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FRITZ LANG

(Friedrich Christian Anton Lang)

Germany

Born: Vienna, Austria, 5 December 1890.
Died: 2 August 1976.


Fritz Lang (JPG, 7 KB)

German director, whose exceptional career in German and American cinema (with a short episode in France) spanned silent and sound film. Lang began as a scriptwriter for Joe May's company, where he met his future wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou. Joining Erich Pommer's Decla in 1917 as a director, Lang applied a style at once austere and lyrical to romantic, sentimental, sensationalist and fantastic story material: Der müde Tod / Destiny (1921), Die Nibelungen (1924, two parts), Metropolis (1927), Spione / The Spy (1928). In his first German period (1919-33) he wrote most of his scripts, usually in collaboration with von Harbou. Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler / Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922, two parts) is notable for its attempt to represent filmically psychological processes (in Mabuse's hypnotism of his victims); Metropolis (1927), the futuristic tale of a repressive technological society, is renowned for its special effects, its extravagant sets and eve more extravagant budget, which caused financial difficulties for Ufa, while M - Eine Stadt sucht ihren Mörder / M (1931) subverts the conventional detective thriller by developing a deep psychological portrait of a serial killer and child molester. Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse / The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) was banned by the Nazis and Lang emigrated to France, where he directed Liliom (1934, starring Charles Boyer) before moving on to Hollywood.

Despite the success of his first American film, Fury (1936), Lang experienced some of the classic difficulties of European directors in Hollywood. Nevertheless he managed to build up a substantial career in America, working in different studios and genres, usually against established conventions. This is most noticeable in his westerns: The Return of Frank James (1940), Western Union (1941) and especially Rancho Notorious (1952, with Marlene Dietrich). He also contributed to the costume drama (Moonfleet, 1955) and the war film (American Guerrilla in the Philippines, 1950). His American career, however, is distinguished by his mastery of film noir, with films such as Secret Beyond the Door... (1948; his most underrated American film), The Blue Gardenia (1953), The Big Heat (1953) and the astonishingly Pirandellian Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

In 1958 Arthur Brauner invited Lang back to Germany to direct Der Tiger von Eschnapur / The Tiger of Bengal and Das indische Grabmal / The Indian Tomb (1959). Lang accepted, not least because he and von Harbou had written the script in 1920 for Joe May, who, breaking their agreement, had directed it himself. Another return to his earlier work, Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse / The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), concluded his work, although his final film gesture was to appear, as himself, in Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mépris / Contempt (1963).

Warren Buckland, Encyclopedia of European Cinema



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