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Good Wartime Film Noir
Snow Leopard21 September 2001
With an interesting story and good atmospheric settings, "Ministry of Fear" is a good film noir that most fans of the genre should find worth watching. Ray Milland is very good as a man battling a recent personal tragedy, who must then also try to sort out a series of mysterious and hazardous events in which he has suddenly become involved.

There are a lot of characters, and the story gets a bit complicated at times, making use of the W.W.II setting while introducing some quirky elements which generally come across pretty well. There are also a couple of good surprises, and for most of the way you have to guess along with Milland's character as to what will happen next. As with most such films, you must occasionally suspend disbelief, but that does not really detract from the atmosphere and tension.

If you enjoy film noir and/or thrillers, give this one a try. It's not one of the best of its genre, but it moves quickly and works well, at least as light entertainment.
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Hollywood in London
RanchoTuVu17 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The story comes hazily through a so-so screenplay helped by astute direction and great cinematography. The film opens on a ticking clock in a dark room and then to Ray Milland sitting at a table. Tick tock tick tock. He's waiting for 12:00 when he will be released from an asylum where he has been for two years for the mercy killing of his terminal wife. Set in war-time London, but made in Hollywood, there are some unlikely characters. Nonetheless, the basic spy caper story line is well presented in numerous marvelous scenes. The aforementioned ticking clock in the dark room, the fake blind man on the train, the seance, the apartment with the modern art and the pistol in the handbag, the exploding suitcase, Dan Duryea dialing a phone number on a radial phone with the biggest, sharpest pair of scissors you're likely to ever see, the fatal gun shot through the closed door and the light coming through the bullet hole, the shootout on the just goes on. I'm sure it strays from Greene's novel, but it merits watching anyway for Milland and for the pure cinematic quality that is evident from beginning to end.
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Beware when a psychic advices you to guess the weight of a cake
krorie1 January 2006
What a team! Graham Greene and Fritz Lang. What an actor! Ray Milland. What a movie! This one will stay with you for awhile. Though Greene did better work, i.e his masterpiece the screenplay for "The Third Man," and Lang did better work, "Metropolis, "M," "Fury." Together they make "Ministry of Fear" sizzle.

Today just about any movie from the 40's and 50's shot in black and white with darkness, rain, or shadows is labeled film noir. I don't really know if "Ministry of Fear" is a film noir as such but I do know it's great film making, somewhat along the lines of Hitchcock's "39 Steps." Ray Milland as Stephen Neale is mistaken for a go between espionage agent, called Cost or Travers depending on the circumstances, played to perfection by Dan Duryea. Neale guesses the weight of a cake as foretold by a fortune teller. Obviously the cake is valuable because immediately upon realizing their mistake the spy ring sets out to frame and kill Neale to retrieve the tasty morsel. Not to be missed is an exciting sequence aboard a train involving an alleged blind man. The rest of the movie filled with suspense, mystery, and intrigue involves Neal teaming with Carla Hilfe (Marjorie Reynolds--later of television's "Life of Riley" fame) and her brother to catch the culprits and discover what it's all about. Gradually Neal comes to suspect even Carla herself though by this time he's fallen madly in love with her. The feeling seems to be mutual. The denouement is a showdown between Neal and the spy ring which is exciting and a logical way to wrap up the movie.

Ray Milland walks off with the show even though the rest of the cast gives him able support. It's easy to see that Ray Milland was well on his way to winning the Oscar the very next year for his standout performance in Billy Wilder's "Lost Weekend." It was just a matter of time before his acting talent would be formally recognized. It's a good thing "Lost Weekend" came around for Milland for he never again played a role that so suited his abilities as an actor, though he still had many years ahead of him to be on the big screen.

The script is a witty one with many good lines. Though Lang's direction is good there are a few boring parts following the frame-up. A few more blind man type scenes would have helped tremendously. Still a very good espionage thriller of the old school with a title that reaches out and grabs you to make you want to see what the "Ministry of Fear" is all about.
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a piece of cake
dexter-1028 February 2000
In an excellent suspense, Stephen Neale (as played by Ray Milland) finds himself in one precarious situation after another. His problems are compounded by the fact that he has just been released from an asylum and is warned upon his leaving not to get involved with the police again, for "a second charge would not be easy." Inadvertently, he does and it isn't! Very funny role played by Erskine Sandford as Mr. Rennitt, the detective who indicates the his private investigating is "a respectable business with a tradition. I'm not Sherlock Holmes." Anyone who enjoyed "The Man Who Knew Too Much" will find this film spellbinding. The last few lines of the movie make viewing a good movie even more fun.
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Solid film noir
KillerCadugen3 January 2004
Although the script may have been a little uneven (and I have no idea how it relates to the book by Graham Greene), but for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning this was some good noir fun. Hints of Hitchcock lent a creepiness to the atmosphere. Things were also somewhat unpredictable, which is important for any mystery. Nicely done.
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Danger, Desperation & Confusion
seymourblack-123 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Ministry Of Fear" is set in England during World War 11 and is an exciting spy thriller with a complicated plot, plenty of suspense and action that unfolds at a lively pace. It was adapted for the screen by Seton I Miller from a Grahame Greene novel and was also directed impressively by Fritz Lang.

Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) isn't a typical "spy thriller hero" as he's simply a man who was unjustly incarcerated in a mental asylum for a couple of years following the death of his terminally ill wife. He was believed to have assisted her in committing suicide but in reality, she had taken her own life. When he gets released from the asylum, fate continues to be unkind to him as he gets mistaken for a Nazi spy, has his life put in danger on two occasions and also gets accused of another murder which he also didn't commit!!

When Neale leaves the asylum and buys a ticket for London, he has some time to spare before his train is due to depart and so visits a charity fête which is being held close to the station. After winning a cake in a "guess the weight" competition, he's joined on the train by a man who appears to be blind and when their journey is interrupted by an air raid, Neale's travelling companion attacks him and makes off with the cake. Neale then chases him over some moorland and is surprised when the man starts shooting at him. The shooting only stops after the man is killed when the building in which he hides is bombed.

Neale later decides to hire a private detective called George Rennit (Erskine Sanford) to investigate the charity (The Mothers Of Free Nations) which had organised the fête and this in turn leads to him meeting Willi Hilfe (Carl Esmond) and his sister Carla (Marjorie Reynolds) who run the organisation. They are Austrians and both subsequently help him after he attends a séance where a man called Cost (Dan Duryea) is shot dead and Neale is accused of his murder.

Neale and Carla fall in love and she helps him to investigate whether "The Mothers Of Free Nations" has in fact been infiltrated and used as a cover for a group of Nazi spies. The couple escape an attempt on their lives after a suitcase that they'd been asked to deliver explodes and Neale eventually discovers that the cake he'd won had contained some microfilm which was intended for delivery to the spy ring. A number of further surprising developments follow before Neale's investigations are successfully completed.

"Ministry Of Fear" contains a number of film noir motifs such as clocks, mirrors and expressionist photography but another significant one is the uncertain and changing identities of some of its characters. There are two women (a fortune teller and a medium at a séance) who both claim to be Mrs Bellane and Dan Duryea's character operates under two different names (Cost & Travers) as does Carl Esmond's (Hilfe & Macklin).

It's not only the identities of people that can't be trusted in this movie as a number of the characters are also not what they appear to be and the fortune teller and the medium are both fakes. Deception on this kind of scale creates a sinister atmosphere within which it becomes impossible to trust anyone and Neale even has reason to doubt where Carla's loyalties lie. In a situation where deceit is everywhere and no-one can be trusted, Neale's paranoia understandably grows and is soon accompanied by feelings of alienation as he also can't get the police to believe him because his previous conviction and the time he spent in the asylum undermine the credibility of everything he says.

"Ministry Of Fear" really is very entertaining on a number of levels and Ray Milland is particularly good as an ordinary man who has to cope with all the danger, desperation and confusion that he experiences during this high speed adventure.
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Almost a superb flick
Oskado17 March 2004
If you like Hitchcock's "39 Steps" or "The Man Who Knew Too Much", you're likely to enjoy this one, too. It's weakness, in comparison to "39 Steps" lies in a frustratingly shallow treatment of the characters. Development of the relationship between the protagonist Neale and the very photogenic Fraeulein Hilfe is disappointingly sketchy - and their unwavering trust in each other - and love - essentially instantaneous, not gradually won through tension, doubt and adversity. And our doubts concerning Neale's time in prison for murder are defused all too quickly, assuring us he's no "Stagefright" personality. I can't help thinking Lang attempted to emulate "39 Steps". The result's a fun film, with wonderful close-ups of a very young Millan and his girl, but of "thinner fabric". As in "39" or "North by Northwest", the plot doesn't resist much scrutiny - the bad guys' judgment pretty lame. The fun lies in character eccentricities, great photography, the creation of an artificial universe, etc. Personally, I find "Man Who Knew Too Much" too long, impossible to sit through a second time, excessive in several ways - overacted, over-dramatized; this film, like "39" or "North by Northwest", I have no problem watching again and again.
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Thrilling WW II suspense yarn
missy_baxter25 June 2001
Ray Milland is brilliant in this story of a man whose troubles just begin when he is released from an asylum. The suspense is so thick it can be cut with a knife and the supporting cast is excellent in this innocent-man-caught-up-in-espionage classic. The photographic shadings are also just right. And remember, the cake is made with real eggs.
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Beware Of Blind Men
jcholguin12 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Ray Milland as Stephen Neale, a person that has just been released from a mental hospital has no idea of what fate has for him. Neale wants to return to England but has time to stop at a small town festival. He wins a cake after the psychic tells him what the weight of it is. Suddenly another man arrives and wants the cake because it seems that he and not Neale was meant for it. A spy ring is operating during WWII and supplying information for the Nazis. Neale takes a train and a blind man appears and rides with him. Unbeknown to Neale, this man is actually a spy and is not blind. Later on, there are false leads for Neale, a murder or murders depending on who Neale speaks to. Finally there are two strange woman, spies or innocent dupes? A fine performance from Milland and well worth the time to watch in this excellent film.
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Above Average B Spy Drama
rmax30482316 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Fritz Lang was responsible for a couple of true German originals, including the fantasy "Metropolis" and the early talkie, "M". He was pretty popular. He claims at one point he was invited to Goebel's office and asked to lead the film department at the Ministry of Propaganda. "What could I say? I said, 'I'm tickled pink, Sir.'" He and his family were on the next available transit out of Germany.

