Cast & Crew
H. H. V. Twardowski
In Prague, Czechoslovakia, surgeon Franticek Svoboda is pursued by the Blackshirts, a division of Nazi police, and is assisted in evading them by Mascha Novotny, a passerby who misdirects the Blackshirts. After news comes that the Nazis' head executioner, known as the "Reichsprotector," has been assassinated, Nazi officials close all businesses early. Franticek is unable to find a room for the night because he is out after curfew, so, having gotten her address from a flower shop, he appears at Mascha's door just after her fiancé, Jan Horok, leaves. Mascha realizes that he is the assassin and reluctantly lets him in, pretending that he is "Karel Vanyek," a stranger she met at a symphony. Mascha's father, Professor Stepan Novotny, invites Franticek to spend the night as their guest because he is sympathetic to the underground movement, for which Franticek is working. That same night, the taxi driver who delivered Franticek to the scene of the crime is questioned at Gestapo headquarters and commits suicide rather than face torture. Mrs. Dvorak, a vegetable seller who was seen speaking with Mascha is also questioned and beaten by the Gestapo. Unable to identify the killer, Chief of Gestapo Kurt Haas orders that 400 Czechoslovakian civilians be arrested and held until the killer surrenders. Stepan is among those arrested, but he goes willingly, as he knows the importance of the resistance movement. Franticek suffers a guilty conscience because of the widespread response to his act, but his co-conspirators urge him not to surrender as they feel his struggle is a symbol for all Czechoslovakians. Distraught over her father's arrest, Mascha begs Franticek to give up, but he refuses. Mascha attempts to turn him in to the Gestapo, but meets with resistance from the Underground. By the time she arrives at Gestapo headquarters, Mascha grasps the importance of Franticek's act, and therefore only begs for Stepan's life. Inspector Ritter consults with Inspector Alois Gruber and Haas, who suspect that she is the woman who misdirected the Blackshirts, but they release her. Mascha then goes to see Jan, who is distraught because he has been interrogated all day by the Nazis and thinks Mascha has been unfaithful with Franticek. Mascha allays his fears without revealing the true nature of her involvement with Franticek. As she leaves Jan's apartment, Mascha is arrested by the Gestapo, and they put her in a cell with Mrs. Dvorak. One by one, everyone acquainted with the Novotnys is interviewed, and all remain faithful to the story about "Vanyek," although the Gestapo has confirmed that no one by that name exists. When Gestapo police intercept a note and roses intended for Mascha from "Vanyek," they release Mascha, who then is visited by Franticek. Knowing that Mascha's apartment is bugged, Franticek gives Mascha written lines to repeat. While revealing his true identity to her, Franticek leads the Gestapo police to believe that he is merely a suitor. Haas is convinced of Franticek and Mascha's innocence and calls off his investigation, but Gruber remains suspicious. Franticek and Dedic, the leader of the underground movement, hatch a plan to free the hostages without betraying Franticek. To this end, they invite Czech beer brewer and Nazi informant Emil Czaka to lunch. Czaka suspects it is a set-up and informs Gruber of the appointment. During the lunch, Czaka unwittingly confirms his affiliation with the Nazis, and the underground members try to take him hostage. When Czaka attempts to escape, Gruber's police shoot members of the underground and take others hostage. Dedic escapes to Franticek's apartment with a bullet in his lung, while his captive partners refuse to divulge their secrets to the brutal Gestapo. A taxi driver, meanwhile, informs the Gestapo about the bleeding man he dropped near Franticek's apartment, and Gruber and the police converge on the apartment. Gruber finds Franticek and Mascha in an apparently compromising situation, but fails to find Dedic. However, Gruber shames Mascha in front of Jan, who then goes on a drinking spree with Gruber. The next day, Gruber suddenly recalls a detail from the night before and realizes that he was set up. Jan tries to stop him from leaving, but Gruber knocks him unconscious. The Gestapo, meanwhile, has begun indiscriminate executions of the hostages in groups of forty. Under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo, Mascha and Franticek go to Czaka's favorite restaurant, where Mascha pretends to recall Czaka as the man she saw running from the scene of the murder. Czaka is at first confident of his alibi, but every person then interviewed supports Mascha's story. Czaka's final hope lies with Gruber, with whom he spoke on the day of the murder. Gruber, however, is murdered by Franticek and Jan. When later questioned by the Gestapo about Gruber's disappearance, Jan testifies that Gruber spent the night carousing with him, but then left in the morning. Czaka admits that he was home in the morning, and is shocked when his butler lies that Gruber visited him. Gestapo police search Czaka's house and find Gruber's calling card, a gun whose bullets match those used to kill the executioner, a train time table, and Gruber's dead body. Czaka is arrested as the assassin and the hostages are released. As Czaka is being driven to Gestapo headquarters, the inspector stops the car and releases him, then shoots him in the back as he runs to a church. Later, an official report from Berlin affirms that Czaka was not the assassin, but declares that as "the sharpest terror failed to force the people to denounce the real assassin," they must "save the face of the German occupational authority and choose the lesser evil by accepting Czaka as the assassin and thus close the case."
H. H. V. Twardowski
T. W. Baumfeld
Gene Fowler Jr.
