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March 4 - April 29 , 2002

The Dark Worlds of Fritz Lang

Soon after Hitler’s rise to power, Fritz Lang left Germany and settled in Hollywood. The second part of this series devoted to Lang’s career, curated by Harvard Professor of German Eric Rentschler, presents the last of the German works and an ample selection of the emigrÈ director’s American films—works that prove every bit as resonant as the hallmarks of his Weimar-era output. In the Hollywood films, the central emphasis continues to be a vision of vision: a scrutiny of the relationship between how things look and what things mean. Lang’s American features pursue an elusive double strategy, appearing to play along with generic conventions even as they place spectators in an incessant position of uncertainty about what they are seeing. Undermining trust in the reliability of visual evidence, Lang’s images miscue viewers and lead them to hasty conclusions, just as the characters in his films—invariably people watching people—often fall prey to erroneous perceptions. This “tricky” cinema calls into question the authority of the camera in the very act of asserting its power. Even with ostensibly conventional genre fare, Lang’s Hollywood films explore dark worlds that are as haunting as they are deceptive.

HFA wishes to thank the Goethe-Institut, Boston, for its assistance with the series.


March 4 (Monday) 7 pm

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1932, 35mm, b/w, 122 min.
With Otto Wernicke, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Theodor Loos
German with English subtitles

Lang’s second sound film, and the second installment of his Mabuse tale, finds the evil doctor (Klein-Rogge) incarcerated in a mental institution and plotting to destroy the public order. Lang masterfully presents a disembodied mise-en-scËne of the criminal genius, as the recorded voice of the madman gives orders to a mass of compliant minions. The acts of violence cannot be traced to a single perpetrator, and Inspector Lohmann (Wernicke, continuing the role he initiated inM) once again has a difficult time tracking down the source of chaos and terror. The world premiere of this riveting policier took place in Budapest on April 23, 1933, after being banned in Germany by Nazi censors who claimed it endangered the well-being of the Reich.

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Live Piano Accompaniment
March 6 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm
March 10 (Sunday) 2 pm

Spies(Spione)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1928, b/w, silent, 175 min.
With Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Willy Fritsch

For decades Spies circulated in an all-but-incoherent 88-minute print. The HFA proudly presents the nearly three-hour restored version of this Lang classic. Mabuse actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge stars as Haghi, a criminal mastermind who poses as the respectable, wheelchair-bound president of a bank. Lang’s characters move through the abstract geometry of an impersonal postwar city that is a stunning reflection of urban life in the crisis-ridden Weimar Republic. Modern means of transportation and communication become tools of instrumental rationality in Haghi’s sinister schemes. Spies is a real discovery: dynamic, spellbinding, and galvanizing, the German Lang at the top of his form.

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March 11 (Monday) 7 pm

Fury

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1936, 35mm, b/w, 94 min.
With Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sidney, Walter Abel

Often regarded as Lang’s best Hollywood feature, the director’s first American film is a powerful indictment of mob violence. Spencer Tracy portrays a gas-station owner accused of a kidnapping who finds himself in jail and the target of an angry mob. A sustained inquiry into the relations between the mass media and mass violence, the film culminates in a courtroom scene in which filmed evidence of the lynch-mob violence is presented. Fury remains a frightening document as well as a compelling melodrama. Stunning visuals and a taut narrative combine to create an aura of paranoia and excess as each character—even the innocent protagonist—is forced to confront his or her moral self.

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March 11 (Monday) 9 pm
March 13 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

You and Me

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1938, 35mm, b/w, 94 min.
With Sylvia Sidney, George Raft, Robert Cummings

The last installment of Lang’s “social trilogy,” You and Me (preceded by Fury andYou Only Live Once) was an ambitious experiment but ultimately a box-office failure. A studied attempt to craft a socially conscious satire in the tradition of Brecht’s didactic plays, the film—produced by Lang himself for Paramount—presents the story of a progressive department-store owner who employs ex-convicts, some of whom have not quite reformed. Although Lang’s directorial sleight of hand is visible everywhere, the film slips between the registers of drama and comedy in ways that may have perplexed contemporary audiences.

