Fritz Lang

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Fritz Lang with cameraman Curt Courant (center) during the shooting of the silent film Woman in the Moon (1929)

Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (born December 5, 1890 in Vienna , † August 2, 1976 in Beverly Hills , California ) was an Austrian - German actor , film director and screenwriter . After his marriage to the German screenwriter Thea von Harbou , the Austrian also acquired German citizenship in 1922 and, after emigrating in 1939, US citizenship.

Lang helped shape film history by setting new aesthetic and technical standards, especially in the era of late silent and early talkies . His silent films mostly tell utopian and fantastic stories that were staged in an expressively dark atmosphere. In his sound films he focused on individual people and their inner motives; their topics were taken from everyday life and were often based on press reports. The silent film Metropolis (1927) and the sound film M (1931) are among the milestones in German and international film history . In the United States he shot important film noirs such as Blind Fury (1936), Dangerous Encounters (1944), Street of Temptation (1945) and Hot Iron (1953), which is why he is often counted among the co-founders of the genre.

Live and act


Memorial plaque in Zeltgasse 1 in Vienna

Fritz Lang grew up in Vienna as the son of the architect and city ​​builder Anton Lang and his wife Pauline, nee. Schlesinger, on. After graduating from secondary school, in 1907, at the request of his father, he began to study architecture at the Technical University in Vienna. In 1908 he moved to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts to study painting. He also studied at the State Trade School in Munich . During his studies he also appeared as a cabaret artist . From 1909 to 1919 Lang had an apartment in Zeltgasse 1 in the eighth district , where a memorial plaque is now attached.

From 1910 onwards, Lang traveled to the Mediterranean countries and Africa . In 1911 he went to Munich to study at the arts and crafts school, stayed there only for a short time and went on trips again. In 1913/14 he continued his training in Paris with the painter Maurice Denis , where he discovered film for himself.

First World War

After the beginning of the First World War, Lang returned to Vienna in 1914. In August 1914 he lived in his parents' country house in Gars am Kamp , as evidenced by a letter in which he describes in detail his last days in Paris and the turbulent return to Austria. He volunteered as a war volunteer and showed great bravery on his first deployment to the front.

He spent the period from June to December 1915 training as a reserve officer in Luttenberg in Styria (today's Ljutomer in eastern Slovenia ). Due to his military rank, he lived privately in the house of the lawyer Karl Grossmann, a typical intellectual who pursued numerous interests, including photography, and also made three short films. Lang himself worked in terracotta during this time, inspired by local, traditional pottery . Two of his (self-portrait?) Busts and two garden vases (partly signed and dated) are preserved by the Grossmann family. It is probably Lang's only surviving works of fine art. Later film ideas and design motifs by Lang can be traced back to suggestions from Grossmann's library and collections as well as to the architecture and archeology of the city of Luttenberg and its surroundings.

In 1916 Lang suffered a war injury and his convalescence took him back to Vienna, where he made contacts with film people and began working as a screenwriter for Joe May from 1917 (including later for Die Herrin der Welt and Das Indian Tomb ). While working for May, he met his future wife Thea von Harbou . Lang had to return to the war in 1917, but was declared unfit for war in 1918 after a second wound. As part of the troop support, he worked for a theater group for the first time as a director.

First marriage

After the end of the war, Fritz Lang moved to Berlin, where he married the actress Elisabeth Rosenthal on February 13, 1919 in front of the Charlottenburg registry office . On September 25, 1920, his first wife was killed by a shot from Lang's Browning pistol. It is believed that she spontaneously committed suicide after witnessing her husband's affair with Thea von Harbou . The exact circumstances, however, remain in the dark, as the cause of death was given as "accident" instead of "suicide".

Lang kept his first marriage a secret for the rest of his life. Its termination is believed to have had a major impact on his future film themes of guilt, entanglement, death, and suicide. In the cinematheque book FL, published in 2001 on the occasion of the long retrospective at the Berlin Film Festival . Fritz Lang was able to document this chapter from Lang's private life without fully explaining the death of Lisa Rosenthal.

Silent films

The abolition of censorship in the Weimar Republic freed the production conditions for the film from external constraints after the First World War . In addition, the generally good export opportunities for silent films and the weakness of the Reichsmark in Germany in the early 1920s made filming monumental films profitable because most of the production costs could be covered with foreign exchange income alone. In this situation Fritz Lang started his career as a film director, when he worked for the producer Erich Pommer through Decla-Film and Decla-Bioscop AG and UFA until the mid-1920s .

Lang's first work as a director in 1919 was the melodrama Halbblut , which, like its successor The Lord of Love , is now considered lost. The best-known and probably also qualitatively excellent film of the early work is the adventure film The Spiders, originally conceived as a four-part series . The success of the first part of this film forced Lang to deliver the second as quickly as possible, which, according to his own statement, meant that he was the director of the classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari escaped.

