It’s certainly fitting that after filling his German years with ballsy, predictive masterpieces about Nazi rule-by-fear, Fritz Lang would finally make a film that directly involves Nazis (if I’ve missed one from earlier, my apologies). Set in WWII London and based on a Graham Greene novel, Ministry of Fear tells the story of Stephen Neale, a recently-releases asylum inmate who’s on his way back to Britain to rejoin the real world when he becomes ensnared in a dastardly spy ring involving propaganda, a pretty girl, and cake. The ingredients are all in place for an excellent espionage thriller, and Lang’s use of shadows is masterful as always, but this isn’t one of his finest efforts—there’s more melodrama than usual (particularly a goofy final shot that felt like a discard from an old Cary Grant movie), and the writing isn’t especially consistent or sharp. A second-rate cast fails to deliver a jolt to the proceedings. In many ways, I was reminded of my reaction to Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (an unpopular perspective, I’m aware): despite some excellent sequences, the totality of the work doesn’t match either the story’s potential or the director’s usual command of his craft. And like Hitchcock’s 1935 picture, one shouldn’t misconstrue my disappointed review as overly negative. Even third or fourth-tier Lang’s are worth a look for completists and admirers of the genre in general, as there’s always enough technical skill and isolated moments of greatness to make a viewing worthwhile.

54/100