Anyway, the female co-star in Ministry of Fear - which, by the way, is supposed to take place in 1941 England though very few of the actors even attempt any kind of creditable accent - is Marjorie Reynolds. She is the weakness in the cast, though in truth, even she becomes tolerable after awhile. But she's got this kind of 'wide-eyed' housefrau demeanor that works against her on the big screen. I think later on she became a tv wife on some hit show, maybe Life of Riley with William Bendix. There, she blended in perfectly. (Though how she came to marry a character played by William Bendix was never adequately explained to my satisfaction.)
In the film, Reynolds plays Carla Hilfe, a not very convincing blond with a kind of all-purpose European accent. Her brother Willi is played by a very smarmy Carl Desmond with a heavy accent to match. (Why his accent is that much heavier than his sister's is never adequately explained either, but I can see I'm digressing again...)
I promise to stay on track, at least for the next few sentences: At the very beginning of the film, Ray Milland's character, Stephen Neale has just been released from an 'asylum' - something to do with the 'mercy' killing of his wife. I've never been able to remember one way or the other, if he was actually guilty or not, don't know if it's ever really explained. He was in there for two years, that much I know. (It's better explained in the book in which, by the way, his character is named Arthur Rowe and there is no love interest, if I'm remembering correctly.) So here's the ticket: he's been released from an asylum into a world at war - a world not exactly sane.
So, Neale is on a train going to London, a chastened, quiet man, very much alone, who obviously, has been through some hard times. There's a bit of eerie music and camera work too, just to keep things mysterious. Anyway, on the spur of the moment, he stops at one of those English country fetes where fortunes are told and things like baked goods are raffled off. It's the end of the day and there aren't many people about. There are, however, a bunch of very hearty, elderly English women who, mysteriously, confuse him with someone else and hand him a cake. Well, they make sure he wins it in the raffle, which is basically the same thing.
Okay, so as he's leaving, another man drives up and it turns out HE is the one the women have been waiting for. But too late, Milland is not giving up his cake. (The film is set in 1941 - flour and butter are in short supply so the cake is a real treat.) The man that drives up at the last minute is Dan Duryea, everyone's favorite sleaze of a villain, so you know right away something is definitely up. The thing about the 'country fete' is this: the place appears 'normal' but with a very sinister vibe, seriously creepy. Yet Milland, just released from incarceration, pretends, I suppose, that he doesn't notice or maybe he thinks this is the way the world acts on the 'outside'. Hard to tell. The war is a burden on everyone and maybe this is the new normal.
Anyway, Milland gets back on a train with his cake, trailed by a blind man with whom the Milland character offers to share said cake. Later, the 'blind' man snatches the cake, runs from the train and gets blown up by a bomb. (Obviously he wasn't very blind at all.) Don't forget the film is set during WWII.
I know, I know, it sounds highly improbable. But so is the rest of this story. That's why I love it.
Okay long story, short, a very confused Milland arrives in London, hires a private detective to find out about the organizers of the fete - he's begun putting two and two together - meets the Marjorie Reynolds character and her brother who are refugees, members of a Foreign Aid organization helping raise funds for said refugees, goes to a seance attended by more seriously sinister types including everyone's favorite suspicious blond Hillary Brooke, stumbles into a spy ring and gets accused of murder. The wise old police inspector put on his trail is just smart enough to give the Milland character enough rope to hang himself and the chase is on.
There are not a lot of high cost production values and most of the film seems shot in a studio environment, but nevertheless, I love this film. The thing is so damned sinister and nothing is as it appears to be and poor Ray Milland, fresh from the loony bin, has every strike against him. Plus you get the always entertainingly sleazy Dan Duryea as an evil tailor. Love it.
You can see the original trailer from 1944, here.