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in their Berlin apartment, 1923 or 1924

The tired death and especially the two-parter Dr. In 1921/22, Mabuse, the player finally gave the director his artistic and commercial breakthrough on an international level. In August 1922 he married Thea von Harbou.

In 1924 he was able to celebrate another great public success with the heroic epic The Nibelungs . During a creative break lasting several months, he then toured the USA together with Harbou, visited New York and the major film studios in Hollywood .

The experience of the city of New York probably inspired the skyscraper aesthetic of Fritz Lang's most famous film, the science fiction classic Metropolis , which premiered in 1927 . This tells the story of a giant city that has mutated into a Moloch and brought Universum Film AG to the verge of financial ruin due to its escalating costs and its failure at the box office . Lang had to produce his next two films himself: For this reason, Spione followed in 1928, a relatively narrowly budgeted but commercially successful agent film. The subsequent project, the science fiction film Woman in the Moon , was also a commercial success in 1929, although its film-historical importance was already overshadowed by the introduction of the sound film - the work went down in film history as one of the last German silent films.

Sound films

Lang's first sound film was M for Nero-Film AG . It was about an instinctual child murderer (played by Peter Lorre ) who is hunted by the criminal underworld and the police alike, albeit for different reasons. Here, too, sat long by a new technique of sound accents: The ever-apathetic whistled by the murderer melody ( In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg ) is recognized by a blind balloon seller, after which the killer may eventually be transferred . Lang in M also handled the element of clay very skilfully by bringing the overlapping of different scenes, already known from his earlier films, to a climax: in a editing montage between a police conference and a conference of the underworld greats, it was clever cut back and forth between both sides so that the last words before the cut are seamlessly completed into sentences with the first words on the other side after the cut.

The figure of Dr. Mabuse , about whom Lang made a number of films in different epochs, is the prototype of the criminal genius who seeks to subjugate the world to a “rule of crime”. In The Testament of Dr. Mabuse , Lang's second sound film, also shot for Nero-Film in 1933, the title character writes a handbook for criminals while she is in a cell in the psychiatric ward. Siegfried Kracauer saw in this a clear allusion to Hitler's book Mein Kampf, which was written while in prison . Fritz Lang himself denied in later years that the will of Dr. Having conceived Mabuse as an allusion to Hitler, however, admitted that the Mabuse figure had sometimes literal quotations from the National Socialists in the mouth. The ban on the film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse by Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels subsequently contributed to the creation of legends. In dealing with the sound film, Lang showed himself to be very imaginative and expanded the transition from M to the scene by anticipating the tone of the following scene.

M and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse are considered to be the highlights not only of the early sound film and are often referred to as the technical highlights in Lang's cinematic work.


The takeover of power by the National Socialists in 1933 did not seem to affect Lang's career at first, but he did not want to submit to the National Socialists artistically. At the beginning of April 1933, the magazine Kinematograph reported that Lang, together with Carl Boese , Victor Janson and Luis Trenker, had founded the directing department in the National Socialist Company Cell Organization (NSBO). However, this statement cannot be substantiated. Lang himself stated in an interview in 1962 that he had not held a leading position in an organization close to the NSDAP.

According to Fritz Lang later, Goebbels tried to persuade him to use his skills in the service of the Nazis. Goebbels is said to have offered him the management of Deutsches Films in a personal conversation in 1933, after he had previously revealed himself to him as a great admirer of the director. Lang asked for a day to think it over, decided to emigrate that same day and boarded a night train to Paris . The now forty-two-year-old claims to have fled without money because the bank counters were already closed and he could no longer close his account. Lang's testimony is not supported by witnesses, written evidence or entries from the diarist Goebbels - Lang actually commuted between Berlin, London and Paris for about three months and during this time also exchanged foreign currency at his bank.

In France , Lang met Erich Pommer and made the film Liliom with him in 1934 with Charles Boyer in the lead role. The adaptation of the play of the same name by Ferenc Molnár was filmed in both a French and a German version. In the same year, Lang moved to the USA, where his new partner Lily Latté accompanied him on board the Île de France . His marriage to Thea von Harbou , which had long been broken, - Lang had started an affair with the spies - leading actress Gerda Maurus - had already been divorced in April 1933.

Working in the USA

Fritz Lang's star on the Boulevard der Stars in Berlin

Fritz Lang continued his career in Hollywood, where overall he was unable to build on his great successes in German cinema. He played a major role in founding the Anti-Nazi League . After a few rejected projects, he made several films in which he successfully combined his European approaches with American topics. In his first US film Blinde Wut ( Fury ) with Spencer Tracy , he drew the psychological situation of someone hunted by the mob, similar to  M. This was followed by Gehetzt ( You Only Live Once , 1937) with Henry Fonda and two westerns.

In the 1940s, realized long several films, which belong to the genre of the anti-Nazi film as 1941 spy film Manhunt ( Man Hunt ) and 1943 Hangmen Also Die ( Hangmen ie ), a film about the Heydrich -Attentat . The latter was created together with other emigrants, including Bert Brecht , with whom, however, there were disputes. 1944 was followed by Ministry of Fear ( Ministry of Fear ) after the submission of Graham Greene .

