Émigré directors from Germany and Austria played a large part in establishing the style, tone, and preoccupations of classical film noir. Among them, Fritz Lang was a central figure, contributing in a substantial way to the cycle and directing a dozen films that are emphatically noir. Lang was born in Vienna, Austria, and as a teenager, he studied architecture and painting at his parents' request. His privileged upbringing also allowed him to travel the world as a young man. Lang though did have to face the grimmer aspects of life, serving in World War I in the Austrian army. At the war's end he joined the Decia studio in Berlin as an editor and soon progressed to directing. He is best remembered from that period as the director of the science fiction allegory Metropolis in 1927, but he also made the proto-noir Mabuse films over a number of years. Like many another filmmaker, Lang ran into trouble with the Nazis after Hitler's accession to power, and he fled to France in 1933 (making just one film there), then with the onset of war in 1939, he went on to America, where he worked until 1956. Lang certainly had a temperament suited to involvement in the emerging cycle of film noir, and it is a tribute to his skills that almost all his American films still have a distinctly modern feel. With the possible exception of Robert Siodmak, he could be said to have made more substantial and important film noirs than any other single director. While many associate him, because of Metropolis, with German expressionism, Lang's visual style became more pared down in his American films, but he remained a strong believer in the power of visual material (especially mise-en-scène). Among his recurrent themes were notions of people being entrapped and of the unforeseen consequences of chance encounters. These can be detected in such films as The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956). He also explored the subtleties and ramifications of revenge in his fine police thriller The Big Heat (1953), among other movies.
Lang's noir remakes (Scarlet Street  and Human Desire) were colder in tone than the French originals (La Chienne  and La Bête Humaine ), and he was more disciplined in his treatment, as detached as Hitchcock might have been in using such material. Despite depicting a range of psychopathic characters well and sympathetically, Lang denied that he was a pessimistic filmmaker, claiming he had evolved from being a fatalist. In recent years, some critics and historians have called his noirs, especially The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, male melodramas, but his last two film noirs, While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (both 1956) reflected his interest in social problem films with their partly documentary method and intention. They clearly show the ambiguities of moral justice, Lang stating that this emphasis revealed his essentially Catholic viewpoint that man makes his own destiny. He definitely identified with the average man in most of his best noir stories. In The Big Heat, for instance, corruption, violence, and greed seem to pervade society, and ordinary-Joe protagonist Dave Bannion must struggle against these malign forces as best he can. Lang's final film of the classical noir period, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, was a film noir disguised as a social problem film on the topic of capital punishment, and its place in the cycle is achieved partly through its clever employment of suppressed narrative information. As in many Lang films, its existential hero finds poetic justice. In the late 1950s, failing eyesight sadly truncated his career.
Selected Noir Films: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler (1922, and script), M. (1931, and script), You Only Live Once (1937), Hangmen Also Die (1943, and script), The Ministry of Fear (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), Secret Beyond the Door (1948), House by the River (1949), Rancho Notorious (1952), Clash by Night (1952), The Blue Gardenia (1953), The Big Heat (1953), Human Desire (1954), While the City Sleeps (1956), Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).
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Lang, Fritz (1890-1976)
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