James Wong Howe
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
Hangmen Also Die
Hangmen Also Die! was one of Lang's quartet of war-inspired productions including Man Hunt (1941), Ministry of Fear (1944) and Cloak and Dagger (1946). Though these films have never been considered Lang's best work, their release amidst wartime fervor made them successful contributions to the Hollywood propaganda effort. Ironically enough, before he immigrated to America, Lang had been recruited by the Nazis to make propaganda films in Germany. He instead fled to the United States, where his films were free to express clear anti-fascist sentiment.
The Hangmen script, was co-written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht who was also a refuge from Nazi Germany. One of the most famous names in avant-garde theater and an important figure in German intellectual life, Brecht fled the Nazis with Lang's help in July 1941. Lang knew Brecht through actor Peter Lorre (star of Lang's 1931 M) who revered the leftist playwright. Lang was also impressed with Brecht's reputation, but their working relationship soon deteriorated over matters of artistic taste, issues of the film's tone, casting, and Brecht's fights for money and for screen credit. Brecht's rage at Lang often seemed the anger of a leftist, cynical writer confronting the larger Hollywood system founded on emotion rather than intellect. Brecht expressed his rage in his journals of the day where he wrote of Lang, "He sits with all the airs of a dictator and old movie hand behind his boss-desk, full of drugs and resentment at any good suggestion, collecting surprises, little bits of suspense, tawdry sentimental touches and falsehoods, and takes licenses for the box office."
Further animosity developed when Lang refused to cast any of Brecht's coterie of financially struggling stage actors -- including Brecht's wife Helene Weigel -- in the film. Instead, the non-speaking role Brecht had written for his wife as a vegetable saleswoman was given to actress Sarah Padden.
Brecht felt that his compatriot Lang had been corrupted by Hollywood money and power, which to a highly political artist like Brecht was especially troubling. But Lang had been working in Hollywood since 1933 and had only learned how to navigate the treacherous waters of art and commerce.
Though Brecht and Lang retained credit for the original story and adaptation of Hangmen Also Die!, Lang eventually brought in another screenwriter, John Wexley, to work on the movie, which only intensified Brecht's resentment. Brecht wrote in his diary of the souring project "I feel the disappointment and terror of the intellectual worker who sees the product of his labors snatched away and mutilated." Though Brecht petitioned to receive a screenwriter credit alongside Wexley, his wish was never granted, thus intensifying his mistrust of the Hollywood way of doing business. Lang later admitted to Sight and Sound in 1967 that "Brecht got a raw deal here." In an amusing expression of WWII-era concerns, Hollywood also changed Brecht's name in the credits of Hangmen Also Die! to a less German-redolent "Bert Brecht."
Producer/Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: John Wexley (based on a story by Fritz Lang and Bertolt Brecht)
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Production Design: William Darling
Music: Hanns Eisler
Cast: Brian Donlevy (Dr. Franz Svoboda), Walter Brennan (Prof. Novotny), Anna Lee (Mascha Novotny), Gene Lockhart (Emil Czaka), Dennis O'Keefe (Jan Horak), Alexander Granach (Alois Gruber).
by Felicia Feaster
Hangmen Also Die
The original titles for the project were "No Surrender" and "Never Surrender" They had to choose a new title because a book was published with a similar title during production. Producers held a contest among the cast and crew to choose a new title. A production secretary submitted the winning title and won $100.
Originally, 'Bretolt Brecht' was denied story credit by the Screen Writer's Guild, even though he worked closely with writer John Wexley on the project.
The idea for the film was inspired by an actual assassination in Czechoslovakia during World War II.
The working titles of this film were Never Surrender, Unconquered and We Killed Hitler's Hangman. The film closes with shots of Prague and the words "NOT The End." The actors are listed in different order in the two opening credit lists. Actor Reinhold Schunzel's surname is misspelled "Schuenzel" in the onscreen credits. This film was inspired by the 1942 assassination of Nazi Deputy Protector of Bohemia-Moravia Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, Czechoslovakia, by a Czech resistance fighter. Heydrich, known as the "Hangman of Europe," was responsible for proposing and enacting the methodical extermination of Jews during the early years of World War II. Nazi troops retaliated against the Czech people for Heydrich's death with the massacre and destruction of the people and town of Lidice. Over 1,600 people were killed. In 1943, MGM also released a film about Heydrich titled Hitler's Madman.
According to a November 13, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, director Fritz Lang considered using Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem, "The Murder of Lidice," as a prologue to this film. Although the poem does not appear in this film, it was used in Hitler's Madman (see below). An August 1942 Los Angeles Examiner news item reported that the producers were hoping to cast actress Teresa Wright in the film, and Hollywood Reporter reported that John Beal had been cast. Although a still photograph indicates that Ray Middleton was cast in the production, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, the film's premiere in Prague, OK, featured a "hanging in effigy" of Adolf Hitler. This was Bertolt Brecht's first and only U.S. screen credit. Brecht had fled Nazi Germany but returned to Europe in 1947 to avoid questioning by HUAC. According to a modern source, he wrote other American scripts but did not get screen credit on those films. Modern sources report that writer John Wexley earned a solo screenplay credit after he submitted a case to the Writer's Guild claiming that Fritz Lang and Brecht had worked mostly on the original story. Modern sources also note that at the time Brecht was working on the screenplay, he was under investigation by the FBI, as were many German American citizens, due to the war. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), and Best Sound Recording.