Two films starring Edward G. Robinson , Dangerous Encounters ( The Woman in the Window , 1944) and Street of Temptation ( Scarlet Street , 1945) also received attention , while Lang's films in the 1950s included the police film Hot Iron ( The Big Heat , 1953) with Glenn Ford stood out.

From the start, Lang faced restrictions in the United States. In “Blinde Wut” (1936), for example, he was not allowed to portray any black victims or criticism of racism . Because of his anti-Nazi films, his membership in liberal organizations (for example on equal rights for blacks) and his acquaintance with Brecht and Hanns Eisler , he was wrongly suspected of being a communist in the McCarthy era . After a few months he was exonerated by Harry Cohn , the boss of the Columbia studio.

Return to Europe

Fritz Lang (1969)

In 1956 Lang returned to Europe and shot his last films for producer Artur Brauner . The two-parter Der Tiger von Eschnapur / The Indian Tomb (1959), which was based on a heavily modified Lang script from 1921, was followed by Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960) another Mabuse film. In the latter, Lang drew a moral picture of the early Federal Republic of Germany: great, apparently dead, forgotten criminals who continue to work in the background; a hotel as an observation device and metaphor for totalitarianism ; willing henchmen and executors; an apparent peace that barely covers up smoldering conflicts; an atmosphere of artificiality and cocky playful looseness. The three joint films with Brauner turned out to be primarily commercial, but not artistic successes. Lang returned to the United States.

His last directorial work took place within the film of another director: In 1964, in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt ( Le mépris ) , Lang impersonated himself as a film director who had to make a film based on Homer's Odyssey . He staged the corresponding scenes himself. In 1963, he had received an honorary award at the presentation of the German Film Prize .

In the last years of his life, Fritz Lang was almost blind. In 1971 he married his longtime partner Lily Latté. In 1976 he died in Beverly Hills and was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood .


Films in the top 250 of the IMDb
place Movie
92 M.
111 Metropolis

Participation in scripts

The list may not be exhaustive and only includes films that were not directed by Lang.


Films in Germany

Movies in the United States

Films in France

  • 1934: Liliom
  • 1964: Contempt ( Le mépris , actor - as himself - and partly as director)

Films about Fritz Lang


English literature

  • Peter Bogdanovich : Fritz Lang in America. Studio Vista, London 1967.
  • Lotte Eisner : Fritz Lang . London 1976.
  • Manfred George [as: mg]: The Ministry of Fear. Paramount. In: Aufbau (New York, NY), Vol. 11, No. 7, February 16, 1945.
  • E. Ann Kaplan: Fritz Lang. A Guide to References and Resources. KG Hall, Boston 1981.
  • Patrick McGilligan: Fritz Lang. The Nature of the Beast. Faber and Faber, New York, NY 1997.
  • Jure Mikuž, Zdenko Vrodlovec: Fritz Lang. o. O., Moderna galerija, Revija Ekran.
  • Ray R. Nash, Stanley R. Ross, Robert B. Conelly (Eds.): Motion Picture Guide. Cinebooks, Chicago, IL 1987.
  • Frederick W. Ott: The Films of Fritz Lang. Citadel, Secaucus, NJ 1979.
  • Georges Sturm: Fritz Lang. films, texts, références. Presses universitaires Nancy, Nancy 1990.

French literature

  • Bernard Eisenschitz, Paolo Bertetto: Fritz Lang. La mise en scene. Cinémathèque Française, Paris 1993.
  • Reynold Humphries: Fritz Lang: cinéaste américain. Albatros, Paris 1982.
  • Luc Moullet: Fritz Lang. Seghers, Paris 1963.
  • Christian Viviani: Cape et Poignard. Le miroir et le geste. In: Positif. No. 405, (Paris), November 1, 1994.

German literature

Web links

Commons : Fritz Lang  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Facsimile letter from Fritz Lang. Gars am Kamp. August 29, 1914 to Julius Singer. In: Rolf Aurich, Wolfgang Jacobsen, Cornelius Schnauber: Fritz Lang. Life and work. Pictures and documents. 1890-1976. Pp. 17-19.
  2. see marriage register entry of the StA Charlottenburg I No. 110/1919
  3. see death register entry of the StA Wilmersdorf No. 1083/1920
  4. Larissa Schütze: Fritz Lang in Exile: Film Art in the Shadow of Politics. Meidenbauer, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-89975-587-1 , pp. 21-22.
  5. "With many bare legs". In: Retrieved December 3, 2015 .
  6. ^ Artem Demenok: German CVs: Fritz Lang. Documentation, SWR 2007, 44 min, Grimme Prize 2007.
  7. Cornelius Schnauber: Fritz Lang in Hollywood . S. 92-94 .
  8. The grave of Fritz Lang
  9. The Top 250 of the IMDb (as of April 25, 2020)