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My name: Brian Martin
I came across this film on Netflix, and read: "While hunting in the Bavarian Alps, a British man stumbles upon an opportunity to assassinate Adolf Hitler but is captured before he can do the deed." It sounded interesting. Then I saw it was made in 1941, and I was intrigued. Finally, noting that it was directed by Fritz Lang, I was hooked.
The "British man" of Netflix's description is Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), a well-known big game hunter. He doesn't exactly "stumble upon" a chance to kill Hitler; he engineers the opportunity. But, as he tells Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders) after his capture, he didn't intend to kill Hitler. It was, he says, a "sporting stalk." The thrill was in proving he could do it. The Major doesn't buy it, but Thorndike talks a good line -- a cultured English gentleman's version of General Zaroff's tune from "The Most Dangerous Game." Significantly, however, we viewers aren't entirely convinced, either. When Thorndike refuses to sign a confession stating that he not only intended to kill Hitler but did so at the request of the British government, Quive-Smith has him tortured and thrown over the side of a cliff, to die an "accidental" death. He survives, and another hunt is on.
All of this takes place "shortly before the war." During the course of the film, Germany invades Poland and World War II is begun.
Adolf Hitler has the dubious honor of being one of a very few people who, when he is lined up in the sights of a high-powered rifle, all I can think is, "Shoot! Shoot, for God's sake!" If he were a child at the time, I might be conflicted, but here he is fully grown and strolling outside the Berghof near Berchtesgaden. But this is an American film (directed, to be sure, by a man who hated the Nazis) and, with Pearl Harbor still undreamed of, the country was still isolationist. According to Wikipedia, we don't see Thorndike's torture because the Hays Office wouldn't allow it, thinking it put the Germans in a bad light.
Fortunately, Lang manages to cast the Nazis as evil anyway. Quive-Smith is the best of these: a hunter himself, his mockery of Thorndike's "weakness" -- sporting stalk, indeed -- as endemic to the British people as a whole sets him up quite nicely as an intelligent but bloodthirsty and contemptuous opponent.
Joan Bennett plays Jerry, a London streetwalker who aids Thorndike and, of course, falls in love with him. Well, it's easy to see why. Part of the charm of this movie is Thorndike himself, who is tough yet refined, rich but not snooty, serious yet carefree and optimistic. Too perfect? Absolutely. But he's still fun to watch.
The real question is, did he or did he not intend to kill Hitler? To answer that, I'd have to give away the surprising (and very clever) ending. I tend to like beginnings more than endings, and the beginning of this film, with the two hunters going at each other in their own ways, is wonderful, but the ending is just as good, the perfect complement to the opening.
And then, finally, we get a great propagandistic denouement. But this isn't a movie just for history buffs. It's exciting, funny, suspenseful, and refreshingly free of the naiveté of the country and the time that produced it.