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March 18 (Monday) 9 pm

You Only Live Once

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1937, 35mm, b/w, 86 min.
With Sylvia Sidney, Henry Fonda, Barton MacLane

This visual masterpiece follows a pair of ill-fated young fugitives across America as it creates a portrait of justice and brutality 1930s-style. Fonda plays an ex-convict wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death who flees with the aid of his adoring wife (Sidney). The prototype for Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us, the movie also stands out as an early example of film noir. Its dark world bears an expressionist aspect in which Lang uses light neither decoratively nor atmospherically but psychologically: as a reflection of emotional interiors. The film’s dense visual texture thickens ever more densely as the fleeing protagonists run out of space.

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March 20 (Wednesday) 9:30 pm

Western Union

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1940, 35mm, color, 95 min.
With Robert Young, Randolph Scott, Dean Jagger

After the box office success of The Return of Frank James, producer Darryl Zanuck offered Lang another western. Here he depicts the travails and challenges of the pioneers who laid the first telegraph line across the West, focusing on their altercations with crooked politicians and hired guns. Vance Shaw (Scott) is trapped in a tragic conflict of loyalties between the Western Union company, for whom he scouts, and his brother, a gang leader whom he cannot bring himself to betray. With its blend of conventional action and dark undertones, Western Union brings to the genre a surprising amount of psychology, a stunning use of color, and pictorial richness in the form of expansive landscapes and expressive interiors.

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April 1 (Monday) 9:30 pm

Man Hunt

Directed by Fritz Lang         
US 1941, 35mm, b/w, 105 min.
With Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders

An adaptation of Geoffrey Household’s bestseller Rogue Male, Lang’s Man Hunt was among the director’s first anti-Nazi endeavors and a clear wake-up call for a still isolationist America. The story concerns an English sportsman (Pidgeon) who stalks Hitler, not quite certain whether he really intends to shoot the F¸hrer. Captured and tortured by the Nazis, he escapes and is pursued by German agents back to England. Lang builds the tension slowly and inexorably as the hunter becomes the hunted—a hero trapped in his own isolation, his only ally and source of solace a Cockney prostitute (Bennett). Despite a limited budget, the movie is a triumph of mise-en-scène.

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April 3 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Hangmen Also Die

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1943, 35mm, b/w, 130 min.
With Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Anna Lee

The May 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich—notorious Nazi commander of occupied Czechoslovakia whose brutality earned him the nickname “Hitler’s Hangman”—and the bloody German reprisal that ensued in the streets of Prague were the inspiration for Lang’s collaboration with Bertolt Brecht on this fiction film. To be sure, only a few Brechtian touches remain: in particular, the film’s emphasis on the solidarity of the Czech people in hiding Heydrich’s assassin and framing a Nazi collaborator. Communist catchwords like “masses” and “comrades” were expunged from the script, but Hanns Eisler managed to smuggle the tune of the 1929 “Comintern Song” into the score and received an Oscar nomination from an unsuspecting Academy.

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April 8 (Monday) 7 pm
April 13 (Saturday) 9 pm

The Woman in the Window

Directed by Fritz Lang 
US 1944, 35mm, b/w, 99 min.
With Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea

In this independently produced film noir, a mild flirtation draws a college professor (Robinson) into a web of murder and blackmail. The Woman in the Window incorporates all those elements that attract audiences to the noir genre: claustrophobic urban spaces created in studios, rain-drenched and glistening nocturnal streets, subtle and surprising camerawork that creates a world of chiaroscuro, a seductive temptress (Bennett), and an anxious hero. As Lang’s guilt-ridden Everyman is led through the scenes of his own crime by his D.A. friend (Massey), minute details becomes enlarged as if under a magnifying glass.

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April 10 (Wednesday) 9 pm
April 13 (Saturday) 7 pm

Scarlet Street

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1945, 35 mm, b/w, 102 min.
With Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea

Inspired by Jean Renoir’s 1931 La Chienne, Scarlet Street was the debut film of Diana Productions, the independent production company Lang founded with actress Joan Bennett and her husband, Walter Wanger. This brilliantly sustained tour de force—another film noir—reprises the three principle actors from Woman in the Window to tell the story of middle-aged Chris Cross (Robinson), an impeccably honest bookkeeper and amateur painter whose life changes radically after he falls in love with a prostitute and becomes the object of her pimp-boyfriend’s machinations.

