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December 2nd, 2008
Biography: Fritz Lang

Biography by Gerd Gemünden
Professor of German Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Comparative Literature
Dartmouth College

(b. Vienna 1890 – d. Beverly Hills 1976)

Fritz LangDirector. One of the most renown and accomplished directors of the 20th century, Lang’s exceptional career began as scriptwriter for Joe May’s company where he met his future wife Thea von Harbou. Working with Erich Pommer as of 1917, Lang applied a style at once austere and lyrical to romantic, sentimental, sensationalist and fantastic story material: Der müde Tod (1921), Die Nibelungen (1921, two parts), Metropolis (1927), Spione (1928). Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922, two parts) is notable for its attempt to represent psychological processes filmically; Metropolis, the futuristic tale of a repressive technocratic society, is renown for its special effects, its extravagant sets and even more extravagant budget, which caused financial difficulties for UFA, while M (1931) subverts the conventional detective thriller by developing a deep psychological portrait of a serial killer and child molester.

Photo from Lang’s application for U.S. citizenship.

Click to see the application.

In 1933, Lang emigrated to France, and then on to the U.S., where he had the classic difficulties of a European director in the Hollywood studio system. Thus it took him several years of being idle before realizing his first project, Fury (1936), which met with both critical and popular success. While trying his hand at virtually every genre—including Westerns such as The Return of Frank James (1940), Western Union (1941), and Rancho Notorious (1952, with Marlene Dietrich), costume drama such as Moon Fleet (1955), and anti-Nazi films such as Hangmen Also Die (1943), Man Hunt (1941) Ministry of Fear (1944), and Cloak and Dagger (1946)—Lang’s most astounding achievements in Hollywood are in film noir. Scarlet Street (1947) and Secret Beyond the Door (1947), made for his own Diana Productions, are dark thrillers about the entanglement of love and murder; later famous noirs include The Blue Gardenia (1953), The Big Heat (1953), and Human Desire (1954). In 1956, Lang returned to Germany for the first time after the war; hired by producer Arthur Brauner, he directs a remake of Das indische Grabmal (1959) and Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960)—both of which fail miserably in their attempt to revive his earlier success, and a disappointed Lang returns to Beverly Hills.

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