Fritz Lang - Director

Nationality: German/American. Born: Vienna, 5 December 1890, became U.S. citizen, 1935. Education: Studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule, Vienna. Family: Married (second time) writer Thea von Harbou, 1924 (separated 1933). Career: Cartoonist, fashion designer, and painter in Paris, 1913; returned to Vienna, served in army, 1914–16; after discharge, worked as scriptwriter and actor, then moved to Berlin, 1918; reader and story editor for Decla, then wrote and directed first film, Halbblut , 1919; worked with von Harbou, from 1920; visited Hollywood, 1924; Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse banned by Nazis, 1933; offered post as supervisor of Nazi film productions by Goebbels, but fled Germany; after working in Paris and London, went to Hollywood, 1934; signed with Paramount, 1940; co-founder, then president, Diana Productions, 1945; quit Hollywood, citing continuing disputes with producers, 1956; directed two films in India, 1958–59, before last film, directed in Germany, 1960. Awards: Officier d'Art et des Lettres, France. Died: In Beverly Hills, 2 August 1976.

Films as Director:


Halbblut ( Half Caste ) (+ sc); Der Herr der Liebe ( The Master of Love ) (+ role); Hara-Kiri ; Die Spinnen ( The Spiders ) Part I: Der Goldene See ( The Golden Lake ) (+ sc)


Die Spinnen ( The Spiders ) Part II: Das Brillantenschiff ( The Diamond Ship ) (+ sc); Das Wandernde Bild ( The Wandering Image ) (+ co-sc); Kämpfende Herzen ( Die Vier um die Frau ; Four around a Woman ) (+ co-sc)


Der müde Tod: Ein Deutsches Volkslied in Sechs Versen ( The Weary Death ; Between Two Worlds ; Beyond the Wall ; Destiny ) (+ co-sc)


Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler ( Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler ; The Fatal Passions ) in two parts: Ein Bild der Zeit ( Spieler aus Leidenschaft ; A Picture of the Time ) and Inferno— Menschen der Zeit ( Inferno des Verbrechens ; Inferno— Men of the Time ) (+ co-sc)


Die Nibelungen in two parts: Siegfrieds Tod ( Death of Siegfried ) and Kriemhilds Rache ( Kriemhild's Revenge ) (+ co-sc, uncredited)


Metropolis (+ co-sc, uncredited)


Spione ( Spies ) (+ pr, co-sc, uncredited)


Die Frau im Mond ( By Rocket to the Moon ; The Girl in the Moon ) (+ pr, co-sc, uncredited)


M, Mörder unter Uns ( M ) (+ co-sc, uncredited)


Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse ( The Testament of Dr. Mabuse ; The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse ) (+ co-sc, uncredited) (German and French versions)


Liliom (+ co-sc, uncredited)


Fury (+ co-sc)


You Only Live Once


You and Me (+ pr)


The Return of Frank James


Western Union ; Man Hunt ; Confirm or Deny (co-d, uncredited)


Moontide (co-d, uncredited)


Hangmen Also Die ! (+ pr, co-sc)


Ministry of Fear ; The Woman in the Window


Scarlet Street (+ pr)


Cloak and Dagger


Secret beyond the Door (+ co-pr)


House by the River ; An American Guerrilla in the Philippines


Rancho Notorious ; Clash by Night


The Blue Gardenia ; The Big Heat


Human Desire



Fritz Lang (seated below camera) on the set of Metropolis
Fritz Lang (seated below camera) on the set of Metropolis


While the City Sleeps ; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt


Der Tiger von Eschnapur ( The Tiger of Bengal ) and Das Indische Grabmal ( The Hindu Tomb ) (+ co-sc) (released in cut version as Journey to the Lost City )


Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse ( The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse ) (+ pr, co-sc)

Other Films:


Die Hochzeit im Ekzentrik Klub ( The Wedding in the Eccentric Club ) (May) (sc); Hilde Warren und der Tod ( Hilde Warren and Death ) (May) (sc, four roles); Joe Debbs (series) (sc)


Die Rache ist mein ( Revenge Is Mine ) (Neub) (sc); Herrin der Welt ( Men of the World ) (May) (asst d); Bettler GmbH (sc)


Wolkenbau und Flimmerstern ( Castles in the Sky and Rhinestones ) (d unknown, co-sc); Totentanz ( Dance of Death ) (Rippert) (sc); Die Pest in Florenz ( Plague in Florence ) (Rippert) (sc); Die Frau mit den Orchiden ( The Woman with the Orchid ) (Rippert) (sc); Lilith und Ly (sc)


Das Indische Grabmal (in 2 parts: Die Sendung des Yoghi and Der Tiger von Eschnapur ) (co-sc)


Le Mépris ( Contempt ) (Godard) (role as himself)


By LANG: articles—

"The Freedom of the Screen," 1947 (reprinted in Hollywood Directors 1941–1976 , by Richard Koszarski, New York, 1977).

"Happily Ever After," 1948 (collected in Film Makers on Film Making , edited by Harry Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana, 1969).

