Lang, Fritz

Tagged: Film | People

(1890-1976) Austrian film-maker who, after trouble with the Nazis, left Germany for France in 1933 and emigrated to the USA in 1934. He was originally trained as an architect but preferred the graphic arts; during the years before World War One he supported himself as a cartoonist and caricaturist. He turned to writing after being wounded during World War One, producing several popular thrillers and fantasy romances. After World War One ended he entered the German film industry and began directing a series of lavish melodramas, such as Die Spinnen (1919; vt The Spiders), many of which were sf-related, involving Lost Races, Technology-driven plots to take over the world, etc. In this vein was the first Dr Mabuse film, Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1922; vt Dr Mabuse, the Gambler). In 1923-1924 he made a majestic six-hour fantasy, based directly on the myth rather than on Wagner: Die Nibelungen (released as two separate films, Siegfrieds Tod [vt Siegfried] and Kriemhilds Rache [vt Krimhild's Revenge]). Like all Lang's German films, this was cowritten with his wife, Thea von Harbou. In 1925 he started work on another epic, his first real sf film, Metropolis (1926); it is deservedly the most celebrated of all sf films of the silent period. Von Harbou novelized the script as Metropolis (1926; trans anon 1927). Lang's other major sf film was Die Frau im Mond (1929; vt The Girl in the Moon); von Harbou's novelization, Frau im Mond (1928; trans Baroness von Hutten as The Girl in the Moon 1930; cut vt The Rocket to the Moon; From the Novel, The Girl in the Moon 1930) was published in Germany before the film was released.

Lang's German films of the 1930s included the famous murder movie M (1931), which introduced Peter Lorre, and Das Testament des Dr Mabuse (1933; vt The Testament of Dr Mabuse). The latter, parts of which were interpreted as anti-Nazi, involved the master criminal operating through Hypnotic powers and even undergoing a form of Reincarnation, transferring his mind into the body of the director of the lunatic asylum in which he had been locked up at the end of the previous film.

Lang directed 22 films during his first 25 years in the USA, mostly low-budget though often impressive thrillers, such as Fury (1936), You Only Live Once (1937) and The Big Heat (1953). The nearest thing to another sf film he ever directed was his last film, made back in Germany, Die Tausend Augen des Dr Mabuse (1960; vt The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse; vt The Diabolical Dr Mabuse). The influence of Lang's harsh, expressive style on genre cinema, especially on thrillers, psychological thrillers and sf films, has been incalculable. He was a master at depicting the compulsiveness and the politics of power, and most film critics regard him as a great director. [PN/JB]

see also: Cinema; Cities; Comics; Germany; Rockets.

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