Ministry of Fear (1944)

[6.5]

Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M) directs this adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel about a British man (Ray Milland) recently released from an insane asylum who gets caught up in a Nazi attempt to smuggle sensitive information out of England during World War II. Lang brings a lot of style and paranoia to the film, particularly in two strong opening sequences. The first begets a mystery centered on what might be baked into a certain cake that Milland wins at a street fair with the help of a fortune teller. That sequence leads into another in which a seemingly blind man sits with Milland on a train and tries to steal that cake — a scene ending on a beautiful indoor recreation of a swamp with bombs falling. Yet another highlight includes a séance full of sketchy characters that ends in a murder.

Ministry of Fear gets more conventional as it goes along and could do with stronger personalities than the likes of Milland and co-star Marjorie Reynolds. And for all the build-up, its climax feels a bit rushed. But if you’re in the mood for a old fashioned espionage flick, Lang keeps the mystery fresh for an admirably long time. And, yes, you will find out what’s in that cake.

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