Released on this day in 1944: MINISTRY OF FEAR, starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, and Dan Duryea. Directed by Fritz Lang (Secret Beyond the Door, The Big Heat, Human Desire). Milland plays a man just released from an asylum who stumbles onto a Nazi spy ring in WWII England. Although his life is now in danger, he can’t involve the authorities because of his prior criminal record. It’s a quintessential noir setup – an everyday guy thrust into an impossible situation with no one to turn to. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite live up to its promising potential. The opening scenes in which Milland wins a cake under mysterious circumstances at a charity fair, only to be violently robbed of it on a train to London, are great. But then the story devolves into an uneven hodgepodge, as Milland embarks on an obsessive and rather improbable personal investigation. First, he goes to great lengths to figure out who and why someone would want to steal his cake (it’s difficult to fathom why he would even care so much about the cake, especially given his new-found freedom), and later, when indications of a spy ring develop, he follows some barely connected threads in an attempt to gather proof of its existence. Along the way, he does meet a few interesting characters (played by Hillary Brooke and Dan Duryea), but unfortunately, there aren’t enough high points of peril and suspense in the story to generate any meaningful momentum, even in the adept hands of director Fritz Lang. This film does have fans who shower it with praise, but alas, we are not among them, and must give Ministry of Fear only 2 out of 5 fedoras.