Ministry of Fear

Thrilling drama of the Invisible Network of Terror!

Mystery Thriller
86 min     6.885     1944     USA


Stephen Neale is released into WWII England after two years in an asylum, but it doesn't seem so sane outside either. On his way back to London to rejoin civilization, he stumbles across a murderous spy ring and doesn't quite know to whom to turn.


John Chard wrote:
Innocent? Prove it! *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
CinemaSerf wrote:
Ray Milland is "Stephen Neale" who has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital. On his way back to London he stops off at a village fête where he guesses the weight of a cake correctly - and so has to lug it back on the train with him. When he shares it with a fellow passenger who proceeds to steal the thing, he guesses that there is more to it than just sponge and jam! His subsequent investigations lead him into the midst of a Nazi spy ring which he tries to thwart. Fritz Lang delivers quite a gripping story which Milland holds largely en seul - with a little help from Marjorie Reynolds as "Carla" - and there is just about enough suspense, and guesswork from us required, to sustain it for an hour and a half.