He was a prime catch for Hollywood, where he as known for strutting around in riding breeches and boots, a monacle in his eye, shouting instructions through a megaphone. I've never found his American movies actually gripping, although always interesting in some way or other. They are unmistakably Langian if you know what to look for. His thematic use of objects like clocks. Or, here, a nicely done rainy shot of a tailor's shop in London. A scene in which a heavy in a dark room shouts to a gun wielding woman, "You shouldn't shoot your own brother." The heavy then flings open the door to the bright hallway, dashes out and slams the door behind him. A shot immediately rings out and the otherwise dark screen now shows a tiny punctuation point of light from the hallway illuminating the bullet hole in the door. And another scene near the beginning in which Ray Milland invites the other passenger in his train compartment to have a piece of cake. The queer-looking stranger thanks him, takes the cake box, reaches in and slowly begins crumbling the cake in his hand, sifting through it, while Milland stares in amazement.

But it's a pretty unimaginative plot, rather routine, and neither Lang nor the performers bring much extra to it. The narrative is -- I want to say this without seeming to ridicule it. It's "heavy handed?" Maybe that's it. I'm doing the best I can to avoid "Teutonic." A couple of changes in the dialogue and you wouldn't have too much trouble getting rid of Milland and putting Rathbone and Bruce in his place. "Sherlock Holmes and the Cake of Death." Or, with a little more effort, it could become the peg for a Bob Hope comedy. "My Favorite Recipe."

I did like Dan Duryea though, the phony scuzzbag. He fakes being shot once, then gets it the second time while fondling a pair of gigantic scissors. Dan Duryea dies double deaths. Those scissors must have been Lang's idea because he used them more than once as weapons. He seemed to like them. He seems to have liked Duryea too because he used him twice more.

It's not his best American film but it's above average for the genre. And it's worth seeing if only because Lang himself directed it. It's good enough that you're not likely to be bored by it.
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great moments
loydmooney16 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a strange Lang film. It is a pure programmer, somewhat along the lines of Hitchcock, but because Lang did not get much of his way with it, the reins largely being in the hands of the producer/writer Seton Miller, well....thereby hangs the warping something he had wanted to do for a long time, and would have done had not the film rights been bought up long before.

So we will never see anything as of a piece say as Big Heat, yet some of the set pieces are as good as anything Lang ever did.

Getting rid of the detritus first, much of the time the film is absolutely leaden. However there are a few good moments at the carnival where Milland gets his cake, and then on the train with the cake...and from here on we are going into some spoilers, so don't read any further if you have not seen the film.

After the train is bombed, there is a hokey but absolutely pure Lang scene during the seance with Hillary Brooke. Hitchcock would probably have handled it differently and it would have been interesting to see how it would have differed from Lang. Lang's noir came from a deeper, purer UFA strain under which Hitch studied: while this not being the place to go into Hitch's style, Lang's approach was always much more primitive: his blacks were the blackest of the bunch, his terror was always meaner if not deeper than Hitch's largely because Lang really did escape from some of the meanest and baddest of Europe, the Nazis, and in film after film, the terrors he summons often have all the suddeness and starkness of a knock on the door at midnight...out of nowhere. Lang's blacks were always a pool from thugs and monsters to emerge with a gun. His blacks were the purest of anybody who ever got behind a camera, and his Nazis still the most terrifying of them all.

