Fritz Lang

Director Fritz LangFriedrich Christian Anton Lang was born in 1890 in Vienna, the only child of middle-class parents, and studied architecture and art before leaving home at nineteen to travel the world by sea. He fought in World War I, losing the sight in his right eye. While recuperating, Lang began writing screenplays at the military hospital, selling two scripts to producer/director Joe May. Erich Pommer hired Lang to write for Decla Studios, where Lang would later direct his first film and met collaborator and future wife Thea von Harbou. After initial success directing serialized adventures, he turned to more ambitious films: the allegorical tragedy DER MÜDE TOD (1921), the sprawling DR. MABUSE THE GAMBLER (1922) and the two-part blood and thunder epic DIE NIBELUNGEN (1924), consisting of SIEGFRIED and KRIEMHILD'S REVENGE. This work culminated in the landmark METROPOLIS (1927), his visionary science fiction classic and one of the most famous films ever made.

He met the challenge of the sound cinema with the evocative M (1931), quite possibly the first masterpiece of the sound era, but ran afoul of the new National Socialist government with THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933), a veiled attack on Nazism that was subsequently banned in Germany. Legend has it that Joseph Goebbels then invited the Jewish Lang to head the Third Reich film industry (both Goebbels and Hitler were big fans of METROPOLIS and DIE NIBELUNGEN), but Lang promptly caught the first train to Paris. The truth is less dramatic but the outcome the same: he fled Nazi Germany while his wife, whom he subsequently divorced, stayed behind to make films for the Third Reich. After a brief stay in France, he traveled to Hollywood in 1934 and began a long and successful American career.

Though his American productions were considered at the time as less substantial than his German films (in part because he worked on diminishing budgets), Lang's Hollywood films continue to explore and expand the themes of corruption in society and law and the struggle of the individual against fate that he had developed in Germany. The period include a number of masterpieces: YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937), SCARLET STREET (1945), RANCHO NOTORIOUS (1952) and THE BIG HEAT (1953). "Every serious picture that depicts people today should be a kind of documentary of its time," he once said. Stylistically, Lang adapted his Expressionist approach to the Hollywood mode without losing the moody, nightmarish quality of his German films. What he lost in the grandeur and epic scope of his German period, he made up for in the intimacy and paranoia of the American films. He returned to Germany at the end of his career, completing a few final films during his visit, but retired soon after and died in Beverly Hills in 1976 the age of 85.
– Sean Axmaker


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