Fritz Lang, 1969 {photocredit Joost Evers}

Austrian film director Fritz Lang was one of the pioneers of science fiction cinema, and one of the directors who helped define the art of cinema itself. He was born December 5, 1890 in Vienna, Austria. He died August 2, 1976, in Beverly Hills, California, USA, at the age of 85. Today, Monday, December 5, 2022, would have been his 130th birthday.

Friedrich Christian Anton Lang was born in Vienna when it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was not the first science fiction filmmaker (that honor belongs to Georges Méliès.), however, he was one of the first directors and producers working in the sci-fi genre. He was considered one of the greatest filmmakers of the ’20s and ’30s in any genre.

He directed Metropolis (1927) and Woman in the Moon (1929). The thriller M (1931) was his first sound picture. His The Big Heat (1953) has been called “the definitive film noir.”

He first visited the USA in 1924. He said his first sight of New York City inspired Metropolis. He remarked “I looked into the streets—the glaring lights and the tall buildings—and there I conceived Metropolis.” He emigrated to the USA in 1934. He became a naturalized citizen in 1939.

During World War I, Lang did his patriotic duty and wore his country’s uniform. He was wounded four times and lost the sight in his right eye. By the time he died, he was nearly blind.

Being of Jewish heritage, Lang had the good sense to escape the tsunami of anti-Semitic hate Hitler was encouraging and escape to the USA before WWII. German conductor Otto Klemperer and his family had fled Germany the year before. Thea Von Harbou stayed in Europe and made Nazi propaganda films.

Metropolis

The inventor C.A. Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and his robotic invention (Brigitte Helm) in Fritz Lang’s silent film classic Metropolis (1927).

Metropolis is considered one of the most influential movies ever made. It was directed Fritz Lang and co-written by him and his wife, Thea Von Harbou. “In 2001, the film was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, the first film thus distinguished.” It will be moving into the public domain January 1, 2023.

Made in Germany between 1925-1926 for a budget that would be about $21M in today’s dollars, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city master, and Maria, a saintly figure to the workers, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes in their city and bring the workers together with Joh Fredersen, the city master. The film’s message is encompassed in the final inter-title: “The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart”.

Woman in the Moon and Other Films

Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon (1929) is considered to be the first serious science fiction film. Lang was director and producer. The film demonstrated methods of rocket travel by having a multistage rocket and a launching tower, as well as the countdown we now take for granted.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) was Lang’s second sound film (the first being 1931’s M), and was a sequel to Lang’s silent film Mabuse the Gambler (1922). Joseph Goebbels complained the film was a threat to public health and safety because the lead character Lang deliberately intended the film to suggest the Mabuse-like qualities of Adolf Hitler, who was on his rise to become Chancellor of Germany while the film was being written.  It was banned by the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda when Hitler came to power. In the United States, Lang was a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. During WWII, Lang made four films which were explicitly, unashamedly anti-Nazi: The Hunt (1941), Hangmen Also Die! (1943), (Ministry of Fear (1944), and Cloak and Dagger (1946).

Personal Life

Fritz & Thea Lang in their Berlin apartment, circa 1923 {photo credit Waldemar Franz Hermann Titzenthaler}

Lang was married twice: First to Lisa Rosenthal, who died under mysterious circumstances. While there were whispers, Lang was never officially charged with her murder. His second wife was writer Thea Von Harbou, who collaborated with him on many of his scripts. They divorced before he emigrated to the USA.

Fritz Lang received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Matthew Thrift described Lang as “a filmmaker who could turn his hand to any genre and turn its tropes inside-out.” He made westerns, film noir, thrillers, and science fiction. Thrift credited Lang with helping invent sci-fi films, serial killer movies and film noir as a genre.

Some filmmakers cast a very long shadow across the history of film and the cinematic arts. Fritz Lang, director, screenwriter and producer, was a powerhouse of his time.

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Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.