Hangmen Also Die (1943)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - War Drama, Resistance Film, Propaganda Film  |   Release Date - Mar 23, 1943 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 131 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Fritz Lang's only collaboration with his friend and fellow German émigré, the playwright Bertolt Brecht (who later disowned it), tells the story of a group of Czech resistance fighters during World War II: ordinary citizens who band together to harbor the film's hero, Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy), who is involved in the assassination of a Nazi officer. One can understand why the uncompromising Brecht would be disappointed in the result, which smoothes over his radical ideas in an attempt to make a commercially viable picture. The clichéd Nazi villains come across as broad caricatures -- one of them even sports a monocle and utters the line "we have ways of making you talk" -- and the heroic villagers tend to be equally indistinguishable in their stoic wholesomeness. But despite these concessions to what was believed to be popular taste, Lang still manages to convey the very real cruelty of the Nazis, and works in some brilliant suspense sequences. Worth it for master cinematographer James Wong Howe's gorgeously detailed chiaroscuro images alone, Hangmen Also Die also includes one of Lang's most beautifully designed set pieces: the murder of a Nazi officer that plays out in the eerie silence of an empty hospital locker room, and ends with the chilling image of a bowler hat lazily rolling across the floor.