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Ministry of Fear(1944)
Suffused with dread and paranoia, Fritz Lang's adaptation of Graham Greene's novel is a plunge into the eerie shadows of a world turned upside down by war. On his way to London after being released from a mental asylum, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister, possibly Nazi-connected underworld. Lang was among the most illustrious of the European émigré filmmakers in Hollywood during World War II, and MINISTRY OF FEAR is one of his finest American productions, an unpredictable thriller with style to spare.
For more about Ministry of Fear and the Ministry of Fear Blu-ray release, see Ministry of Fear Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on February 10, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond, Dan Duryea, Hillary Brooke, Alan Napier
Director: Fritz Lang
» See full cast & crew
Ministry of Fear Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, February 10, 2013
Fritz Lang's "Ministry of Fear" (1944) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer and new interview with author and Fritz Lang scholar Joe McElhaney. The release also arrives with a leaflet featuring an essay by film critic Glenn Kenny. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Shortly after he is released from a mental institution, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend) decides to enter what looks like an exciting village fair to kill some time until his train arrives. While paying for his ticket, he is told that the event is run by an organization called Mothers of the Free Nations. An unusually kind mind reader then reveals to him the exact weight of a cake that will be given to the person that guesses correctly its weight. Without thinking much, Stephen 'wins' the cake and then heads back to the train station. Before he exits the fair a second man accompanied by an elegant woman appears and attempts to reclaim the cake, but Stephen refuses to give it to him.
On the train Stephen is joined by a bubbly blind man. Before they reach London, the blind man hits him on the head with some heavy object, grabs the cake, jumps off the train and disappears into the night. Stephen follows him but at the same time German planes begin dropping bombs and a thick dark smoke quickly covers the area. One of the bombs falls right in front of the man with the cake and kills him. While looking around for a clue that would reveal to him why the man risked his life for a cake, Stephen discovers a small piece from his revolver.
In London, Stephen begins looking for answers. He visits the office of a company run by two Austrian refugees, Willi (Carl Esmond, Address Unknown) and Carla Hilfe (Marjorie Reynolds, Meet Me on Broadway), associated with Mothers of the Free Nations to get the address of the mind reader that told him how to win the cake. Willi takes Stephen to the mind reader, but he is greeted by a different person (the gorgeous Hillary Brooke, Heat Wave). While waiting to speak with her, Stephen joins a séance. Right in the middle of it, while the lights are turned off, someone kills one of the participants. Stephen is immediately accused of murder. In the days ahead, he tries to clear his name and figure out why so many different people wanted the cake he won at the fair.
The script for this early noir film directed by Fritz Lang is a bit uneven. There is this domino effect where one event typically leads to another and then another, but Lang does not always reveal why they occur or what roles the different players in them have. The approach, however, enhances rather well the sense of paranoia that enters the film after the man with the cake is killed.
Ministry of Fear is based on the famous novel by Graham Greene in which the main character suffers amnesia after he is seriously injured. In the second half of the film Stephen is also injured but does not lose his memory. He quickly recuperates and with a little bit of help from one of the two women that confess to him that they love him he uncovers a massive plan to change the course of the war.
Milland's character isn't easy to embrace, partially because of the fact that his past remains veiled in secrecy for a rather long period of time, but his struggles to solve the puzzle he has suddenly become a part of are fascinating to behold. Despite her limited time in front of the camera, Brooke, a stunningly beautiful actress, also leaves a lasting impression. In one of the best sequences in the entire film she welcomes Milland to her place and proceeds to seduce him while he carefully attempts to steal a small gun from her purse.
Ministry of Fear was lensed by cinematographer Henry Sharp, who worked on many of Douglas Fairbanks' best films, such as Albert Parker's The Black Pirate, Allan Dwan's The Iron Mask, and Donald Crisp's Don Q Son of Zorro.
Ministry of Fear Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the leaflet provided with this release:
"This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics scanner from a 35mm safety fine-grain master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise reduction, and flicker.
Transfer supervisor: Lee Kline.
Colorists: Jason Crump/Metropolis Post, New York; Lee Kline."
Criterion's new 2K digital restoration of this nearly 69-year-old film does not disappoint. Detail and clarity are consistently pleasing, while contrast levels are stable. Even where long dark shadows fill up the screen image depth is also very good. The blacks and whites are stable, and there is a wide range of nuanced grays. There are absolutely no traces of problematic degraining corrections. In fact, rather surprisingly most close-ups have plenty of very evenly distributed light grain (see screencapture #2). There are no traces of excessive sharpening correction. Large damage marks, cuts, debris, and stains are also not present. I only noticed a few small vertical lines as well as some very light wear around the edges during a couple of scenes, but overall the film looks very healthy. (I tried to get a screencapture so that you could see how difficult it is to even notice a few of these vertical lines that pop up. Please see the right side of screencapture #15). Finally, there are no serious transition issues to report in this review. To sum it all up, this is a very strong organic presentation of Ministry of Fear that is guaranteed to please its fans. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Ministry of Fear Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one standard audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
The audio is crisp and stable. Also, there are no problematic dropouts or high-frequency distortions. Obviously, the range of nuanced dynamic is quite limited, but this should not be surprising considering the film's age and native sound design. Aside from some extremely light background hiss that is occasionally felt, in my opinion this is indeed the best the audio presentation can be.
Ministry of Fear Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ministry of Fear Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ministry of Fear is a minor film in Fritz Lang's oeuvre, but still one that is a lot better than the majority of similarly themed films that were produced immediately after the war. Noir fans should have a great time with it as it is quite dark and stylishly lensed. The film's new 2K digital restoration is excellent, but a few more supplemental features on this release would have been great to have. Still, Ministry of Fear is very easy to recommend. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Ministry of Fear Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: March 12-19 - March 9, 2013
For the week of March 12th, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is bringing Life of Pi to Blu-ray. Director Ang Lee took on a formidable task when he elected to adapt Yann Martel's novel of the same name to the big screen. The book, while nominally a fantasy-adventure, ...
• Criterion Announces March Titles - December 17, 2012
The Criterion Collection has announced six titles for Blu-ray release in March. On March 12th, the studio will release Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944) and The Blob (Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., 1958). A week later, it will release Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973) ...
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