That said, after the seance, and the shooting there, his escape and running from the police is pretty idiotic, probably because of the poor script of Seton Miller. Only until the bombing of the room, and Millands waking up does the film take on real life again.

The person playing the cop is something else, however. Lang has the man give one of the most unusual takes on a cop in the history of cinema. The hunting for the cake in the ruins takes place on a set but does not suffer at all, much as they do in a Hitchcock with no damage. Much of the scene is also very hokey but is quite good. Then after the cake is found, the rest of the film is superb. Once they trace the microfilm to the tailor shop, wow, great stuff. The rain was never handled better, and the scene at the tailor is a good as anything Lang ever did. And even the final shootout is quite good. Only the last frames of the end betrays whom ultimately was controlling the film: Seton Miller tacks on a hack absolutely stupid ending that Lang must have felt like crawling into five bottles of Johnny Walkers. It's embarrassing. Yet Dan Duryea and Ray Milland and the man playing the Scotland Yard cop are about as good as anything that came out of Hollywood that year. Strange that a movie only rating an overall 3 or 4 could have a few not only good but really great, almost seminal noir scenes.

My own feeling is that Lang's best film is Manhunt. It is tight and watchable all the way through from first to last. But there are a few moments in Ministry up to the very best of that. Too few, unfortunately, but even so, Lang at his best, even minimally was always better than the vast mediocrities of most of the forties and fifties. Hang around for the few great moments of this baby and you won't ask for your money back.
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Innocent? Prove it!
Spikeopath28 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Ministry Of Fear is directed by Fritz Lang & is adapted for the screen by Seton I. Miller from the Graham Greene novel "The Ministry Of Fear." It stars Ray Milland as Stephen Neale, an ex-insane asylum inmate who is released after a two year sentence for what was allegedly the "mercy" killing of his incurably ill wife. Upon his release Neale buys his train ticket to London but is drawn to a fête being held near the rail station. From here, after a bizarre encounter with a fortune teller and a go at a "guess the weight of the cake" booth, he is thrust into a world of espionage; a world that sees him now have the Nazis on his tail.

The film opens with a ticking clock, the seconds counting down to midnight. Germanesque credits arrive on the screen, telling us of our principal players and film makers. A rear shot of a man sitting in a chair staring up at said clock, that man is Ray Milland as Stephen Neale and we immediately know that atmosphere will play a big part in this story. Things are further made interesting when a trio of interesting points suddenly leap out and force us the viewer to notice. Just what sort of film has its protagonist be released from a mental asylum at midnight? How come the rail station is open after midnight? And more importantly, what sort of fête is held at this time of night? You could easily be forgiven for thinking you have just stepped into The Twilight Zone some 14 years before it sprang from Rod Serling's brain!

Of course this being a Fritz Lang film one shouldn't be surprised to find the piece heavy on atmosphere. Yet Lang apparently didn't have it all his own way on the movie, issues about the script and other technical matters apparently blighted the production. But be that as it may, this is undeniably a Lang movie, even if one or two itches stop it from becoming a genuine film noir classic to rival that other well known Greene adaptation that followed four years later. It's a fair point critics saying that the cheap studio sets don't harm the movie, because they don't really. But genre fans surely can't help thinking just how great this could have been with actual location work involved. The main issue is the ending which, without providing spoilers for the readers, is poor in relation to what had preceded it in terms of mood and intelligence. It's all too elementary and a resort to what they obviously deemed was a crowd pleasing formula. Tightness of plot gives way to action-packeroo, and it doesn't sit quite right. I like to think it's here where Lang had the most objection?

Still, there's so much to admire and enjoy here, not least Milland's excellent performance as the innocent man having a hard time convincing any officials that he's done nothing wrong. He in turn is backed up by the pretty and hard looking Hilary Brooke, who along with Dan Duryea in a small but pivotal role, puts a bit of a sinister film noir sheen on things. Then there is the near expressionistic feel to the piece, with a number of scenes being truly memorable. The whole fête sequence, with snatches of silence, is a classy bit of disquieting cinema. Or a blind mans walking stick tapping its way thru the rail station steam that carries a sense of foreboding that harks to the Universal Monster classics from the previous decade. There's even real beauty too, check out the camera work at the asylum, sumptuous! With mystery, intrigue, melodrama, Nazis, a cake and a huge pair of scissors, Ministry Of Fear is not to be missed by the classic movie fan. 8/10
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Cake and Spy Ring
claudio_carvalho6 May 2012
In Lembridge, during World War II, the inmate Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) has just been released from the Lembridge Asylum after two years of compulsory confinement. While waiting for the train to London, Stephen visits a charity fair promoted by The Mothers of Free Nations and the clairvoyant Mrs. Bellane gives a tip to him and he receives a cake as a gift.

