Born in Vienna in 1890, Fritz Lang began acting and writing screenplays in Germany after he was discharged from the Austrian army late in World War One, and his personal connections with important German producers meant he was working with German filmmaking colossus UFA by 1920. Over the next forty years, Lang would direct 43 films. While his artistic style would progress from German Expressionism and its dramatic depiction of emotions and sensibilities to the bleak and cynical world of American Noir, throughout his career he maintained a fascination with themes of menace and of the overbearing importance of fate in all our lives.
Lang, though raised a Catholic, was from a half-Jewish background. With growing antisemitism in Germany in the early 1930s, and Hitler’s rise to power by January 1933, he decided to leave first for France (in 1933), and soon after for the United States. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi State’s minister of propaganda, had by this time met with Lang privately to offer him an important post within UFA because of Hitler’s love for his movie M (1931), but Lang feared future repercussions for his Jewish heritage and opposed the authoritarian message and nature of the Nazi state. Much of his Hollywood filmography would resultingly deal with themes of violence and unjust social orders.
The experiences that Fritz Lang made in the first half of his life – the horrors of the battlefields of World War One, the sharp unrest and tension of interwar Germany, and the atrocities of the Nazi regime’s rise to power – shaped his work and creative outlook. His contribution to the development of American noir filmography from his own background in German cinema makes Fritz Lang a celebrated personality in the history of American and world film. He passed away in Los Angeles in 1976.
Cosimo is a second year History student at Oxford University. He researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.