Ministry of Fear Reviews
However, I still admire the quality of the film-making. Lang has a particular style that is superb and elevates even a lesser film like this one. Plus, despite all the flaws in the film, I was intrigued enough to keep watching to find out exactly how it would end. Ray Milland was a little bland in the lead role, I wish he had displayed more emotion because his trials were pretty severe. Finally, I should mention that it felt extremely awkward to see Marjorie Reynolds in such a serious role and faking an accent, because I'm so familiar with her from Holiday Inn. There's a lot that I struggled to enjoy in Ministry of Fear, but the film still looked great and had enough mystery to hold my attention for the relatively short run-time. It's not a movie I will recommend, because Lang has better films in his repertoire, but I also wouldn't discourage people from giving it a chance.
Carl Esmond and Marjorie Reynolds as siblings; Hilfe meand hekp in German.
One of Milland's best along with Lost Weekend and The Big Clock.
Alan, Napier, Hillary Brooke. Dan Duryea as the heavy.
When we first meet Stephen Neale (Ray Milland), he is being released from a London prison asylum. We aren't immediately told why he's there in the first place (and to tell you would ruin half of the film's gutsy paranoia), but his vulnerability makes him even more of an unlikely heroic leading character.
"I long to be among people," Stephen confesses to his doctor; his first stop is a village fête hosted by the Mothers of Free Nations charity. One of the games involves guessing the correct weight of a cake in order to win it; in a cryptic manner, a palm reader tells him a specific weight, and in return, he gets the prize.
But after a strange run-in with an armed man, it's revealed that the psychic was in fact part of a Nazi spy ring and Stephen inadvertently said a key code. Now on the run, he teams up with Carla (Marjorie Reynolds), the head of Mothers of Free Nations who is just as unaware of the ring as Stephen.
Covered with black ink and earthy grays, "Ministry of Fear" projects a sort of danger in nearly every direction it goes in. The alleyways are murkier, the nighttime streets are wetter, and buildings seem to promise menace inside. In a spectacularly shot sequence, Stephen attends a seance. Before the lights go out, we are informed that a number of deadly men are surrounding him. Lang, in a plight of expressionism, douses the entire room in a jet black, save for the glowing light that bounces off every attendees face. The scene is erupted by several gun shots and a dead man on the ground.
Throughout the film, Lang creates an abundance of these rubber band tight sequences, all of which are usually heightened by their cinematography. In a sense, Lang is like Hitchcock. He understands what the audience wants, but he's also in-touch with what he wants. "Ministry of Fear" has a lethal combination of virtuosity and popcorn suspense; not a second feels false.
The climax is someone of a letdown in comparison to the rest of the film, however: the shootout, featuring Nazi spies against Milland and Reynolds, feels quick and uneventful. Even worse, the closing shot is of the leading couple riding in a car, smiling, with the coastline in the background.
It's a dim and predictable conclusion to a film of such intelligent means, but it doesn't undermine the earlier atmosphere or the clinging paranoia the film sets so easily. "Ministry of Fear" has a dated premise, yet it somehow feels relevant and new, in the same way "All the President's Men" opened our eyes or how "Three Days of the Condor" renewed the wrong-man cliché. Lang has made better films, but this one is one of nearly effortless beauty and thrills.