Hangmen Also Die

Hangmen Also Die (dir. Fritz Lang, 1943).

Alexander Granach and Anna Lee.

Nana Bryant and Alexander Granach's shadow.

Although screenwriting credit went to translator and script-tweaker John Wexley, who insisted on it, Fritz Lang and Bertholt Brecht (credited as "Bert Brecht") co-wrote the story, and that alone should send you scrambling frantically to watch this heavily dramatized account of the "Czech Bloodbath" that ensued after the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich--the "Hangman" of the title. For wartime propaganda, it's remarkably nuanced in its treatment of sacrifice: not merely the potential sacrifice of one's own life in the service of the anti-fascist cause, but of the lives of citizens taken hostage and methodically executed in the wake of underground operations. Lang and Brecht are undoubtedly both responsible for this nuancing in different ways, and to different effect, but the combination of their labors here feels unified. The Nazi characters are of course cartoonish grotesques: Heydrich, in his brief appearance, is portrayed as a foppish, enervated twit. But they're imagined with a great deal of wit, and Alexander Granach in particular, as Gestapo Inspector Alois Gruber, is both terrifying and clever. He cavorts in his role with a loathsome charisma, and it's nerve-wracking watching him figure things out: one can almost imagine him as a popular detective of Third Reich serials.

No comments: