Hangmen Also Die
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Brian Donlevy/Walter Brennan/Anna Lee
Year Released: 1943
Spoilers Will Be Used
Could you do the right thing even if meant hundreds of other people would pay for it? This is what’s faced by our hero in this dark and complex film that manages to simultaneously be a grim film noir and a patriotic World War 2 thriller. In 1942 Czechoslovakia the country is being ruled by the utterly ruthless Nazi commander Reinhard Heydrich A.K.A the hangman, who more than lives up to his nickname. After executing a careful trap, Czech resistance fighter Karel Vanek (Brian Donlevy) shoots and kills the brutal tyrant. Unfortunately, the getaway driver is forced to flee early and Vanek is forced to run for his life. With the Gestapo closing in and no other options left, Vanek hides at the home of Masha Novotny (Anna Lee) who he saw throw the Nazis off his trail. While both Masha and Karel are afraid of possible harm coming to Masha’s family, her father the patriotic Prof. Stephen Novotny will not give up a man who has done such good for their country. Tragically the professor pays for his Patriotism when he and hundreds of others are taken as hostages who will be executed one after the other until the assassin gives himself up. From there on it’s a race of double crosses and traps as Vanek and Maha attempt to fool the Gestapo while trying to decide whether to save Vanek’s life or the lives of all the hostages.
“Hangmen also die” was the brainchild of three massive talents that all had one thing in common, they all fled from Germany once the Nazis took control. The Director is legendary cinematic master Fritz Lang. For those not in the know, Fritz Lang helped create the film genres of both Sci-Fi and Film Noir. He was also an eccentric, eye patch wearing maniac that constantly got in fights with actors, agents, and producers. Regardless of that, Langs talent was so impressive that Josef Goebbels himself asked him to be the head of the new Nazi film studio. When Lang asked how he could do this when he had Jewish ancestry, Goebbels reportedly said, “Herr Lang, we and we alone will determine who is a Jew”, Lang fled to Paris that same day. If Langs talent wasn’t enough the move also has a credit from legendary German writer Bertolt Brecht and music from his close friend, composer Hanns Eisler. “Hangmen also Die” is a fascinating film, not only because of its content but the authentic passion that the three German expatriates. Despite the patriotism that drips from every scene, none of it feels forced or phony and this helps immensely.
Fortunately, it’s not just the trio’s beliefs that are strong but their talents. Lang shoots scenes with an artist’s eye, which makes almost every frame of this movie either beautiful, informative or both. If these any complaints to be made about Langs directing, it’s that he can be heavy-handed, in the way old movies sometimes are. Fortunately, even when being heavy handed the film is gorgeous so it’s not much of a problem. Brecht’s script kept me interested until the very last scene and has one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen. For once I’m not going to spoil it because it’s just that good. Eisler’s score compliments the movie perfectly and never feels like it’s drowning out the scene. For anyone interested in film-noir, World War 2 movies or just German cinema in general“Hangmen also die” is required viewing.
Did I like the movie: Yes
Would I watch it again: Yes
Would I buy it: Yes
Good name for an Indiana Jones based kids show: Fedora the Explorer