Ministry of Fear
Suffused with dread and paranoia, this Fritz Lang adaptation of a novel by Graham Greene is a plunge into the eerie shadows of a world turned upside down by war. En route to London after being released from a mental institution, Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) stops at a seemingly innocent village fair, after which he finds himself caught in the web of a sinister underworld with possible Nazi connections. Lang was among the most illustrious of the European émigré filmmakers working in Hollywood during World War II, and Ministry of Fear is one of his finest American productions, an unpredictable thriller with style to spare.
Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear makes its Blu-ray (and, surprisingly, North American DVD) debut through Criterion, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
The image can be a smidge on the soft and fuzzy side of things, an issue with the source, but in general the high-definition transfer delivers a filmic image without a noticeable digital artifact. The transfer is clean and natural, delivers a clean rendering of the film’s grain structure, and presents an excellent amount of detail when the source allows. Black levels are pretty good, inky without losing details, and gray levels are distinct. The restoration has also been impressive as I recall only minor instances of wear-and-tear (a few bits of dirt and such) with the occasional hair in the frame.
In all it’s another pleasant presentation from Criterion.
The lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track shows its age but it is acceptable. Dialogue is easy to hear but there is a bit of a hollow, tinny delivery to the whole thing and music can sound a bit edgy. Background noise isn’t a concern and the track sounds mostly clean.
Criterion is releasing Ministry of Fear as a budget release (retailing at an MSRP of $29.95) but have still managed to throw a couple of supplements onto the disc. First is an interview with Lang scholar John McElhaney. In this 17-minute piece he talks about Lang’s eventual move to Hollywood and his early anti-Nazi films, including Man Hunt and Hangmen Also Die! He then talks about Ministry of Fear and Graham Greene’s original novel and some of the more apparent differences between the film and original story, like an entire section in the original story where the protagonist ends up in a mental institution yet again (apparently this was the main issue that led to Greene entirely dismissing the film.) He then of course looks at the style Lang employs in the film, possible symbolism, and points out some of the film’s faults and/or unanswered questions, related more to a weak script that Lang apparently hated. He ultimately admits it’s a lesser work from Lang, but with films like M, The Big Heat, and the Mabuse films in his filmography that’s certainly not a bad thing. Though the only scholarly supplement on the disc I felt this lone feature managed to cover the film fairly well.
The disc also includes a theatrical trailer and an insert with a short essay by Glenn Kenny. It’s a decent read, though I was a little confused at his suggestion the whole Nazi angle was dropped from the film since Nazis are mentioned or referred to throughout the entire film making it obvious the villains are Nazis. I could be misreading it, though, and Kenny simply meant that the villains could have been any group, not necessarily Nazis for the film to work, and that as an anti-Nazi film it was Lang’s least critical.
At any rate I’m sad there isn’t more, though Criterion has dug up plenty of content about Lang in previous releases (their M reissue, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,) so I guess they’ve pretty much dried up that well, at least without repeating themselves. But the one big supplement we get is decent enough, and with the disc at a cheaper price it certainly makes it more worthwhile.
Criterion has delivered a quality release for a film that had yet to see a digital media release in North America and seemed doomed to be forgotten. Though we only get one supplement of note the film’s presentation certainly makes this edition worth picking up.