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December 5: Happy Birthday Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger


1205LangPreminger

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.

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