MINISTRY OF FEAR didn’t administer much fright back in 1944, when it trailed the herd, 97th place among public favor, grossing $3,300,000. Since it was directed by Fritz Lang, came from a book by Graham Greene and starred the popular Ray Milland, it’s been given the Overlooked Masterpiece Treatment of late, which, sad to say, it does not warrant. It has some neat bites of craft, but Lang himself told Peter Bogdanovich in a 1967 interview that he’d fallen asleep watching it on TV. Your less-exalted correspondent had to pinch himself from nodding off as well, even in a short running time of 87 minutes.
During 1940s Blitz, a man released from an asylum (Milland) in short order visits a charity fair, has his palm read, wins a pie, gets knocked out and shot at, hires a detective, meets the Austrian refugees (brother & sister) who run the charity, falls for sis, finds sketchy characters may be using them as a Nazi front, survives an explosion….
Convoluted silliness with a noir edge throws away most of Greene’s depth in a facile script by Seton I. Miller, redeemed by a few visual touches from Lang, best of which is secondary villain Dan Duryea dialing a telephone with a big pair of tailor’s scissors, in a threatening gesture to nearby Milland. Good girl Marjorie Reynolds is unconvincing (both written and acted), her too-nice-to-be-true brother played by Carl Esmond (who actually had fled Austria) holding more interest. Slinky bad girl Hillary Brooke perks it up a bit. Milland is fine with the worried & confused stuff, but for my tastes, when he smiles it rarely seems genuine. Ending is laughable.
Even coming in 97th among earners, it still made more than enough to cover its $744,000 tab. With Percy Waram, Erskine Sanford, Alan Napier, Byron Foulger and Cyril Delevanti. But who was the fake blind man with the weird cake-crumbling habit? Available credits draw a blank.