The last of director Fritz Lang’s anti-Nazi ‘propaganda’ films was Ministry of Fear. It’s based on a Graham Greene story, one of his final ‘entertainments,’ which were more in the potboiler vein. It was mostly made because This Gun For Hire was a surprise hit, and the studios were suddenly more interested in Greene’s work. Lang immediately wanted to do the piece but the rights had been snapped up by Paramount, but his agent managed to get him onto the project. Due to studio interference during the production, however, it’s a film that Lang kind of disowned and rarely spoke about. The producer/screenwriter Seton I. Miller had conflicts with Lang over the film, who later said the final product had none of the qualities of the original story.
It has a pretty routine noir plot, and could be seen as Lang’s first actual noir (he had of course made many films that were spectacularly influential on the genre, especially his Dr. Mabuse series and his first American films, like Fury and You Only Live Twice.) Ray Milland, who cut his teeth in noir and did his best work on these genre films, was barely a leading man at this point. He has just moved up from bit parts, so Ministry of Fear was one of biggest roles yet—and fronted the hit film The Uninvited the same year. Here Milland’s role was Stephen Neale, who is released from a mental hospital after killing his wife. He’s a typical Greene Catholic guilt projection. Neale quickly discovers information about a Nazi plot, so fills the detective-like role. There’s a femme fatale character, and the usual plot twists.
It’s an anti-Nazi noir thriller directed by Fritz Lang—which is to say it’s pretty good. It doesn’t reach the level of his better later noirs, like The Big Heat, The Blue Gardenia and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, but Milland is always good but he’s at the top of his game here. Lang’s German expressionist visual style is more in evidence here, and it reminds me of The Big Clock which also starred Milland. It moves at a very quick pace at 86 minutes long, which is a change from his German films.
The disc includes an interview with film historian Tony Rayns who comes off as dismissive of Lang’s films especially his “Germanic” films. The most interesting extra is a 1962 audio interview with Lang—that’s a rare and very nice feature and is used as an alternative commentary track. A selected scenes commentary by Neil Sinyard; an interview with Adrian Wootton, who wrote a book on the films of Graham Greene; a booklet with new essays and an overview of contemporary critical responses; the trailer and stills gallery complete the package.