Ministry of Fear (Criterion Collection)
Time has chosen to remember filmmaker Fritz Lang for his pre-work German films, like "M" and "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse." It's easy to see why. Those films are masterpieces, defining works of cinematic expressionism. But the focus on them threatens to obscure another period of his career; one Criterion hopes to draw attention to with this new Blu-ray release of "Ministry of Fear."
In the mid-30s, Lang emigrated to Hollywood - right as the movement that would eventually come to be known as 'noir' was gearing up to exist. To say any filmmaker was more perfectly suited for the genre than Lang would be a joke. In pictures like "Man Hunt" and "Hangmen Also Die!," he melded real-world paranoia and the crushing threat of omnipresent authorities forces - things he actually experienced, and other directors only knew as concepts - into pleasurably thrilling potboilers.
"Ministry" may not be one of his best works (the "post-noir" effort "The Big Heat" probably remains my favorite film of the emigrated Lang's), but it's much more deserving of your 86 minutes than any film now open in multiplexes. An adaptation of a Graham Greene novel, the picture follows a young Englishman drawn into a deadly cat-and-mouse game regarding a cake (seriously). You could replace the cake and this would be any other noir ever made - but the key is in the approach, not in the narrative. Noirs ooze atmosphere, but Lang's is drowning in it.
Criterion's extras are surprisingly light - a 20-minute interview with a Lang scholar, an essay from the great film critic Glenn Kenny, and a trailer - but the cleaned up film, rescued from obscurity, is the real draw.
"Ministry of Fear"