Lang, Fritz: Director’s American Career; Filmography (Strangers in Paradise, Exiles in Hollywood)

No director had worked within the genre of film noir more consistently or more brilliantly than Viennese born German filmmaker Fritz Lang.

Bringing to the screen an obsessive and fatalistic world populated by a rogues’ gallery of strange and twisted characters, Lang staked out a hostile corner of the cinematic universe; despair, isolation, helplessness–are major themes in his work.

A product of German Expressionist thought, he explored humanity at its lowest ebb, with a distinctively bold visual sensibility that virtually defined film noir long before the term was even coined.
Born Friedrich Christian Anton Lang in Vienna, Austria, on December 5, 1890, he initially studied to become an artist and architect.
He served in the Austrian army during World War I, earning an honorable discharge after being wounded four times.
He first entered the German film industry as a writer of horror movies and thrillers beginning with 1917’s Hilde Warren Und Der Tod.
In 1919, he and director Robert Wiene teamed up on the script of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and although Lang exited in the pre-production stages to begin work on another project, his contribution to the story–a framing device revealing the story line to have been a dream–ranks among the most imitated structural techniques in history.
As a director, Lang debuted in 1919 with the now-lost Halbblut. Upon completing 1920’s two-part The Spiders, his early rise to fame culminated with 1922’s Doktor Mabuse der Spieler, which marked the emergence of his striking Expressionist aesthetic and introduced his popular Mabuse character.
Another two-part epic, Die Niebelungen, followed two years later, and in 1927 he filmed the science fiction landmark Metropolis.
 
Hollywood Career
After briefly stopping in France to shoot Liliom, he landed in Hollywood, earning immediate acclaim with 1936’s Fury, an indictment of mob mentality.
Lang spent the next several decades in America working in a variety of styles and genres, not just crime thrillers or film noir.  Among his notable efforts were two Westerns: The Return of Frank James in 1940 and Rancho Notorious in 1952.
Grim Thrillers
His greatest achievement during the period was a series of grim thrillers which defined the look and texture of film noir; pictures like 1944’s Ministry of Fear and The Woman in the Window, 1945’s Scarlet Street, 1953’s The Big Heat, and 1956’s While the City Sleeps offered bleak, gripping depictions of life on the edge of desperation, exploring in haunting detail recurring themes of obsession, vengeance, and persecution.
However, by the mid-1950s, Lang had become disenchanted with the Hollywood system. After completing 1956’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, he briefly stopped in India to film 1958’s Die Tiger von Eschnapur before returning to Germany after an absence of decades.
Upon completing 1959’s Indische Grabmal, he directed one last Mabuse picture, Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse, before announcing his retirement from filmmaking.
Acting in Godard’s Contempt
After appearing in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 feature Contempt as himself, Lang returned to the U.S. to live out his remaining years.
Lang died in Los Angeles of stroke on August 2, 1976 at age 85.

Filmography

1919–1933

Halbblut (1919)

Der Herr der Liebe (1919)

The Spiders, Part 1 (1919)

Harakiri (1919)

The Spiders, Part 2 (1920)

The Wandering Image (1920)

Four Around a Woman (1921)

Destiny (1921)

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)

Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924)

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (1924)

Metropolis (1927)

Spione (1928)

Woman in the Moon (1929)

M (1931)

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Liliom (134, France)

 

American Films: 1936–1956: 23 Films

Fury (196)

You Only Live Once (1937)

You and Me (1938)

The Return of Frank James (1940)

Western Union (1941)

Man Hunt (1941)

Moontide (1942)

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Ministry of Fear (1944)

The Woman in the Window (1944)

Scarlet Street (1945)

Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Secret Beyond the Door (1948)

House by the River (1950)

American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950)

Rancho Notorious (1952)

Clash by Night (1952)

The Blue Gardenia (1953)

The Big Heat (1953)

Human Desire (1954)

Moonfleet (1955)

While the City Sleeps (1956)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

 

Later

The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959)

The Indian Tomb (1959)

The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)