In the train, Stephen shares his cabin with a blind man. Out of the blue, the man steals the cake and run through the field with Stephen chasing him. However, he hides in a house that is bombed by the airplanes and dies.

In London, Stephen investigates The Mothers of Free Nations organization and he meets the siblings Carla Hilfe (Marjorie Reynolds) and Willi Hilfe (Carl Esmond) and Stephen goes with Willi to the house of Mrs. Bellane (Hillary Brooke), who is a different woman from the fair. She invites them to participate of a séance and a man is murdered. Stephen is accused and escapes, and Carla finds a hideout to him. Sooner Stephen finds that he is a pawn in a Nazi spy ring and he does not know who is trustworthy.

"Ministry of Fear" is film-noir of espionage by Fritz Lang with a man getting involved in a spy ring in London during World War II. The plot is only reasonable and the motivation for Stephen Neale to get further and further in his investigation is not clear since he had been advised to avoid problems with the police. Anyway the film is entertaining and for fans of Fritz Lang, it is worthwhile watching it. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Quando Desceram as Trevas" ("When the Darkness Has Fallen Down")
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Accent on thrills, not fear
dmayo-911-59743220 December 2013
Ministry of Fear is fun. It's lighter and less moody than one would expect from the premise of a man just out of a mental hospital being pursued by sinister forces, or from the knowledge that it was directed by Fritz Lang and based on a novel by Graham Greene. It certainly is not film noir, though Universal marketed the VHS release under that rubric.

In both spirit and look, Ministry of Fear resembles the war-aware Sherlock Holmes series that Universal was putting out at the time. If you, like me, have a taste for that bracing brew of riddles, perils, improbabilities, and good manners, you should enjoy this. You can even look forward to seeing some familiar faces from the casts of the Holmes films.

One day after watching Ministry of Fear for the first time, I can't remember a single exterior shot that seems to have been taken outdoors. There may be some, but the impression that remains is that the film was shot entirely under shelter, just in case the Nazis brought the Blitz to California. This dim, artificial "interior world" setting works in a casual way to achieve a dream-like quality. However, we never get the deliberately nightmarish artistic effects that made Lang's reputation. Promising scenes in a séance parlor or a fortune-teller's tent are developed only enough for narrative purposes, not for atmospheric ones. The resulting narrative is always engaging, but it never becomes involving. It doesn't systematically draw us into a labyrinth of intrigue like Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent or Norman Foster's Journey into Fear, but entertains us with a string of incidents. It's as if Lang were skipping stones on a pond for our amusement instead of daring us to go in for a midnight swim.

That all sounds negative, but it simply means that Ministry of Fear succeeds in its mission: to show us a good time if we're prepared to have one. The tone is set by the casting of Ray Milland in the lead. Milland is a personal favorite among film protagonists, an everyman who enables everyboys to believe (however vainly) that they can grow up to be big, handsome, unmistakably well-bred, and equal to any challenge without selling their boyish, fun-loving souls. Milland had a maturely magisterial look about the eyes even in his youth; and yet even in later years, when he was the archetype of the self-possessed patrician, he seemed to delight in rolling those eyes or smiling with mischievous glee. His kind of everyman is an inverted, self-made kind. He might be, say, a younger son of a baronet: fully equipped with social graces and education, but unencumbered with responsibilities, appearances, or an embarrassing amount of money. We often find him dislocated from the well-ordered world that he was apparently born to, but destined to settle back into it when his high spirits have carried him through some danger. However saturnine he may look in a publicity still, he'll probably take us on a lark when the projector starts whirring. And so he does in Ministry of Fear.

The plot? Well, it's about a man just out of a mental hospital being pursued by sinister forces. He also pursues them in return. Along the way, he meets a young woman played by Marjorie Reynolds. When she starts to speak, it may seem for a moment that she's doing an awful British accent, but it turns out to be a tolerable German one. She plays a refugee from Austria who is running a charitable organization with her brother. What becomes of her, the brother, the private detective who serves as the hero's funny sidekick, or villain Dan Duryea (who supplies the awful British accent), must remain shrouded in deepest mystery until you see the film. When you do, please remember that Fritz Lang had to eat like everybody else, and just sit back while he entertains you.
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A couple of observations
andrewgwb4 June 2006
I think the reason that everyone is so thrilled that the cake is made with real eggs, is that in England under war time food rationing, only powdered eggs were available, which apparently were horrible, and so the cause for so much excitement having something made with the real thing. The fact that so much of it appears to have survived a direct hit from the bombing raid might be testament to it's itegrity. Something else that I find curious is that the fair that Milland attends on his release appears to be held in the dead of night. Apart from that, a mightily stellar film. It's great to see so many faces from the Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I've given it a ten.
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surprisingly effect WWII propaganda film
MartinHafer14 July 2006
During the war years, there were quite a few propaganda films--particularly ones about Nazi spies. While many of them become pretty difficult to distinguish from the others, this one stands out as a well made and effective film that will hold your interest.

