75 Years of Involvement
It’s a question that’s been a challenge and cliché for the past 80+ years. Given the shameful legacy of death and destruction that followed Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 Germany, would you have eliminated Hitler if given the chance? Certainly the character played by Gale Sondergaard would: in the propagandistic 1943 Universal B-movie The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler, fashioned from a story devised by two Austrian refugees from Nazi oppression, Fritz Koerner and Joe May, Sondergaard’s husband, portrayed by Ludwig Donath, has been arrested for his uncanny Fuhrer impression and pressed into service as a decoy impersonator in fear of assassination attempts. Sure enough, the bereft woman suicidally takes a crack at the leader when given the chance, not knowing that her target is actually her missing spouse. It’s a vivid and shocking finale from Million Dollar Movie days of compulsive TV watching that lingers in the mind decades later. For younger audiences, the equivalent would be the apocalyptic finale of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II yarn Inglorious Basterds (2009). Two years before The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler, the choice to pull a trigger that would seal the Nazi torchbearer’s fate wasn’t clear cut to another movie character, a British hunter raised in an aristocratic tradition of the “sporting stalk” who had Hitler in his sights but got caught – and would spend the movie’s remaining 100 minutes as a torture victim and fugitive target himself. Marking the 75th anniversary of its premiere today, the breathless thriller Man Hunt (1941) was a clarion call to a still-neutral America that events in Europe were about to matter to the entire world in a deadly way. Its director Fritz Lang might have headed the German filmmaking industry himself at Joseph Goebbles’ invitation had he not chosen to flee within days of being offered the post. He knew that there was no such thing as a “sporting chance” with such an enemy and acted decisively. Man Hunt, adapted by ace screenwriter Dudley Nichols from Geoffrey Household’s 1939 novel Rogue Male, got Lang and Twentieth Century Fox into hot water with isolationist government authorities seeking to censor the film’s depiction of the Nazis’ ruthless brutality. But thanks to the filmmaker’s power of imagery, superb marshaling of actors (Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall, Ludwig Stossel) and top-of-the-line studio resources, the auteur of Metropolis, M and the Doctor Mabuse thrillers frighteningly depicted a darkening landscape where no one was safe and vigilance and determination were absolutely crucial. Less than five months later, the U.S. became involved in a world at war in both Europe and the Pacific region. Given the chance, 75 years later, Man Hunt on an enthralling Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray will involve you as well.