Ministry of Fear

Publicity still of Ray Milland and Marjorie Reynolds in Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944).

Much of Lang's genius for evoking atmospheric dread in crowded public settings as well as dark stairwells is on evidence in this pleasant-enough diversion, which would probably be more impressive if it weren't clearly an attempt to mimic the formula of The 39 Steps and other of Hitchcock's early thrillers--an attempt that is about 65% successful. It also doesn't help that one senses some material has been ruthlessly and clumsily edited out. I was excited to see Dan Duryea in the title credits (he's insanely great in Lang's Scarlet Street from the following year), but he's only in the film for a total of five minutes or so. He does have one nice little bit that comes when you've given up on him, however. The most memorable scene is the very last, about which I will only say that it tries to be funny and succeeds, but not in the way it was meant to. Ray Milland's delivery of the final line deserves an award for sublime (mis-)timing.

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