For Reel

Ministry of Fear (1944)
August 18, 2015, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Fritz Lang
5 Stars
Ministry of FearEarly in Ministry of Fear, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) demands to a fortune teller that she should, “Forget the past, tell me the future.” It’s a perfect sentiment for a film devoutly paranoid, where even an inspector of Scotland Yard is initially rendered as a frightening suspected Nazi. For Neale, the past is not only one that is horrifying to him–he has just been released from a mental asylum after mercy-killing his wife–but something that is completely knowable. Thus, his interest in the future is both a search for a “fresh start” and as a means of escaping these holds from the past, but meanwhile it is also an inherently troubling unknown. Unfortunately for Neale, the fortune teller is the first step in what will be a nightmarish journey where things are almost never what they seem. A blind man is faking his condition, the old fortune teller later appears as a beautiful woman, and Dan Duryea plays two separate characters who both have death scenes. In addition to characters changing their very identities, director Fritz Lang plays a game with darkness–oftentimes, lights will go out at a pivotal moment to obscure the action. At the end of the film, the lights flicker in a stairway as the Nazi villains are gunned down by the approaching inspector, who again is represented as an image of fear by his being obscured in the darkness. Even the salvation of the protagonists is presented as something suspect. Ministry of Fear was hated by both director Fritz Lang and author of the novel Graham Greene (in addition to the divided response of critics), but it is not only an exemplary tome of Lang’s style and narrative concerns but a masterful work of paranoiac surrealism.

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