Hangmen Also Die (1943): Fritz Lang’s Oscar-Nominated WWII Tale

Fritz Lang and his co-authors, the famed playwright Bertolt Brecht and John Wexler, created a gripping story about the events surrounding the assassination of Hans Reinhard Heydrich (Hans von Twardowski), the Reich protector-governor in Bohemia and Moravia, and the subsequent persecutions of the unfortunate Czechoslovakians who were accused of compliance.

Hangmen Also Die!
Hangmen Also Die 1943 poster.jpg

1943 Theatrical Poster

With the assistance of the Czech government-in-exile, and invaluable texts from its files, director Lang depicts the stubborn and heroic resistance of the Czechs against their Nazi oppressors.  Lang keeps the film’s focus shifting from the efforts of the Gestapo to locate the killer to the activities of the Czech partisans.

There is also the irony of the “Quisling” who, though loyal to the Germans, is blamed for the crime and executed by the Gestapo in order to get their superiors off their back.

At the time, critics charged that the film is too long (over two hours), too propagandistic and, rather unfairly, that it doesn’t bear Lang’s distinctive visual touch.  However, looking at the film today, it’s hard not to be impressed by the oppressive ambience and James Wong Howe’s dark, noirish visual style.

Oscar Alert:

Oscar Nominations:

Score (Drama or Comedy): Hanns Eisler

Sound Recording: Jack Whitney

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Sound Oscar was the film “This Land Is Mine.”  Perennial nominee Alfred Newman received the Scoring Award for “The Song of Bernadette.”

Cast:

Dr. Franz Svoboda (Brian Donlevy)

Professor Novotny (Walter Brennan)

Mascha Novotny (Anna Lee)

Emil Czaka (Gene Lockhart)

Jan Horek (Dennis O’Keefe)

Hans von Twardowski (Reinhard Heydrich)

With:

Alexander Granach

Margaret Wycherly

Nana Bryant

Billy Roy

Tonio Selwart

Jonathan Hale

Lionel Stander

Byron Foulger

Virginia Farmer

Louis Donath

Sarah Paddon

Edmund MacDonald

George Irving

James Bush

Arno Frey

Lester Sharpe

Arthur Left

William Farnum

Reinhold Schuenzel

Credits:

Produced and directed by Fritz Lang.

Co-produced by Arnold Pressburger

Screenplay by John Wexler, adaptation and original story by Bert Brecht and Lang.

Camera: James Wong Howe

Editor: Gene Fowler, Jr.

Music: Hanns Eisler

Art direction: William Darling

Costume: Julie Heron

Black-and-white

Release date: April 15, 1943

Running time: 131 Minutes

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Fritz Lang
Production company: Arnold Pressburger Films

Distributed by United Artists:
Release date:  March 23, 1943 (premiere)