Hangmen Also Die

1943, Movie, NR, 131 mins


In Czechoslovakia during WWII, Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich (von Twardowski), Nazi-appointed "governor" of Prague, gathers prominent citizens and voices his displeasure at insidious acts of sabotage in the factories. Not only are the Czech acts of defiance holding up vital production for the Third Reich, they are also endangering the lives of the civic leaders assembled, Heydrich says, adding that stern measures will be taken unless production increases. After leaving the meeting, Heydrich is assassinated by a member of the Czech resistance, Svoboda (Donlevy). On the run, Svoboda is given shelter by kindly Professor Novotny (Brennan) and his daughter Mascha (Lee). Though Heydrich's death becomes a hopeful symbol for the Czechoslovakian people and improves their morale, the Nazis demand revenge and the Gestapo begin to round up hundreds of innocent Czech citizens suspected of subversion and complicity, and kill them off one by one until the killer is handed over.

While HANGMEN ALSO DIE is a much better than average American WWII propaganda film, it is a bit of a disappointment in the impressive career of master director Fritz Lang. Beyond a precious few scenes containing some stunning Lang visuals, the film is overlong and the characters haphazardly developed. The tension is occasionally interrupted by impassioned patriotic speeches that comment didactically and intelligently on the proceedings in a Brechtian fashion. As well they should, since this was the first Hollywood screenplay collaborated on by that celebrated German playwright. (Brecht was, however, denied co-screenwriting credit following a Guild arbitration.) Visually the film's atmosphere is marvelously dark and oppressive due to the moody lensing of the great cinematographer James Wong Howe. leave a comment

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