Sunday Matinee: Ministry Of Fear

Ray Milland is released from mental asylum during WWII in England. On his way to London Milland visits a village festival. The Festival is run by the Mothers of Free Nations charity, which is run by a brother and sister who escaped Austria. Milland enters a contest for a cake. You guess how much the cake weighs and if you are the closest, you win. Milland makes a guess and then gets his fortune read. The fortune teller informs him that maybe he should guess again and then gives him a weight. He re-guesses with the new weight and wins the cake. A young man arrives late and runs to the fortune teller and then all of a sudden it seems like everyone is trying to get Milland to give up the cake to the young man. Milland refuses and leaves.

Milland hops on the train to London and is alone only expect for a blind man who is sharing his carriage. Suddenly the blind man isn’t blind and he wants the cake. After the blind man fails and makes a run for it Milland hires a detective to get to the bottom of this. A return to the village and one seance later, somebody is dead and Milland is looking a little suspicious, particularly after he yelled out during the seance about poisoning a woman. But it is starting to look like there is a secret society of Nazi spies living in England.

Fritz Lang is one of the all time great filmmakers and after he fled his native Germany when Hitler came to power, he kept making movies in the U.S. He made several excellent thrillers such as Fury and You Only Live Once. In 1941 he made his first anti-Nazi movie Man Hunt, an excellent film about a British hunter trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler and then going on the run when he fails. In 1943 he made Hangmen Also Die! about an assassin who killed a Nazi administrator and contemplates surrendering after the Gestapo start killing hostages. In 1944 Lang wanted to buy the rights to Graham Greene’s novel Ministry of Fear but Paramount Studios beat him to it. Fortunately Paramount wanted him to direct the film.

As usual there are some changes from the novel. Milland’s character didn’t actually kill his wife in the movie although he was somewhat guilty about it. In the novel the character out and out murdered his wife and felt guilty after the fact. The production code wouldn’t allow a murderer to be the hero of a spy thriller. Criterion Collection is going to release the movie onto Blu-ray and DVD in March. The film isn’t quite in the same league as some of Lang’s other classics but it’s a pretty good spy thriller.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka has spent most of his life watching movies and reading comic books. He has decided to use this vast knowledge for evil instead of good.