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This underappreciated Fritz Lang gem is a real treat in Criterion high-definition....
Criterion / 87 Minutes / 1944 / Unrated / Street Date: March 12, 2013
Fritz Lang was famously dismissive of Ministry of Fear throughout his later career, citing studio control as having hindered his ability to truly make the movie he wanted out of Graham Greene’s acclaimed novel. And while it’s difficult to defend this new-to-Criterion 1944 drama as a full-fledged Lang classic, this disc absolutely confirms that even when the master filmmaker wasn’t working at the top of his game, he still had an indelible way of bringing paranoid imagery to the masses.
The specter of Nazism looms large over every element of Ministry of Fear: Lang is clearly making as much subversive commentary about the party that ruined his beloved homeland as possible. When we meet Stephen Neale (Ray Milland), he’s fresh out of a mental institution and fervent about starting his life anew. Unfortunately, he finds himself in a sleepy village that seems benign at first glance, but quickly manifests itself as a hotbed for an undercurrent of Nazi sympathies that gets more dangerous by the minute.
Ministry of Fearhas more than a few extraordinary sequences of deeply uncomfortable paranoia, and these moments are what lend the movie such a wonderful vivacity. Many of the dramatic connectors in and among these scenes fall flat (it’s no surprise that Lang never had too many nice things to say about his screenwriter here), but even if Ministry of Fear is unmistakably uneven, when it hits the bulls-eye, it really nails it. Lang shouldn’t have been so hard on himself.