December 5: Happy Birthday Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger


Our headliners today were both born in the old Austrian Empire, both worked in German film at one time, both became refugees from Nazism, and both were known for their contributions to film noir.

Fritz Lang (1890-1976) was born in Vienna, and while serving in the Austrian army during World War One, he began to have some ideas for films.  Shortly after the war ended, he was hired at the German studio UFA.  In over a decade at the studio, he made a number of famous films, including the first two in his Dr. Mabuse trilogy, the sci-fi drama Metropolis (which featured the robot character Maria, found in our Movie Robot Bracket Game), and his first sound picture, M, which starred Peter Lorre as a character often considered the first movie serial killer.  When the Nazis came to power, Lang (who was considered Jewish under the Nuremberg Laws even though he had been raised Catholic) decided to move to the US.

Lang’s first film in Hollywood was the crime drama Fury, and a lot of his American output consisted of crime films of some sort.  He made a few Westerns, like The Return of Frank James and Rancho Notorious, and a couple of war movies, but he was most at home in film noir; he made several major contributions to the genre.  The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street were mid-forties noirs with the same three stars (Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea) and several similarities of plot and character.  The Big Heat contains two scenes with levels of violence that, by the standards of the time, were very shocking—one involving a car bomb, the second a coffee pot.

Lang returned to Germany in the late fifties, where he directed a few more films, including a third Dr. Mabuse movie, and also acted, playing himself in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt.

Otto Preminger (1905-1986) was born into a Jewish family in what is today part of Ukraine, but a century ago belonged to the Habsburgs.  His family moved to Vienna when he was about ten, and in his teens he began working with a theater company run by director Max Reinhardt.  He began working as both a theatrical and film director in the 1930s, and in 1935 was signed to a contract by Fox and moved to Hollywood.  Preminger worked at the studio for a few years, left in a feud with Daryl F. Zanuck, and directed on Broadway from 1938-1942.

Preminger returned to Fox during the war years, and began to develop a film adapted from Vera Caspary’s novel, Laura.  Initially, Preminger was assigned only to produce the film, but he managed to convince Zanuck (no small feat, given their animosity) that he should take over direction as well.  The film turned out to be a classic of film noir and Preminger received a Best Director nomination.

Preminger went on to direct additional noirs like Fallen Angels and Where the Sidewalk Ends.  Two of his 1950s films, the romantic comedy The Moon is Blue and the drug-addiction drama The Man With the Golden Arm, were highly controversial in their day.  Two of his later successes as a director were the courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder and an adaptation of Allen Drury’s novel Advise and Consent.  Fans of the 1960s Batman series may remember Preminger as one of three actors to play Mr. Freeze during the show’s run.

Mexican actor Adan Canto is 36 today.  Aside from work in his home country, he is a regular on Designated Survivor and played Sunspot in X-Men: Days of Future PastNajarra Townsend, who is 28, is known for her work in indie films like Tru Loved and Going to AmericaLauren London, who was a regular on The Game for four seasons and is known for films like ATL and I Love You, Beth Cooper, is 33 today.  Dolly Wells, best known for starring on the British sitcom Doll & Em with her good friend Emily Mortimer, is 46.  Morgan Brittany, who turns 66, played June Havoc as a child in the film version of Gypsy, while Dallas fans will remember her for playing Katherine Wentworth.  Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren is 45 today.  He won an Oscar and a BAFTA Award for La La Land, and has also worked on films like American Hustle, Joy, and Battle of the Sexes.

Yesterday’s birthdays include Kevin Sussman, who turned 47; he plays Stuart Bloom on The Big Bang TheoryTony Todd, who is now 63, is well known for his work in horror films; he played Ben in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the title character in the Candyman films, and William Bludworth in several of the Final Destination series.  German actress Mina Tander, known for films like Maria, He Doesn’t Like It and Seitenwechsel, and for her recurring role on Berlin Station, celebrated her 38th.

Our headliners on this date a year ago were Little Richard and Walt Disney.

Little Richard is turning 85.  His 1957 debut album, Here’s Little Richard, was given a special anniversary reissue earlier this year.

Paula Patton, who turns 42, stars on ABC’s Somewhere Between, a summer series from earlier this year.  Amy Acker, who is celebrating her 41st, is one of the stars of Fox’s The GiftedJessica Paré, who is 37 today, is a regular on CBS’s SEAL TeamKali Rocha, who is 46 today, is currently a recurring character on Man with a PlanLynne Ramsay, who is 48, directed You Were Never Really Here, which premiered, to very favorable reviews, at Cannes, and will be released in the US in February.  R&B and hip-hop artist Keri Hilson, who is 35, is at work on her third studio album.

Award-winning author Joan Didion, who is 83, released a new memoir, South and West: From a Notebook, earlier this year.  Novelist James Lee Burke is still turning out fiction as he turns 81; the latest in his Dave Robicheaux series, Robicheaux: You Know My Name, comes out next year.

Last year’s December 4 headliners were Jeff Bridges and Marisa Tomei.

Jeff Bridges, who is now 68, has appeared in several films this year, including The Only Living Boy in New York, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and Only the BraveMarisa Tomei turned 53 yesterday.  In addition to returning to the role of Aunt Hottie Aunt May for Spider-Man: Homecoming, she will be in the upcoming film Behold My Heart and starred in the Off-Broadway production of Sarah Ruhl’s How to Transcend a Happy Marriage.

Fred Armisen, who turned 51, will return to his starring and producing roles for the final season of PortlandiaCheng Pei-Pei, who celebrated her 71st, starred in Meditation Park, a Canadian production which screened at Toronto.  English folksinger Kate Rusby, who released a new Christmas album, Angels and Men, last month, turned 44.  Rapper Jay-Z, who is 48, released his latest studio album, 4:44, in June of this year.

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.


Posted on December 5, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Walt Disney? I think I have heard of him…

    Amy Acker, I know primarily for her work with Joss Whedon. Jessica Paré will forever be the second Mrs. Don Draper. Marisa Tomei is way too hot to be Aunt May, but you won’t here me complaining. Fred Armisen is apparently going to be on Last Man on Earth next year.


  2. Our two headliners had a number of parallels in their careers. Aside from the ones I noted in the article, they were two of the directors (Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg were others) who were known as “autocratic” directors of German backgrounds—men who made good movies, but were not often pleasant to work for. Both Lang and Preminger also played significant parts in Gene Tierney’s career—Lang directed her debut film, The Return of Frank James, while Preminger directed her in Laura, her most famous role.

    Lang’s films are sometimes a little hard for me to warm up to; The Big Heat, for instance, is well made but has a streak of brutality running through it.

    I like several of Preminger’s movies. Laura is a classic, Anatomy of a Murder is a great courtroom drama and one of James Stewart’s best performances, and Advise and Consent does a pretty good job of bringing Drury’s novel to life onscreen.

    I liked Amy Acker in Angel, and she was also good in Whedon’s film of Much Ado About Nothing (she played Beatrice).

    As I’ve noted before, I’m not a comic books reader, so that means I’m not wedded to the comic book portrayals of various characters. For instance, I have absolutely no problem with Peter Parker’s Aunt May being 1) the right age to be the aunt of a teenager, or 2) looking like Marisa Tomei. 🙂


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