Noir meets wwii propaganda in this tale of paranoia and betrayal during the nazi occupation of eastern europe. Studio: Kino International Release Date: 01/18/2000 Starring: Brian Donlevy Dennis Okeefe Run time: 134 min... more »utes« less
"I love war movies made during the war they portray. They're usually unabashed propaganda, bold strokes painted with primary colors. The stories are the ones that matter today, and will sometimes be buried by history. The bad guys are ruthless, invincible, menacing without the benefit of hindsight. It's like Red Riding Hood meeting the wolf. Fritz Lang's 1943 HANGMEN ALSO DIE is one such film. Based on a true story, it's a moving tale set in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The Reichprotektor Heydrich has been assassinated and the Gestapo is conducting a massive investigation to apprehend the killer. Frustrated in their search, and by the Czech resistance, the Gestapo rounds up 400 hostages and begin executing them at regular intervals until the assassin in apprehended. Brian Donlevy plays the killer, Dr. Franticek Svoboda, Anna Lee the young woman who inadvertently (at first) throws the authorities off his trail, and Walter Brennan plays Prof. Stephen Novotny, Anna Lee's father and one of the four hundred hostages. The Nazis in HANGMEN ALSO DIE were played by Jewish actors, refugees from a hostile Europe. Whether brooding over a pimple on the cheek, annoyingly cracking knuckles while tormenting a poor old vegetable monger, or cavorting with naughty girls, Lang's Gestapo agents are animated and interesting. The Czechs, on the other hand, are all played by American actors and all, even Brennan, give stiff, dull, and wooden performances. Donlevy especially gives some of the flattest line readings of his career. It's tempting to blame the actors, but in Lotte Eisner's admiring biography, Fritz Lang, she quotes an old interview in which Lang discussed the movie. "We didn't want," Lang said, "analyses of characters, we simply schematized into those who resist and those who organize, those who aspire to freedom but have not yet found or chosen the means of action, and finally the collaborators, the genuine enemy of the people.... "I don't think it is possible in such a plot to go far into the psychological development because the psychology does not change." In other words Lang got the performances he wanted, without any emotional window dressing. Well, he's a genius, I'm not, but Lordy it would have been nice if his heroes had had a little more panache, a little more brio. I had a few problems with this film. The plot pivots on a shaky point or two - the unsmeared lipstick clue, two unarmed men bearing down on a man with a gun without being shot - that seem a little manufactured and more than a little implausible. Still, HANGMEN ALSO DIE was stylish and an interesting take on a little talked about, at least in America, incident in World War II.
The Complexities of Politics
Charles S. Tashiro | Agoura Hills, CA USA | 06/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"HANGMEN ALSO DIE is probably most infamous as the film for which Bertolt Brecht did *not* receive screenplay credit. In a more than usually petty bout of Hollywood parochialism, the credit was given to his American collaborator (who shall remain nameless here), despite the testimony of director Fritz Lang that Brecht was responsible for every important aspect of the script. Imagine Elizabeth I's chamberlain saying, "Who is this Shakespeare guy, anyway? Let's say Court Favorite wrote it. He can use the credit." and you'll get a sense of the idiocy of this decision. (Lotte Eisner's FRITZ LANG describes these events with effective concision.)It is not to deny the tremendous contributions of Lang, cinematographer James Wong Howe and a troupe of first rate character actors to suggest that everything that distinguishes HANGMEN results from Brecht's participation. In lesser hands, the events surrounding the assassination of Heydrich might make an entertaining political melodrama. The formula of stalwart, virtuous victims triumphing over a brutal tyranny rarely fails, particularly with American audiences, eager to re-affirm the democratic mythos repeatedly and uncritically.Such a film might make more effective propaganda, something like Warner Bros.'s CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY. As such, it wouldn't warrant much more than a footnote in Hollywood history. Brecht's contribution comes from his unequaled sense of the contradictions and ironies of history and power. A victim of persecution from