Fritz Lang, master of the German expressionist cinema, turns his sinister imagination an shadowy technique to a weblike tale of wartime espionage in Hangmen Also Die.
Set in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation, Hangmen depicts an Eastern Europe populated by spies, traitors and revolutionaries...a deadly funhouse of political intrigue in which every personal encounter brings with it the threat of betrayal. Pursued by the Germans after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy) enlists the aid of a young woman (Anna Lee) who is oblivious to the lethal crosscurrents that surround her. As she learns more about the mysterious doctor, she grows aware of the involvement of her father (Walter Brennan) and fiance (Dennis O'Keefe) in the resistence, and soon finds herself entangled in the revolution's secret operations.
Much of the nightmarish quality of Hangmen Also Die is attributable to playwright Bertolt Brecht, who co-scripted the film with Lang, and legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, who cloaks every corner in shadow and endows the film with an almost tangible sense of claustrophobia. Hangmen has been digitally mastered from a 35 mm print newly struck from the original (but slightly damaged) nitrate negative.
Fritz Lang's HANGMEN ALSO DIE is a grimly atmospheric noir thriller and a vehement commentary on Nazi terror and betrayal. The film focuses on a gunman hiding out with the Resistance in Prague after the 1942 assassination of Hitler henchman Reinhard Heydrich, known as the Hangman. Loosely based on a true story, Lang's film is a terse and melodramatic portrait of mass resistance and Nazi brutality. From the assassination scene--reminiscent of TOUCH OF EVIL--in which Franz Svoboda (Brian Donlevy) gets help from the underground resistance in order to narrowly escape being captured by the Nazis, to the heart-wrenching and suspenseful showdowns between the resistance and the Nazis, HANGMEN ALSO DIE is a tightly structured and elegantly filmed masterpiece.
Hiding out in the home of the Novotny family, Svoboda risks the lives of everyone he meets, including Professor Novotny and his daughter Mascha. When the Nazis gather up all of the writers and intellectuals in town, including Professor Novotny, Mascha threatens to turn Svoboda over the the authorities, but the resistance intervenes with a last-ditch scheme to frame a Czech collaborator for the Hangman's murder. The suspense builds as day by day the Nazis continue to murder more Czechs and the Gestapo gets closer to finding the identity of the assassin.
Film Noir |
Theatrical Release |
World War II
Theatrical Release: March 26, 1943
Made in Hollywood in 1942.
Reinhard Heydrich, known as the "Hangman," was mortally injured on May 27, 1942 by a bomb attack and died on June 4. As retribution the Nazis executed thousands of Czechs and Jews, including the entire Czech village of Lidice. The assassins were eventually found and killed by the Nazis.
Bertolt Brecht collaborated on the story with director Fritz Lang shortly after Heydrich's assassination became known in America, but since Brecht spoke no English, he had to work with an American screenwriter, John Wexley. Once the screenplay was completed Wexley wanted sole screenplay credit, and got it from the Screen Writers Guild, who reckoned that Brecht wouldn't need such a credit on his resume.