When the clock’s hands reach six and twelve, Stephen Neale is released from a statutory term in an English insane asylum, where he was held for having unwittingly supplied the poison used to consummate his terminally-ill wife’s suicide. Intoxicated with his new-found freedom, Stephen lilts through a nearby carnival, hosted by a group called, “The Mothers of Free Nations.” There, he stumbles on an accident of fate that would have him absconding with a carnival prize, which was very clearly not intended for him. Set during the Nazi bombings of London, Stephen’s path takes him through encounters with relations of questionable allegiance, distrusting Scotland Yard officials, occultist ceremonies, and Nazi-scrutinizing psychoanalysts.
Ministry of Fear is a noir’s noir. It features that conflation of the outlandish and the terrifying, asking that you laugh, second guess, and fear for your own sanity in a single instant. Lang drives the film forward with a mechanical momentum, like the incessant passage of time, the unbreakable circle of a séance, or the inevitable crater that follows a bunker busting. To conclude his panoply of the paranoiac and the paranormal, Lang drops an idyllic denouement that may be taken as infuriating or perhaps hilarious, but most keenly as their sum – absolutely hysterical.
- Ministry of Fear (Lang 1944) @ Roxie Cinema #IWakeUpDreaming2011