Ray Milland plays a man who had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems. When he stumbles upon a Nazi spy ring, no one believes him despite his best efforts. So, after receiving no help, he is forced to take matters into his own hands for the good of the free world.

The acting and writing are first rate and the film doesn't get mired down in clichés. By the way, Alan Napier ("Alfred the Butler" from BATMAN) plays one of the baddies!
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Flawed Gem
dougdoepke17 April 2011
Man released from mental hospital gets innocently involved with Nazis because of a cake.

There are more than enough compensations in this flawed thriller to keep viewers' eyes glued to the screen. But what I'd really like to see is the movie Lang wanted to make instead of this one, the version producer-writer Miller and the Production Code insisted upon (IMDB). Not that this version is unworthy, but it's not hard to see Lang's sensibility competing against Miller's turgid screenplay. Unfortunately, the scenes follow in no particular order, while the several genuinely good plot ideas (the many clever snares) lose impact because of murky development. Too bad there wasn't a streamlining re-write. Couple that revision with Lang's visual talents and a first-rate thriller of Hitchcockian proportions would have resulted.

At least producer Miller popped for some impressive sets to accommodate Lang's expressionist vision-- the very last scene may be the only sunshine shot in the entire 90- minutes,(the requisite happy ending). The narrative may be muddled, but several scenes are memorable—the sinister blind man, the frantic search for the cake, the final unmasking. Each shows an expert blend of form with content.

Unfortunately, the movie is also harmed by spotty casting. Milland is okay, but he is a better actor than he shows here, which is perhaps Lang's fault. A serious flaw, however, is Reynolds (Carla) who shows way too much American malt shop to pass as a European, even as the sister of the very European Esmond (Willi). Then too, I'm as big a fan of Duryea as anyone. But one thing he's not by any stretch is a British tailor. For that reason, it's probably just as well his part is surprisingly small. On the other hand, there's the stately Hillary Brooke (Bellane), always an impressive blend of brains and beauty, along with a very smooth and affable Carl Esmond, both of whom deliver in spades.

I wanted to like the movie more than I do. But, it's really a movie of parts rather than a satisfactory whole. With better casting and cogent narrative, the results could have been truly exceptional, instead of the flawed thriller it unfortunately is.
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One Bizarre Bazaar
bkoganbing29 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Paramount did so well with Graham Greene and This Gun For Hire, making a star out of Alan Ladd that they went back to the same source for Ministry Of Fear using one of their best contract leading men Ray Milland as the star. The story starts out remarkably similar to Random Harvest where Milland is an inmate in an asylum.

But while Ronald Colman was a shell shocked World War I veteran, Milland was in there for murder. The Code firmly in place said you can't have the hero be a murderer even if it was for a mercy killing of his terminally ill wife. So Paramount cheated the novel by having Milland only by the poison, not use it, and then have the wife find it and use it on herself, according to him. But the authorities arrest him anyway, but he's given a light sentence of two years in a rubber room.

All of which make him reluctant to go to the police when some bizarre things start happening. At a bazaar no less when a fake fortune teller tells him to bid on a cake by guessing the weight. He gets the cake, but he's not the one it's intended for. The cake has a microfilm inside and the bazaar was a blind for some nasty enemy spies.

We don't know that yet, but when a blind man who Milland shares a compartment with on a train to London knocks him out and steals the cake, Milland and the audience knows something is afoot. This was the part that strained by credulity the most. If the guy wanted the cake so bad, I'd have reported the assault to the police and let the cake go. But Milland doesn't trust the cops, that's understandable, but to chase the thief over the moors while the train is stalled because of a Nazi air attack to me was a bit much.

Milland's curiosity sends him investigating the charity that was holding the bazaar and it's one of those refugee charities run by a brother and sister team played by Carl Esmond and Marjorie Reynolds. After that it's wading through a morass of mystery and deciding who's your friend and who's you and your country's foe.

