Man Hunt is one of Fritz Lang's most satisfying films: with the help of the superior scenarist Dudley Nichols, he has crafted an action-packed, humorous, emotionally wrenching, well- paced if not always plausible, literate and imaginatively photographed thriller. The plot grabs you immediately: in the summer of 1939 a tweedy British gentleman game hunter decides that it would be an interesting challenge to see if it would be possible to shoot Hitler if he wanted to, just for the sport of it, so he sneaks to the dictator's Bavarian retreat and fixes him in the sights of his unloaded hunting rifle. After satisfying his curiosity he makes a snap decision to actually load the weapon and fire, but just as he is about to pull the trigger a leaf falls on his gun sight and as he brushes it away, a guard sees his moving arm, jumps him and captures him. After a beating by Nazi goons, he is presented to suave bigwig George Sanders (in a matchless performance that goes a long way toward capturing and holding audience attention in the early scenes) who tries to convince him to sign a confession stating that he had intended to assassinate Hitler. When Pidgeon refuses to comply, Sanders and Co. shove him off a cliff in the middle of the night, but his fall is broken by a tree branch and he escapes with the Nazis at his heels. He manages to make his way to a port where he eludes his pursuers by hiding on board a cargo ship bound for London, with the help of a young ship mate played winningly by Roddy MacDowall. But the henchmen, led by the menacing John Carradine, follow him abroad. The rest of the film involves the cat and mouse action between the hero and villains.
I would be tempted to argue that this is Walter Pidgeon's finest work but I haven't seen everything he's done. Fritz Lang certainly got an uncharacteristically passionate performance out of him, especially in the final scenes. As the prostitute who gets caught up in his intrigues Joan Bennett makes a stronger emotional impact than she had made in films up to that time. Somehow Lang was able to draw out of her an appealing warmth which had escaped her previous directors. Her Cockney accent is perfectly serviceable, especially by contemporary Hollywood standards.
Typical of Lang, the set pieces and the camera-work that takes place within them are stunning, from a spooky and forbidding nocturnal London of narrow streets and wet cobblestones to an extended sequence in the claustrophobic and crowded passageways of the London Underground, with a gorgeous, frenzied, chiaroscuro climax. There are so many superlative visual moments in this film that it's pointless to list them. I can only recommend the film highly to anyone interested in masterful shot compositions. Anyone familiar with Hitchcock's SABOTEUR, made around the same time, will see multiple parallels not only in plot and situation but in an environment bursting with booby traps and evildoers lurking around every corner.