Ministry of Fear

Marjorie Reynolds as Carla, with a swastika projected over her

A Hitchcock film that Hitchcock didn’t make, Ministry of Fear has the innocent man on the run, the dangerous/vulnerable blonde and a shadowy organisation pulling the levers in the background. Fritz Lang directed it, in mid 1943, but it took until mid 1944 before it was shown in cinemas (and even then it only happened piecemeal). Considering it’s about Nazis, a dangerous conspiracy and life during wartime, that’s a long time for a film to be sitting on the shelf. Fritz Lang didn’t like it, nor did Graham Greene, who wrote the book it was based on, but Lang was forced to work with the adaptation written by Seton Miller, who was the … Read more

Spies

Willy Fritsch as agent 326

Metropolis, now seen as a classic, didn’t do many favours for director Fritz Lang short term. And it nearly bankrupted Ufa, the studio that made it. For Lang’s follow-up, Spies (Spione), Ufa clipped his wings and forced him to shoot on a reduced budget. Hey ho, another classic, and also, just incidentally, the template for almost all of the spy thrillers of the future. In a brilliant, lightning-fast opening montage, Lang lays out his stall – stolen documents, a murder, a public furore stoked by incendiary newspaper headlines (“public officials asleep on the job”), – another murder, followed by a man who might as well be named M calling a spy who might … Read more

While the City Sleeps

Dana Andrews, Sally Forrest, Thomas Mitchell and Ida Lupino sitting at a bar

While the City Sleeps is one of the great noir titles. Which is not the same as saying it’s one of the great noir movies. In fact it’s barely noir at all. Though it does start off looking like it might be. A lurid murder before the opening credits, then titles that come blaring at us in gigantic white letters, while Herschel Burke Gilbert’s title music of clarion brass and shrill strings suggests a great noirish feast is about to be served up. The director’s name – Fritz Lang – also promises the same. He’d done Scarlet Street and The Big Heat, after all, noir lodestones. There’s been a murder and the murderer … Read more

Scarlet Street

Kitty and Chris

There’s a “strike while the iron is hot” aspect to 1945’s Scarlet Street, a quick follow-up to 1944’s The Woman in the Window which reunited the three key cast members – Joan Bennett, Edward G Robinson and Dan Duryea – with director Fritz Lang and the ace cinematographer Milton Krasner. That was noir and so is this, a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1931 film La Chienne (literally, The Bitch). Renoir didn’t like Lang’s remake and nor, later on, would he like Human Desire, Lang’s remake of his La Bête Humaine. Edward G Robinson was also in the Renoir camp. He didn’t like working on Scarlet Steet much, considering it too similar to The Woman … Read more

The Woman in the Window

Alice and the professor meet

Not to be confused with the 2021 movie of the same name, 1944’s The Woman in the Window is the second of three film noirs Fritz Lang made with Joan Bennett and the first of two he’d make with Edward G Robinson. It’s a queer beast – noir with a plot trick picked up from The Wizard of Oz, a trick used so brilliantly it rescues what looks like a film that’s gone weirdly off the rails. Robinson plays the tweedy psychology professor called Richard, Dick to his friends – Sigmund Freud bubbles around beneath the surface of this plot and that name is no accident – who, while admiring a portrait of a … Read more

You Only Live Once

Joan and Eddie on the run

Fritz Lang’s second Hollywood picture, You Only Live Once, was released in 1937, three years after the death of Bonnie and Clyde, and was the first movie to tell their story – sort of. A tale of bad luck and trouble rather than one of bad people doing bad things, it stars Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney as a couple in love – she a sweet girl who works for the Public Defender, he a threetime jailbird determined to go straight and make an honest woman of his wife-to-be but finding that society won’t give this sucker an even break. Blocked at every turn, Eddie (as Clyde is called here) turns back to … Read more

M

Peter Lorre with M chalked on his back

The point of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M – Eine Stadt Sucht einen Mörder is slightly lost when its truncated title, simply M, is used. This is a story not about a murderer (which is what the M stands for) but about the mob, when the rule of law is rejected in favour of a lynching. Which all comes as a bit of a surprise if you’re watching M for the first time and only know it from its reputation. There are two other things that most people coming fresh to this film already “know”. These are a) that M is an expressionist masterpiece and b) it’s got Peter Lorre in it. Dealing … Read more