"Fritz Lang Today," interview with H. Hart, in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1956.

"The Impact of Television on Motion Pictures," interview with G. Bachmann, in Film Culture (New York), December 1957.

Interview with Jean Domarchi and Jacques Rivette, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1959.

"On the Problems of Today," in Films and Filming (London), June 1962.

"Fritz Lang Talks about Dr. Mabuse," interview with Mark Shivas, in Movie (London), November 1962.

"Was bin ich, was sind wir?," in Filmkritik (Munich), no.7, 1963.

"La Nuit viennoise: Une Confession de Fritz Lang," edited by Gretchen Berg, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August 1965 and June 1966.

Interview with Axel Madsen, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1967.

"Autobiography," in The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak , by Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, London, 1969.

"Interviews," in Dialogue on Film (Beverly Hills), April 1974.

Interview with Gene Phillips, in Focus on Film (London), Spring 1975.

"Fritz Lang Gives His Last Interview," with Gene Phillips, in Village Voice (New York), 16 August 1976.

On LANG: books—

Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film , Princeton, New Jersey, 1947.

Courtade, Francis, Fritz Lang , Paris, 1963.

Moullet, Luc, Fritz Lang , Paris, 1963.

Eibel, Alfred, editor, Fritz Lang , Paris, 1964.

Bogdanovich, Peter, Fritz Lang in America , New York, 1969.

Eisner, Lotte, The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt , Berkeley, 1969.

Jensen, Paul, The Cinema of Fritz Lang , New York, 1969.

Johnston, Claire, Fritz Lang , London, 1969.

Grafe, Frieda, Enno Patalas, and Hans Prinzler, Fritz Lang , Munich 1976.

Eisner, Lotte, Fritz Lang , edited by David Robinson, New York, 1977.

Armour, Robert, Fritz Lang , Boston, 1978.

Ott, Frederick, The Films of Fritz Lang , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1979.

Jenkins, Stephen, editor, Fritz Lang: The Image and the Look , London, 1981.

Kaplan, E. Ann, Fritz Lang: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1981.

Maibohm, Ludwig, Fritz Lang: Seine Filme—Sein Leben , Munich, 1981.

Dürrenmatt, Dieter, Fritz Lang: Leben und Werk , Basle, 1982.

Humphries, Reynold, Fritz Lang: Cinéaste Américain , Paris, 1982.

Humphries, Reynold, Fritz Lang: Genre and Representation in His American Films , Baltimore, 1988.

McGilligan, Patrick, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast , New York, 1997.

Levin, David J., Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen: The Dramaturgy of Disavowal , Princeton, New Jersey, 1998.

Minden, Michael, and Holger Bachmann, editors, Fritz Lang's "Metropolis": Cinematic Views of Technology and Fear , Rochester, New York, 2000.

On LANG: articles—

Wilson, Harry, "The Genius of Fritz Lang," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1947.

Truffaut, François, "Aimer Fritz Lang," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1954.

Lambert, Gavin, "Fritz Lang's America," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1955.

Demonsablon, Phillipe, "La Hautaine Dialectique de Fritz Lang," and Michel Mourlet, "Trajectoire de Fritz Lang," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1959.

Franju, Georges, "Le Style de Fritz Lang," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1959.

Taylor, John, "The Nine Lives of Dr. Mabuse," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1961.

Sarris, Andrew, "Fritz Lang," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

Rhode, Eric, "Fritz Lang (The German Period, 1919–1933)," in Tower of Babel (London), 1966.

"Lang Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), April 1968.

Joannides, Paul, "Aspects of Fritz Lang," in Cinema (London), August 1970.

Burch, Noel, "De Mabuse à M : Le Travail de Fritz Lang," in special issue of Revue d'esthétique (Paris), 1973.

Appel, Alfred Jr., "Film Noir: The Director Fritz Lang's American Nightmare," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1974.

Gersch, Wolfgang, and others, " Hangmen Also Die! : Fritz Lang und Bertolt Brecht," in Filmkritik (Munich), July 1975.

Sarris, Andrew, "Fritz Lang (1890–1976) Was the Prophet of Our Paranoia," in Village Voice (New York), 16 August 1976.

Overby, David, "Fritz Lang, 1890–1976," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1976.

Kuntzel, Thierry, "The Film-Work," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Spring 1978.

Willis, Don, "Fritz Lang: Only Melodrama," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1979/80.

Magny, Joel, and others, "Actualité de Fritz Lang," in Cinéma (Paris), June 1982.

Neale, Steve, "Authors and Genres," in Screen (London), July/August 1982.

Duval, B., "Le crime de M. Lang. Portrait d'un Fritz en artisan de Hollywood," in Image et Son (Paris), November 1982.

McGivern, William P., "Roman Holiday," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1983.

Rotondi, C.J., and E. Gerstein, "The 1984 Review. The 1927 review. Fritz Lang: The Maker of Metropolis ," in Films in Review (New York), October 1984.

"Lang section" of Positif (Paris), November 1984.

