Hangmen Also Die (1943)
By: Captain Red Eye on July 11, 2011  | 
DVD
Bounty | All Regions, NTSC | 4:3 | English Dolby Digital 2.0 | 133 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
Screenplay: John Wexley
Country: USA
External Links
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By 1942 Fritz Lang had been exiled from Germany for almost a decade, having fled, according to his own account, immediately following a meeting with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in which it was suggested Lang might like to put his directorial talents to use in the service of National Socialism. Lang's former wife and frequent collaborator Thea von Harbou, a talented writer and actress of aristocratic stock, was an ardent Nazi who chose to stay in Germany, though as the British put her to work after the war clearing rubble she probably should have chosen her allegiances more wisely.

Lang's passionately anti-Nazi sentiments, the rumoured reason for his split with von Harbou, find full expression in Hangmen Also Die, which takes place in occupied Czechoslovakia shortly after the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in June 1942. In addition to earning the well-deserved nicknames The Hangman and The Butcher of Prague, the notoriously ruthless Heydrich also had the dubious distinction of having the most lethal phase of the Holocaust, Operation Reinhard, named in his honour. Hitler was reportedly infuriated by the assassination of one of the shining lights of his regime, and ordered the Czech towns of Lidice and Ležáky razed to the ground and their menfolk slaughtered in retaliation, amongst other bloody retributions.

The assassin of Hangmen Also Die, which was filmed during the war before the full details of the plot had come to light, is an otherwise unassuming surgeon named Dr Franticek Svoboda (in reality the assassination was carried out by British-trained Czech resistance fighters). Wounded in the attempt on Heydrich's life, Svoboda is aided in his escape by history professor Stephen Novotny, himself under suspicion by the Nazis, and Novotny's daughter Mascha. In the aftermath a local brewer and Nazi collaborator, Emil Czaka, helps arrange for 400 citizens of Prague, including Novotny, to be murdered if the fugitive is not named, and a deadly game of cat and mouse between the underground Czech patriots and their German overlords ensues.

The Nazis by this point have, in Lang's imagination, crossed the line into cartoonish super-villainy. They parade and swagger, spouting guttural generalities about inferior races and worthless Schweinehunds; at one point a character actually utters the words 'We have ways of making you talk.' Czech citizenry routinely sass back at their Aryan masters, who are universally portrayed as barbarous buffoons - however understandable this portrayal, it doesn't make for the most cogent viewing experience.

Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, for his part, appears thoroughly demented in his short turn as Heydrich, mincing around, glaring and shouting hoarsely as he twirls his riding crop and generally makes a twit of himself. The accents (and the acting) throughout the film are variable, as are the production values, and both James Wong Howe's shadow-heavy cinematography and fellow émigré Hanns Eisler's score, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, are amongst the most overrated in filmic history.

It isn't quite noir, there's too much high camp for the drama to have any emotional resonance, the combined authorial talents of Lang, Bertolt Brecht and screenwriter John Wexley resulted in a cliché-ridden hodge podge of bad guy stereotypes and, worst of all, it's boring. I'm not sure how one of the most talented directors of the 20th century could pair up with one of the best writers and one of the best cinematographers of the 20th century and make a boring film about one the most notorious figures of the most fascinating totalitarian regime of the 20th century, but there you are.
Video
Little if anything appears to have been done in the way of restoration, though we are told the present version has been mastered from a newly struck 35mm print taken from the original, damaged, nitrate negative. The picture is jumpy in places, the print at times veritably riddled with grit, artefacts and scratches – overall picture quality could best be described as poor.
Audio
Hanns Eisler's much-lauded score is fairly run-of-the-mill; of the many things to love about Hangmen Also Die the soundtrack isn't really one of them. The two-channel English audio is satisfactory, though a little muffled in places, and there are no English subtitles in spite of the fact a number of exchanges take place in German.
Extra Features
Nein, das ist bloss Bein. That means bare bones, if my web translator is to be believed.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
This pronouncement may make me about as popular as a Nazi war criminal amongst Fritz Lang enthusiasts, but Hangmen Also Die is overlong, overblown twaddle, from its poxy title (reportedly suggested by a production assistant) to its shitty acting. It's a camp and rather dated outing that in no way compares to Lang's previous standouts such as M and Metropolis, and fails to measure with the many classic films of its era. It isn't even the best anti-Nazi film of its year (Watch on the Rhine has that distinction) although admittedly all talk of the best Nazi film ever will become moot following the release of Iron Sky, providing it lives up to one tenth of the awesomeness of its trailers.

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