Ministry of Fear

Ministry of Fear

Ministry of Fear

 

Ministry of Fear

1944. Directed by Fritz Lang.  

Lang's American period of film direction is often overlooked, despite its importance to the development of the noir genre.   Ministry of Fear is one such offering, a deceptively textbook noir that is enhanced by Lang's definitive style and expressionistic influences.  

Taking place in wartime England, Ministry of Fear follows Stephen Neale, a man recently released from an asylum for his role in his wife's suicide.  He's quickly drawn into a conspiracy that involves Nazi spies, the quasi-supernatural, and a dangerous romance.  

Ray Milland stars as Neale, a challenging role that requires an eclectic sense of the material.  What begins as the amateur detective noir pastiche, quietly evolves into an undercurrent of emotion.  The concepts of sanity, guilt, and the issue of assisted suicide all loom at the edges of the gripping thriller and Neale harnesses all of these forces admirably.  Marjorie Reynolds is the foil in an atypical femme fatale role.  The bulk of Seton Miller's bristling script deals with issues of trust between the two leads and they form the consummate duo, with Reynolds' Carla bringing a delightfully sultry addition to the ensemble.  

Henry Sharp's cinematography is crisp and organic, following the action with wide shots to frame busy sequences and using closer, intrusive angles whenever deep emotions are at play.  The seance sequence in particular is remarkable as it blends these two tactics.  Starting with an omnipotent eye in the sky view of the ceremony and then cautiously closing in on each of the participants when the lights go down.  Bertram Granger's set design supports Lang's ever shifting construction with countryside carnivals, dangerous rooftops, and mysterious apartments, all of them much more than they appear to be.   

While Ministry of Fear is a film noir staple, it also playfully rebels against the solemn languor of it's colleagues.  In Fear, everything is always changing and even Neale slowly comes to grips with his melancholy, rather than having it be the architect of his demise.  It's funny and frightening and part of the pure joy of this film is that you almost never know which to expect.   Lang dances around the darkness of the Nazi's by leaving them as boogeymen in the shadows, choosing to focus on the ameliorating love story and it works, carrying the action through to the hilarious final shot.  

Available now on blu ray from the Criterion Collection, Ministry of Fear is an excellent example of film noir that defies its conventions with hope, but also honors them with shadows and twists at every corner.   While not as essential as Lang's other works, this is one of his most pleasing films and if you allow it to work its magic, you won't be disappointed with the results. 

Gilda

Gilda

Krisha

Krisha