both the Nazis and the House Un-American Activities Committee, he had the political sophistication not to make the Germans and their collaborators in this film larger-than-life Evils, but obviously human creatures with more than a shade of appeal. The Czechs, on the other hand, are not so much virtuous as wooden and bloodless. Their numerous, long speeches about freedom and humanity are unconvincing and platitudinous. There is, in true Brechtian fashion, no effort to make us "identify" with them, to give us goose bumps of sympathy with the high ideals. Quite the contrary, the film unflinchingly faces the partisans' complicity in the bloody events resulting from the assassination. Events unwind with clockwork precision, deadlier and darker with each step as *both* sides demand ever greater sacrifice from ordinary people.Precisely because it does not shy away from the complexities of the situation, HANGMEN makes a much stronger statement in favor of political responsibility than a simple melodrama could. For the Germans can be somewhat sympathetic and the Czechs unappealing, and the latter can *still* be seen as ultimately right. Such a level of sophistication is rare in film of any kind. That it comes from Hollywood must be attributed to the presence of an unusually gifted set of émigré talent worthy of the theme. If HANGMEN ALSO DIE is not for everyone, it is definitely for anyone who responds to those rare instancs when a film treats us as intelligent adults."
Why the end titles are ironic, etc.
J. W. Hickey | Manhattan area | 06/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Classic Expressionist images and sly situations by Fritz Lang; cinematography by James Wong Howe; propaganda poetry by Bertolt Brecht (so nice they recite it twice in succession, in case we've missed the point)--HANGMEN ALSO DIE is irresistable!
The story was inspired by the actual assassination of Reinhard Heydrick, who had earlier appeared as himself in Riefenstahl's TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. It's interesting to note that Heydrick continued to have a successful film career for another fifty years, for he also appears posthumously in at least eleven more motion pictures!
Some reviews complain about Brian Donleavy's alleged "lethargic" performance, though I found it consistent with his other straightforward work and quite acceptable. It's peculiar, however, to witness the Czech underground played with so many extremely American faces and mannerisms--Donleavy and O'Keefe in particular. I've never been a fan of Walter Brennan, between the geezer impersonations and his politics; but he does do very well in what elsewhere would be the "Walter Huston" role (NORTH STAR, DRAGON SEED, and others). If any non-German actor's performance seems weaker than others, it's Anna Lee's. But this entire topic only arises because the performances by German actors are so excellent.
In writings of Hollywood (notably Gore Vidal's SCREENING HISTORY and Waugh's THE LOVED ONE), much has been made of the British colony of actors and writers whose films before and during WW2 consciously endeavored to increase American sympathy and support for their homeland. But there's an unusual fascination in watching German actors (not to mention Fritz Lang and "Bert" Brecht) pulling out all the stops in this project.
Much is justifiably made of Hans Heinrich Twardowski's dazzling impersonation of Reinhard Heydrick at the beginning of the movie, which makes the "Nazis" of Otto Preminger, Conrad Veidt, and Erich von Stroheim look like Gandhi, but my "favorite" Nazi in the film is the satirical limning of a Gestapo officer in charge of "questioning" a couple key female suspects. Priceless! As is the performance of the old-lady grocer who refuses to rat out Anna Lee. She, the girl's gossipy aunt, and the Nazi in charge of the investigation have all stepped out of earlier Lang films (M, FURY, etc.) and bring tremendous Old World authenticity to their roles.
The final irony lies in the film's end-title. As Amazon notes, after the plot's presumed climax the end-title challenges whether this is REALLY the end of the story. In truth, the original film was several minutes longer, and included the execution of the hostages. Too grim for war propaganda of 1943? (Some suggest it was excised perhaps before its release in Europe; and it's known that HUAC banned the movie as possibly pro-Communist, and that the American public was "protected" from it for decades.) Or perhaps the studio said Genug already, for a film that's well over two hours long even WITH the snipping?
Doubtless that lopping contributed to Brecht's dissatisfaction with the final product. Meanwhile, the German-speaker who was hired to help him with the project, John Wexley, was indeed a Communist and, like Brecht, was later brought before HUAC--though with more dire consequences."
Life During Wartime
Tom Without Pity | A Major Midwestern Metropolis | 09/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"HANGMEN ALSO DIE,is a film directed by Fritz Lang released in 1943 I have given this wonderful movie a five star rating for more than one reason and here they are:
This movie was timely and served to keep anti-nazi morale up at a time when there was was much uncertainty about the outcome of the European war. What now seems like an inevitable victory for the Allies was anything but inevitable appearing back them.
The marvelous directing of HANGMEN ALSO DIE by the great Fritz Lang. Not only does Mr. Lang use his skills in a enthusiastic and forceful manner, especially when dealing with the Nazis, he knows when to be restrained and use a touch of light humor to make the unbearable seem almost, at times tolorable.
This film is based on historical events, yes, "the hangman" really was assassinated, and the exciting story still has time for romance and various vignettes illustrating how life was for the people under the Nazi yoke.....not to mention how fatal it could be for even the most innoffensive citizens.
HANGMEN ALSO DIE illustrates how when a dictatorship reigns, it's the rats and the informers who prosper. And very often, as is the final case in this movie, the information is maliciously and fatally false.
Losing your personal freedom is akin to death in many ways. The only difference is you may still have a chance to regain your freedom, death, of course, is the ultimate finality.
Rarely have I seen so many fine performances by a wonderful cast of people who are usually supporting actors. Walter Brennan, the marvelous Anna Lee and so many others. Especially the actors cast as Nazi officers, many if not most I think it would be fair to assume were anti-Nazi refugees and ironicaly are hired to portray those that they loathed. And they do a crackerjack job of it,too.
It is I think the best underground resistance WWII film that I have seen, even better than THIS LAND IS MINE, directed by Jean Renior, which was released the same year as HANGMEN ALSO DIE.
I urge anyone who has even the slightest interest in the European war to watch this excellent movie, it brings to the screen realistic portrayals of life under the Nazi heel. HANGMEN ALSO DIE is not a documentary but it is a fictional story woven on the loom of historical fact and even to this day an inspiring film.
Propaganda Also Dates
ronzo | 02/03/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Fritz Lang made many interesting films; this is one of them. He also made some masterpieces. However, contrary to the DVD cover, in my opinion, this isn't one of those. But it remains an interesting film, nonetheless, primarily because it is an historical document. It is a wonderful example of Hollywood's use of German exiles to manufacture World War II propaganda.
My favourite scene, and the most memorable for me, is near the start of the film. It is the one in which Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy) is being chased through the streets by the nazis. He has just shot and killed Reinhard Heydrich, the infamous nazi "Hangman". Nasha Novotny (Anna Lee), an innocent bystander doing her shopping, misdirects the nazis and Svoboda is safe. The scene is simply very well directed by Lang, and shot by James Wong Howe.
The most dramatically satisfying scene is played between Nasha and her father Prof. Stephen Novotny (Walter Brennan). Writer Bertolt Brecht gives Brennan a wonderful speech which he recites to his daughter (to pass on to his son) before he is sent off to be killed. The scene is not only well written and acted, but it takes place in a small, dimly lit room that adds to the atmosphere.
Brennan gives the most compelling performance, but it is not an actor's film. As Amazon reviewer Steven Hellerstedt has pointed out, Lang schematized the performances. While this has the effect of easily separating the actors into factions; those who do and don't cooperate with the nazi invaders; it also has the effect of weakening the drama. Therefore, the majority of the "Czech" performances are really quite wooden, while the nazi characters have the more vibrant (though stereotypical) roles. The result of all this is just as Lang planned; the propaganda is stressed. Muting the drama has the effect of dating the film, but I'm not sure Lang would have cared about that in 1943. Nevertheless, it remains an interesting cultural artifact, and a boon for classic film and Fritz Lang fans."