Tuesday, January 26, 2010

George Sanders, Nazi

The distinguished British actor George Sanders played quite a few elegant and respectable characters in his career. However, he also played a Nazi once. That movie is Man Hunt, which TCM is showing at 10:00 PM ET tonight.

The movie was made in 1941 but is set before the September 1939 start of World War II. Walter Pidgeon plays a gentleman hunter who has decided to "hunt" people instead of animals. Not that he kills them, of course; he just gets them in the sights of his unloaded gun to prove to himself that hitting the target could actually have been achieved. He's in the Berchtesgadener Land of southeast Bavaria, overlooking Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" vacation residence, trying to catch Hitler in his sights, which he eventually does. Satisfied with this, he then thinks about whether or not he should put a bullet in the gun and kill Hitler, whose menace to Britain must have been known by this time. Unfortunately for him, while pondering whether to kill Hitler, a Nazi guard spots him, and brings him in for questioning to Gestapo agent George Sanders. Sanders says he's willing to let Pidgeon go if only Pidgeon will sign a document saying that he had been in Germany under orders from the British Government to try to kill Hitler, orders that would presumably give Hitler the "legal" right under international law to declare war on the UK without having been seen as starting the war. Pidgeon decides that the Nazis are going to kill him regardless of whether he signs the document or not, so why sign it? Sure enough, Sanders throws Pidgeon over a cliff, making it look like Pidgeon was fleeing the Nazis after having committed the earlier crime.

But, Pidgeon doesn't die: the straps of his rucksack get caught on a branch, breaking his fall. Pidgeon then proceeds to try to escape back to England, only for Sanders to be in hot pursuit, considering what failure to kill Pidgeon would do to his career. Pidgeon does eventually make it back to London, with the help of some people who may not really be helping him after all; if you saw Night Train to Munich, you'll recognize the type. Among the supporting characters are Joan Bennett as a London prostitute; Roddy McDowall as a cabin boy, and John Carradine as an Englishman on the ship where Sanders is a stowaway. The rest of the movie is the sort of chase movie reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock classics like The 39 Steps, but it's not directed by Hitchcock. Instead, that honor befalls Fritz Lang, who is almost every bit Hitchcock's equal when it comes to creating a taut thriller.

Man Hunt has been released to DVD.

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