Fritz Lang

Happy birthday to FritzLangdirector Fritz Lang, born Dec. 5, 1896 in Vienna, Austria. Fritz Lang is one of several influential filmmakers who played a significant role in the development of film noir in American cinema. After finishing high school, Lang studied painting and spent time traveling through Europe and parts of Asia. At the outbreak of WWI, he enlisted in the Austrian army and saw action in Russia and Romania, where he was seriously wounded. While recovering from his injuries, Lang started writing story outlines for movies. After being discharged in 1918, Lang worked as an actor in the Viennese theater, but was soon hired as a writer for a production company in Berlin. Shortly thereafter, he started directing films for the German studios, Ufa and Nero-Film. The German Expressionist movement was emerging in the early 1920s, and many of Lang’s films incorporated the Expressionist esthetic of distorted reality, exaggerated perspectives, angular architecture, and dark psychological subject matter. In 1922, Lang married actress Thea von Harbou, and together they wrote all of Lang’s films for the next 11 years. During this period, Lang directed some of his most iconic works: Dr. Mabuse, des Spieler (1924), Die Nibelungen (1924), Metropolis (1927), and M (1931). The rise of the Nazi movement in 1930s Germany resulted in imposed restrictions on artistic expression, including film, and Lang grew increasingly concerned about his fate under the Nazi regime. In 1934, after divorcing his wife, who was a Nazi sympathizer, Lang fled to France and eventually came to the United States, where he went to work as a director for MGM. Lang, along with a small group of other influential film directors who emigrated from Germany, introduced Expressionist sensibilities into American cinema, where it was tempered by Hollywood’s established film making conventions. The combination of these two stylistic approaches is one of the key ingredients that contributed to the emergence of film noir in the 1940s. Lang directed 23 films in Hollywood, half of which are classic film noir titles: Moontide (1942 uncredited) with Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino, Ministry of Fear (1944) with Ray Milland, The Woman in the Window (1944) with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett, Scarlet Street (1945) with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett, Secret Beyond the Door (1947) with Joan Bennett, House by the River (1950) with Louis Hayward, Clash by Night (1952) with Robert Ryan and Barbara Stanwyck, The Blue Gardenia (1953) with Anne Baxter and Richard Conte, The Big Heat (1953) with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, Human Desire (1954) with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, While the City Sleeps (1956) with Dana Andrews and Rhonda Fleming, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) with Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine. In 1953, Joseph Losey directed an American noir remake of Lang’s German masterpiece, M. Lang’s authoritarian manner on the set and failing health made it increasingly difficult for him to find consistent work in Hollywood, and he returned to Germany in the late 1950s to make his final three films. Poor health and deteriorating eyesight forced him to retire from film making in the early 1960s. Lang died in 1976 at age 85.

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