HANGMEN ALSO DIE!

PrintE-mail Written by Ian White

Filmed in 1943, when the outcome of the Second World War was still very much in doubt, Hangmen Also Die! is based loosely upon the assassination of a high-ranking German officer called Reinhard Heyrich, an event that took place only months before the movie was made. It concentrates on the Gestapo’s hunt for the assassin, Dr. Franticek Svoboda (Brian Donlevy), a physician working for the Czech resistance. Svoboda is on the run, and with the Nazis closing in fast he turns to Mascha Novtony (Anna Lee) for help, hiding out with her family until the evening’s curfew is over. But the Nazis will stop at nothing to find Heyrich’s killer, rounding up hundreds of Czech citizens including Mascha’s own father (Walter Brennan), and threatening to execute them if the assassin isn’t handed over. Meanwhile, the resistance have discovered that one of their members, the brewer Emil Czaka (Gene Lockhart), is covertly working with the Gestapo. With Svoboda racked by guilt as the Czech hostages begin to die, and Masha desperate to save her father, even if that means betraying Svoboda to the Gestapo, the resistance set about framing Czaka for the assassination.

Hangmen Also Die! is an impressive movie, made especially powerful because it was directed, produced and co-written by Fritz Lang, a filmmaker who fled Nazi Germany mere hours after Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels offered him the job of heading up German film studio UFA. He eventually arrived in Hollywood in 1936 and would work there for the next twenty-one years, and although none of his American films would ever be as critically acclaimed as his earlier German movies, certain of his projects – especially Hangmen Also Die! and the 1945 noir ‘Scarlet Street’ – are cinematic gems that owe much to Lang’s foundations as an expressionist filmmaker. For example, there are many moments during Hangmen Also Die! which recall the greatness of ‘M’ (Lang’s use of shadow and montage - especially during a beautifully edited group interrogation sequence – and the brilliantly paranoid conspiracy that frames Czaka) and there is a dark humour to Alexander Granach’s (Granach played Knock – aka Renfield – in Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’) and Reinhold Schunzel’s Gestapo Inspectors that is very reminiscent of Lang’s 1928 thriller ‘Spione’. There is also a theatricality to Hangmen Also Die! that works exceptionally well in the context of the story, and is probably largely due to Lang’s co-writer Bert (Bertolt) Brecht, another German exile whose work has massively influenced world culture.

As far as presentation goes, this is an almost flawless print. The picture and sound are both perfect. Special features are few but this is definitely a case of quality rather than quantity – there’s an engrossing audio commentary from film historian Richard Pena and an intriguing interview with biographer Robert Gerwarth about the real-life Reinhard Heyrich.

A fantastic package, very highly recommended.

HANGMEN ALSO DIE! / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: FRITZ LANG / SCREENPLAY: JOHN WEXLEY / STARRING: HAND HEINRICH VON TWARDOWSKI, BRIAN DONLEVY, WALTER BRENNAN, ARNO FREY, ANNA LEE / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 29TH
 


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