was prepared to be ruthless, preserving aspects of traditional German culture and industry or observing the norms of international law, only to the extent necessary to obtain its ends. To his mind, it was a gangster state, which ought to be resisted for that reason alone, and which could be resisted only with massive, overwhelming force.

This perspective, of course, is very much like that of “Manhunt.” When you are dealing with ruthless criminals, you must meet them on their own ground and beat them decisively. Concepts of fairness or chivalry only make you vulnerable before their willingness to use brute force without restraint.

11:25 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Dan Mercer:

“Berlin Diary” is, in a sense, a literary sleight of hand. It is in the form of a diary and is a fascinating read for that reason, as you delve with Shirer into the methods of working within such a society or with such a regime. Where Shirer is an eyewitness to events, such as the armistice ceremony at Compiegne, where France surrendered to Germany, he is a keen observer. Alistair Horne often refers to him in that capacity in his “To Lose a Battle: France 1940,” his study of the French defeat in the European phase of what became the Second World War. A comparison of “Berlin Diary” as published with the actual diaries kept by Shirer during this period, however, reveals that little of the originals made its way to the published version. Shirer’s initial impression of Hitler, for example, was quite favorable. Much of the book was written retroactively, especially with regards the events leading to the outbreak of the war. Shirer wants to appear in the know about Hitler and the Nazis from the beginning, in contrast to the appeasers, no doubt to show that the policy of appeasement was always wrong.

War was imminent when “Manhunt” and “Berlin Diary” were released. France had fallen, Great Britain was fighting off the back foot against German and Italian forces in North Africa commanded by Field Marshal Ernst Rommel, Greece and the Balkan states had been conquered, and tensions in the Pacific between the United States and Japan were escalating rapidly. On June 22nd, Germany would invade the Soviet Union.

Ostensibly neutral, the United States was providing massive amounts of materials and armaments to Great Britain in American transports escorted by warships of the United States Navy. Germany was trying to avoid a confrontation, but there had already been several incidents involving American warships and German submarines. That there was still a question of whether and when the United States would enter the conflict, however, was because of a strong America First movement that still commanded the support of a majority of American citizens in the polls. Though not a member of the organization, aviation hero Col. Charles A. Lindbergh was its chief spokesman.

The objection of America First to entering the war on the side of Great Britain was that the United States was not threatened by Germany and, thus, its interests were not at stake. If the United States did enter the war, the scope of the conflict would be immensely broadened, with much greater destruction and loss of life, the prevailing order in Europe would be drastically changed, and the chief beneficiary of this would be the Soviet Union.

In retrospect, these predictions of America First were borne out. It should be noted, however, that a Europe commanded by Germany, which would have been the outcome had the United States not become involved, would also have proved a difficult challenge. Those advocating American intervention, however, did so on the ground that Nazism was destructive of all that underlay Western civilization, and that this, rather than a narrowly defined national interest, should determine the course of action of the country.

This was the context within which “Manhunt” and “Berlin Diary” were released. Given the turbulence of American politics and public opinion of the time, they should be seen as an effort to at least appeal to a potential audience regarding matters that were of great concern to it, if not as propaganda to bring that audience to a preferred conclusion. Given that books and movies then had an effective commercial life of about six months, it was well that they were issued when they were.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Fritz Lang was the perfect director for this film.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It's a shame TWILIGHT TIME has shut down. They did exceedingly good work. I bought all their 3D Blu-rays. Thanks to them I finally got to see GUN FURY, SADIE THOMPSON and MAN IN THE DARK in 3D. Also bought their version of INFERNO.

7:17 AM  
Blogger antoniod said...

My Brother will argue that the US hadn't decided whether we would fight alongside Britain or Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor. He lives in an alternate reality.

1:28 PM  

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