Even with Fritz Lang who was second to none in directing psychological thrillers, Ministry Of Fear doesn't succeed half as well as This Gun For Hire. It's all right entertainment, but falls way short of being a classic.
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Graham Greene, without soul
bandw16 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I know that a movie should be critiqued on its own merits, but it is hard to comment favorably on this movie after having read the book upon which it is based. It's like the screenwriter passed the story through a filter that took out all meaning, leaving only a skeletal plot. Greene himself has been quoted as saying about this film:

"The scenes in the mental clinic are to my mind the best in the novel, and it was surprising to me that Fritz Lang, the old director of "M" and "The Spy", omitted them altogether from his film version of the book, thus making the whole story meaningless."

The book has psychological and moral dimensions that are not even hinted at in the film. One might think that such topics are really not suitable for a thriller, but consider "The Third Man," having the great scene with Orson Wells and Joseph Cotton on the Ferris wheel, or "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," and the scene with Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in the car. When the source is so rich it is a shame not to mine it.

O.K., given that this movie is entirely plot driven, I think it even fails on that basis. The story follows the book with some significant alterations that seem pointless and corrupting. Consider the "blind" man on the train who, upon taking the piece of cake, starts crumbling it instead of eating it - perhaps attention getting, but nonsensical, particularly given what subsequently happens. And the guy jumps off the train and is chased through the countryside carrying the cake - is that believable?

Ray Milland plays the protagonist as a cheerful good-natured fellow, even though he has just gotten out of a mental clinic after a two year stay; he plays the part striking only one note - there is no depth to the man. Even the opening scene is a bit ridiculous. Milland has to wait until exactly the precise minute before he gets out - given that he is presented as such a well-balanced and pleasant man who is chummy with the management, don't you think he could have been let out maybe an hour early? Marjorie Reynolds plays the love interest with about the same micro-range as Milland. The only engaging characters are Percy Waram as the inspector and Dan Duryea as one of the bad guys.

Lang does not entirely disappoint when it comes to the filming. The black and white photography is artful and sometimes inventive, but it is mostly wasted on an inferior screenplay.

Instead of the intense psychological drama that plays out in the climax of the book, what we get here is a 1930s style gangster shootout.

Greene took the title from a poem of Wordsworth.

Altogether disappointing.
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"Careless talk helps the enemy"
Steffi_P6 November 2010
The United Kingdom has long been the home of the spy thriller. While writers in the US like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were turning out hard-boiled crime fiction, Britain had people like John Buchan and Grahame Greene writing adventuresome tales of espionage and political intrigue. In cinema too, the best director of spy thrillers was undoubtedly Englishman Alfred Hitchcock, and many of his early British films were in the genre. Ministry of Fear however was an American production, made by Paramount studios, and yet it is set in Britain and is adapted from a Grahame Greene novel.

Despite this complete independence from the famous British thrillers of the 30s (which weren't just Hitchcock's by the way, Michael Powell did a few, as did Anthony Asquith), you can see the similarities in theme and plot. As in The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much and so forth, the hero is an ordinary citizen who is drawn into events by chance. He finds himself in a nightmare situation where anyone could be an enemy, and he even finds it impossible to prove his own innocence to the authorities. I stress all this to prove the point that these devices were not invented by Hitchcock, even if he popularised them and associated them with his name – they were established features of the spy novel.

Being a US production, and seemingly one unable to take advantage of the growing crop of Brit actors in Hollywood, the primary roles in Ministry of Fear go to Americans. Ray Milland was just starting to break through into important dramatic roles, and although this is far from as prestigious as the ones he would soon be getting, it does show off his talent for moulding a new persona. He does a passable British accent, in the days before getting these things right was considered important (cf. Errol Flynn pretending to be a yankee), and gives a realistic look of disorientation to the character which fits in nicely with his innocent bystander status. The only other standout from the cast is Dan Duryea who despite only appearing in a handful of scenes makes a grand impact. Duryea didn't really play authentic types, but that wasn't the point. He was the archetypal creepy villain, and his characters don't have to be particularly active because he was great at constantly projecting the idea that he might be about to do something unpleasant. Take that scene at the tailor's shop, where he dials the number with a pair of scissors – that's a typical and very effective bit of Duryea business.

And finally we come to the director, one Fritz Lang. Lang responds fantastically to the material, and emphasises most of all the sense of entrapment in a nightmarish situation. Take the pivotal cake-weigh scene – who but Lang could make a village fete look so eerie? The child's ball bouncing towards Milland as he enters, the absence of bustle or enjoyment, the silence as Duryea arrives, and the absolute, claustrophobic darkness. It's not just gloomy – it has the surrealism of a dream, and really does feel like some symbolic strand of a nightmare. Also characteristic of Lang is the way he uses odd angles and compositions, not so much for expressionistic value but to satisfy his own aesthetic taste, full of diagonals and art deco starkness. It gives us this sense of displacement as familiar settings and objects become geometric patterns. Hollywood didn't have a lot of cash to spare during the war (for a good example of this check out how minimalist Paramount's "big" Technicolor "epic" of the war years, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is), and oddly enough this fact adds to the effect in Ministry of Fear, with stripped down sets, low-level lighting and a lack of extras making conjuring up the atmosphere of a ghost-town.