" Der Tiger von Eschnapur Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), April 1985.

" Das indische Grabmal Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1985.

"Fritz Lang," in Film Dope (London), November 1985.

Giesen, R., "Der Trickfilm," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), February 1986.

Bernstein, M., "Fritz Lang, Incorporated," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), no. 22, 1986.

Pelinq, M., in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April/May and June/July 1989.

Smedley, N., "Fritz Lang Outfoxed: The German Genius as Contract Employee," in Film History (London), vol. 4, no. 4, 1990.

Werner, G., "Fritz Lang and Goebbels: Myth and Facts," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 43, no. 3, Spring 1990.

Saada, N., J. Douchet, and M. Piccoli, "Lang, le cinéma absolument," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 437, November 1990.

Smedley, N., "Fritz Lang's Trilogy: The Rise and Fall of a European Social Commentator," in Film History (London), vol. 5, no. 1, March 1993.

Sturm, G., "Fritz Lang, une ascendance viennoise," in Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 6, Autumn 1994.

"Special Section," in Positif (Paris), no. 405, November 1994.

Dolgenos, Peter, "The Star on C. A. Rotwang's Door: Turning Kracauer on Its Head," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 25, no. 2, Summer 1997.

On LANG: films—

Luft, Friedrich, and Guido Schütte, Künstlerporträt: Fritz Lang , for TV, Germany, 1959.

Fleischmann, Peter, Begegnung mit Fritz Lang , Germany, 1963.

Leiser, Erwin, Das war die Ufa , Germany, 1964.

Leiser, Erwin, Zum Beispiel Fritz Lang , for TV, Germany, 1968.

Dütsch, Werner, Die Schweren Träume des Fritz Lang , for TV, Germany, 1974.

* * *

Fritz Lang's career can be divided conveniently into three parts: the first German period, 1919–1933, from Halbblut to the second Mabuse film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse ; the American period, 1936–1956, from Fury to Beyond a Reasonable Doubt ; and the second German period, 1959–60, which includes the two films made in India and his last film, Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse. Lang's apprentice years as a scriptwriter and director were spent in the studios in Berlin where he adopted certain elements of expressionism and was imbued with the artistic seriousness with which the Germans went about making their films. In Hollywood this seriousness would earn Lang a reputation for unnecessary perfectionism, a criticism also thrown at fellow émigrés von Stroheim and von Sternberg. Except for several films for Twentieth Century-Fox, Lang never worked long for a single studio in the United States, and he often preferred to work on underbudgeted projects which he could produce, and therefore control, himself. The rather radical dissimilarities between the two studio worlds within which Lang spent most of his creative years not surprisingly resulted in products which look quite different from one another, and it is the difference in look or image which has produced the critical confusion most often associated with an assessment of Lang's films.

One critical approach to Lang's work, most recently articulated by Gavin Lambert, argues that Lang produced very little of artistic interest after he left Germany; the Cahiers du Cinéma auteurists argue the opposite, namely that Lang's films made in America are superior to his European films because the former were clogged with self-conscious artistry and romantic didacticism which the leanness of his American studio work eliminated. A third approach, suggested by Robin Wood and others, examines Lang's films as a whole, avoiding the German-American division by looking at characteristic thematic and visual motifs. Lang's films can be discussed as exhibiting certain distinguishing features—economy, functional precision, detachment—and as containing basic motifs such as the trap, a suppressed underworld, the revenge motive, and the abuse of power. Investigating the films from this perspective reveals a more consistent development of Lang as a creative artist and helps to minimize the superficial anomalies shaped by his career.

In spite of the narrowness of examining only half of a filmmaker's creative output, the sheer number of Lang's German movies which have received substantial critical attention as "classic" films has tended to submerge the critical attempt at breadth and comprehensiveness. Not only did these earlier films form an important intellectual center for the German film industry during the years between the wars, as Siegfried Kracauer later pointed out, but they had a wide international impact as well and were extensively reviewed in the Anglo-American press. Lang's reputation preceded him to America, and although it had little effect ultimately on his working relationship, such as it was, with the Hollywood moguls, it has affected Lang's subsequent treatment by film critics.

If Lang is a "flawed genius," as one critic has described him, it is less a wonder that he is "flawed" than that his genius had a chance to develop at all. The working conditions Lang survived after his defection would have daunted a less dedicated director. Lang, however, not only survived but flourished, producing films of undisputed quality: the four war movies, Man Hunt, Hangmen Also Die!, Ministry of Fear , and Cloak and Dagger , and the urban crime films of the 1950s, Clash by Night, The Blue Gardenia, The Big Heat, Human Desire , and While the City Sleeps. These American films reflect a more mature director, tighter mise-en-scène, and more control as a result of Lang's American experience. The films also reveal continuity. As Robin Wood has written, the formal symmetry of his individual films is mirrored in the symmetry of his career, beginning and ending in Germany. All through his life, Lang adjusted his talent to meet the changes in his environment, and in so doing produced a body of creative work of unquestionable importance in the development of the history of cinema.

—Charles L.P. Silet

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