1923. Germany. In the aftermath of the humiliating defeat in the War to End All Wars (later to be known as World War I) and the even more humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the German economy inspires a new definition for the term...
Fritz Lang began as one of the finest directors working in Germany's film industry during the silent era, and cemented his reputation as one of the all-time greats due to his agile transition into sound film and a career in Hollywood. His best known films are the expressionist film from 1927 Metropolis and the film noir from 1931, M, starring Peter Lorre.
Lang was born in Vienna in 1890, the son of an architect. After briefly studying architecture in Vienna, Lang dropped out to study painting in Munich and Paris. He then spent some formative years traveling the world, only to end up back in Vienna around the outbreak of World War I. There, he was conscripted into the army and injured multiple times. It was during his convalescence that Lang took up writing crime fiction and screenplays, which he had some success selling.
He married his first wife Thea von Harbou in 1920, who was herself a popular crime fiction writer and who went on to co-write Lang's masterwork M with him. Lang started directing around this time and made an international splash with the film The Tired Death. The special effects in that film would go on to be reused in Douglas Fairbanks's The Thief of Baghdad.
The period between the first and second world wars (the time-span for the reign of the Weimar Republic) saw Germany's film industry boom, and Lang was central to it. During this time he made his popular Dr. Mabuse films as well as the innovative science fiction epic Metropolis, which flopped at the time but went on to be considered the first great science fiction feature.
He released his first sound film and magnum opus M in 1931, right around the time when the Weimar Republic was disintegrating and the Nazis were quickly gaining influence. His final film during this initial German stint, The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse, was immediately banned by the Nazi party for clearly challenging the party's leaders. Nonetheless, Joseph Goebbels invited Lang to head the Nazi's film enterprise given Hitler's adoration of Metropolis. Lang accepted the position on the spot and then fled that night to Paris. His bank accounts were locked by the Nazi party and he lost all of his money. His wife stayed in Germany and became a Nazi collaborator throughout the war.
Lang escaped to the United States, where he quickly found work in Hollywood and directed a number of acclaimed films, including the film noir classics Fury and Scarlet Street. Many critics feel that Lang lost his directorial spark during that Hollywood period, and over time his reputation for being difficult to work with left him with fewer and fewer fruitful connections for getting his films made. A tendency to try to steal other men's wives and girlfriends didn't help his cause much either.
Lang eventually returned to Germany in the 1950s to direct the last of his films, two more Dr. Mabuse entries, which would be his last. After appearing as himself in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt, he more or less fell off the film industry's map. He lived out his days in Beverly Hills, spending the money that he made during his career.
Study Guides on Works by Fritz Lang
M is one of the high watermarks of Fritz Lang's career, and more broadly of German cinema from the Weimar era between World Wars I and II. Co-written by the director Fritz Lang and his wife Tea von Harbou, M traces the story of a child murderer,...
German film director Fritz Lang was sailing into New York City for the first time in 1924 when he was struck with his initial inspiration for Metropolis. He described his first glimpse of the skyline thus: "I looked into the streets—the glaring...