And this really is what makes Ministry of Fear that little bit different. Whereas the Hitchcock-directed spy thrillers had a kind of playfulness to them, and used that to complement the sense of excitement which the plots necessarily generated from them, Lang's take on the genre really embodies that feeling of real life becoming a nightmare, a tone which Hitch never really went all-out on. As such, Ministry of Fear works on us like a horror movie (and interestingly the theatrical trailer tried to package it as one) thrilling us by immersing us in its chilling world.
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wonderfully quirky
christopher-underwood27 October 2008
For some reason I had put off seeing this Lang, I think maybe I was wary of the wartime spy theme and how flat such films can be. But, of course, this is Fritz Lang, a German making a spy themed noir, set in England and filmed in America. So this is far from dull and ordinary and in fact, is wonderfully quirky and if there is not much character development and the dialogue less assured at times this is a swirling tale that goes at a cracking pace and constantly surprises. A little difficult to follow now and again we are nevertheless, ever fascinated and wary of everyone. A decent storyline and full of incident. Ray Milland is excellent, Marjorie Reynolds, a very good co-star and there are great turns including a spooky blind man, a sultry clairvoyant and a tailor from hell.
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Man is released from an asylum in and gets involved in Nazi intrigue in wartime England
jonhagenson1 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Ministry of Fear is among the best of Fritz Lang's films.Many Lang films contain very clever camera shots and this film has many of them. My favorite scene is when Ray Milland's love interest shoots her brother in total darkness but for the light entering through a bullet hole in the door.Adapted from a terrific Graham Greene novel,it is delightful to watch and the cake comment at the film's ending is just right.

Suspense builds as Ray Milland enters a church festival and buys a chance at winning a cake by guessing its weight.Later,in a fortune teller's tent,he receives privileged information and is subsequently pursued by people loyal to the Nazi movement.

Similar in suspense techniques championed by Alfred Hitchcock,a former student of Lang's,in The Saboteur.
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Does evil lurk in every shadow? Is every stranger a spy?
michaelRokeefe24 April 2000
From the renowned director Fritz Lang, a jumbled story of cat and mouse. Ray Milland is Stephen Neale, who has spent two years in an asylum, after being convicted of a mercy killing. Neale wants to lose himself in the crowd of London during WW2.

Neale innocently guesses the weight of a cake at a charity function. He is soon followed or chased while discovering a ring of Natzi spies. Can he trust the only two people that want to help him; or are they spies too?

This could have been a better movie. The wide assortment of characters woven into the plot make for a long drawn out story. I can see how you could easily give up watching this. Film-Noir it is. Great film it is not.

Also in the cast are Dan Duryea, Marjorie Reynolds, Mary Field and Alan Napier.
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Ministry of Fear
raul-416 March 2004
I don't remember reading so much trash before, the past reviews seem to have missed the film. Were they watching? They tell you the plot, as a proof that they saw it. Why do people write here? I hope there is no censure in here, that would be just worst. But to criticize and pose as experts, judging an artist with your little thumb, that's pathetic. I've written some humble reviews as to advice on some movies, but burning a movie by such a great filmmaker that is Lang, that's ignorance.

I don't know if you liked him for M or Metropolis, that's just the surface, he works following production and commercial rules but he never loses his voice, he is speaking from the shadows, his images show the perfect conflict between light and darkness, in constant reassembling. The world of lies, the fear, the ignorance and the malice are all there, in life and in his movies. I hope there are people out there who care for this film.

Raul Quintanilla Alvarado.
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Some good Hitchcock-like moments but the suspense is not tight enough...
Doylenf14 September 2010
RAY MILLAND is a man just released from an asylum during WWII and we follow his misadventures after he's told to stay out of trouble. He guesses the weight of a cake at a fair and soon thereafter he and the cake become an integral part of the plot, taken from a Graham Greene novel.

Milland gives his usual competent performance as the man who doesn't know whom to believe when he finds himself among some Nazi spies. MARJORIE REYNOLDS is sufficient as his love interest but her role is very peripheral and she makes no lasting impression as the femme lead. DAN DURYEA is at his nastiest and has a few interesting scenes.

Overall, a disappointment since the espionage plot is rather murkily unraveled and by the time the wrap-up comes, some viewers may have already lost track of some of the story's twists and turns.

Summing up: Definitely not one of Fritz Lang's best films, but of passable interest for those who like spy stories.
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