Friday, January 28, 2011

Ministry of Fear

An interesting World War II-era spy movie, Ministry of Fear, shows up tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET on TCM.

Ray Milland plays Stephen Neale, a man who has been in an insane asylum in the UK for the past two years. He's just been adjudged sane, and ready for release. Unfortunately, Stephen's problems are just beginning. At a fair, he is given the correct weight in a "guess the weight of the cake" contest: obviously, somebody has mistaken him for the ringer who was supposed to get the cake. Indeed, after he gets the cake everybody seems to want it back; not only the people at the fair but the people on the train he takes to London. Worse, Stephen quickly finds that people are willing to kill him to get at the cake. It turns out that there's some sort of microfilm inside the cake, and a ring of Nazi spies is using the cake to try to smuggle that microfilm out of the country.

Stephen has more problems than real Nazis trying to kill him. Having been released from an asylum, he finds that nobody is about to believe him when he says there are people trying to get him. The old maxim that "Just because you're insane doesn't mean they're not out to get you" rings true. Like a character in a Hitchcock movie, Stephen is forced to go it alone and try to catch the Nazis himself. Also like a Hitchcock movie, the film is filled with dark humor and strange characters, as Stephen and the bad guys wind up at a séance together, among other set pieces.

However, Ministry of Fear was directed not by Hitchcock, but by Fritz Lang. Despite being reminiscent of Hitchcock's earlier The 39 Steps of Saboteur, Lang's Ministry of Fear holds up just as well as the Hitchcock movies. Sadly, it hasn't been released to DVD in North America (although Amazon does say a Region 2 DVD was released).

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