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April 15 (Monday) 9:15 pm

Secret Beyond the Door

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1947, 35mm, b/w, 99 min.
With Joan Bennett, Michael Redgrave, Anne Revere

The second and last film of Diana Productions, Secret Beyond the Door is a psychological thriller and a Gothic drama. Mark Lamphere (Redgrave), obsessed by the link between architecture and death, recreates rooms in which women have met violent ends. It is not surprising that his new wife (Bennett) soon starts to wonder if she is the next victim. The plot reworks and updates the Bluebeard legend, reflecting the influence of Hitchcock’s Rebbecca and Spellbound as well as the contemporary American obsession with Freudian psychoanalysis. Secret Beyond the Door, above all, offered Lang a further showcase for his expressionistic mise-en-scËne.

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April 17 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Rancho Notorious

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1952, 35mm, color, 89 min.
With Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer

Lang’s last and most personal Western is a parable of paranoia and futility played out under Technicolor skies. Anti-hero Vern (Kennedy) is a man with a single goal: to hunt down the bandit who raped and killed his fiancÈe. His obsession turns everyone he meets into either suspect or informant, including attractive innkeeper Altar (Dietrich), around whom Vern circles in a drama of desire and mistrust. Most of the exteriors for Rancho Notorious were shot in the studio against garish and unabashedly artificial backdrops. Lang stylized the narrative further with a Brechtian ballad whose insistent refrain is “Hate, murder, and revenge.”

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April 22 (Monday) 7 pm

The Big Heat

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1953, 35mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin

Generally considered Lang’s best postwar film, The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion, a police detective who wages a crusade against organized crime and police corruption. The campaign becomes a personal vendetta after Dave’s wife is killed by a car bomb. As in M, Lang portrays this violence suggestively yet forcefully, using close-ups, eliptical transitions, lighting, and decor to follow Bannion’s descent from bourgeois normality into a world of virulent cynicism and moral ambiguity. Few films of the fifties (or any period) are more uncompromising in their indictment of violence and corruption in American society.

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April 24 (Wednesday) 9:30 pm
April 29 (Monday) 9 pm

The Blue Gardenia

Directed by Fritz Lang
US 1953, 16mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Southern

Made during a lull in Lang’s career caused in part by the McCarthy-era climate, The Blue Gardenia is a fast paced film noir the director managed to shoot in only twenty days. The story, based on a work by Laura novelist Vera Caspary, follows the misfortunes of Norah, a young woman who is despondent after receiving a farewell letter from her GI boyfriend. To drown her sorrows, she accepts a dinner invitation to the titled Blue Gardenia restaurant, where after too much to drink she follows her date home, fends off his advances, passes out, and awakens the next morning with a dead man by her side. While neither Norah nor the audience knows exactly what has transpired, both assume that she is guilty. A newspaper reporter with an eye for criminal evidence and an ear for music (particularly the film’s theme song as performed by the inimitable Nat King Cole) intervenes.

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April 29 (Monday) 7 pm

The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse)

Directed by Fritz Lang
West Germany /France/Italy 1960, 35mm, b/w, 104 min.
With Dawn Addams, Peter van Eyck, Gert Frˆbe
German with English subtitles

Lang’s final directorial exercise revives an old acquaintance from the 1920s and 1930s: Dr. Mabuse. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse updates Lang’s criminal mastermind in the context of postwar Germany and a dawning media age. The unseen but omniscient doctor monitors the rooms of a vast hotel with hidden cameras and microphones and passes on orders to a vast network of minions. Like M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and Hangmen Also Die!, the film features a memorable inspector: a rotund and wily police commissioner (Gert Frˆbe, who would go on to play the title role in Goldfinger) who is hard pressed to solve the series of mysterious crimes committed by the elusive mastermind.

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