Monday, February 22, 2016

HANGMEN ALSO DIE (Fritz Lang, 1943, USA)

The diabolical Reinhard Heydrich bleeds his Nazi propaganda into the occupied Prague streets, assassinated by the Czech Resistance who refused to surrender to an occupation of mass murderers. Fritz Lang rebels against his German heritage and directs a pure and concise piece of World War Two propaganda, decrying the fascist consumption of Europe by portraying the heroic defiance of the Czech’s gunpowder treason.

Unfortunately, the film is more interesting as a historic document viewed in the black and white of nostalgia and revisionist history: made during WWII, the narrative fails to explore the truth about Hitler’s cold-blooded retort…the murder of over 1,600 Czech citizens and the razing of two villages. The performance by Brian Donlevy is sterile and expressionless, his dialogue as exciting and emotional as a cue card. The staged direction detracts from the suspense as the narrative becomes too contrived, the plan to frame Czaka just too unbelievable because it relies on coincidences and implausible unforeseen reactions. The intelligent performance by the Gestapo Inspector adds a devious element that creates some frisson, but the Nazis and their sympathizers are effeminate caricatures, drunken slobs, or very stupid. Bertolt Brecht’s story delves into the subconscious and duality of the protagonist’s actions as he must weigh the needs of the many against the few, but the words are crammed into a thick narrative and becomes heroically preachy.

Fritz Lang’s direction is restrained except for a few expressionist scenes, as long dark shadows stalk the walls of the interrogator’s chambers, or the long silent walk down a narrow alley with death close behind. In retrospect, a strong political film that questions the morality of murder, examines the concept of Justice, but falls flat as suspenseless and poorly acted.

Final Grade: (C)