Friedrich Anton Christian Lang (December 5, 1890-August 2, 1976) was an Austrian film director, screenwriter and occasional film producer, one of the most famous emigrés from Germany's school of expressionism to work in Hollywood.
Although some consider Lang's work as simple melodrama, he produced a coherent oeuvre that helped to establish the characteristics of film noir, with its recurring themes of psychological conflict, paranoia, fate and moral ambiguity. His work has influenced filmmakers as disparate as Jacques Rivette and William Friedkin. His most famous films are probably Metropolis and M, made before he went to America.
Lang was an artist and a painter who enlisted in the army and fought in World War I. Wounded and recovering from both injuries and shell-shock, he joined Germany's UFA studio just as the Expressionist movement was waxing. In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between art films such as Der Müde Tod and populist thrillers such as Die Spinnen (a two-part film), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema, culminating in his most famous silent works: Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), a crime epic (running four hours in two parts in its original version, recently restored by the Munich Filmmuseum) focusing on the psychological conflict between the master criminal Mabuse and detective Von Wenk; Die Nibelungen (1924), an ambitious two-part adaptation of the Ring of the Nibelung saga (better known from Wagner's opera) and his most famous film, Metropolis (1927).
Legend has it that Metropolis greatly impressed the leaders of the growing Nazi movement, though Lang detested their philosophy and wrote anti-Nazi statements into his 1933 film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse). The film was subsequently banned when the Nazis seized power, but Joseph Goebbels still respected Lang enough to offer him the head position of the German film industry. Rather than accept the position, Lang fled Germany. Thea von Harbou, his wife and long-time collaborator, had joined the Nazi party and remained behind.
In 1931, between Metropolis and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, Lang directed what many film scholars consider to be his masterpiece: M, a disturbing story of a child murderer (Peter Lorre in his first starring role) who is hunted down and brought to trial by Berlin's criminal underworld. M remains a powerful work; it was remade in 1951 by Joseph Losey, but this version had little impact on audiences, and has become harder to see than the original film.
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Lang joined the MGM studio and directed the impressive crime drama Fury. Lang made twenty-one features in the next twenty-one years, working in a variety of genres at every major studio in Hollywood, occasionally producing his films as an independent. These films, often compared unfavourably by contemporary critics to Lang's earlier works, have since been reevaluated as the equal of, if not superior to, his German films. During this period, his visual style simplified and his worldview became increasingly pessimistic, culminating in the cold, geometric style of his last American films, While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1957).
Lang epitomized the stereotype of the tyrannical German director; he was known for being hard to work with. He wore a monocle that added to the stereotype (though film historians say this particular cliche began with Erich von Stroheim), and his image was parodied in a number of films.
During the 1950s, Lang found it harder to find congenial production conditions in Hollywood and, following a major disagreement with the producer of Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, he returned to Germany to make his last films. These works received mixed reviews, some condemning them as stylised and detached, while others praised them for the same qualities.
Lang's eyesight had been steadily deteriorating throughout the fifties and, after a final Dr. Mabuse film, Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960), he returned to the United States. He continued collecting research material and drafting screenplays, but never made another film.
- Halbblut (The Half-Caste) (1919)
- Die Spinnen, 1. Teil: Der Goldene See (Spiders, Part 1: The Golden Lake)(1919)
- Harakiri (Madame Butterfly) (1919)
- Die Pest in Florenz (The Plague in Florence) (1919)
- Der Herr der Liebe (Master of Love) (1919)
- Die Spinnen, 2. Teil: Das Brillantenschiff (Spiders, Part 2: The Diamond Ship) (1920)
- Das Wandernde Bild (The Wandering Image) (1920)
- Der Müde Tod (Beyond the Wall) (1921)
- Vier um die Frau (Four Around a Woman) (1921)
- Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler) (1922)
- Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfried) (1924)
- Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (Die Nibelungen: Kriemheld's Revenge) (1924)
- Metropolis (1927)
- Spione (Spies) (1928)
- Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon) (1929)
- M (1931)
- Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) (1933)
- Liliom (1934)
- Fury (1936)
- You Only Live Once (1937)
- You and Me (1938)
- The Return of Frank James (1940)
- Western Union (1941)
- Man Hunt (1941)
- Confirm or Deny (1941) (uncredited)
- Moontide (1942) (uncredited)
- Hangmen Also Die (1943)
- Ministry of Fear (1944)
- The Woman in the Window (1944)
- Scarlet Street (1945)
- Cloak and Dagger (1946)
- Secret Beyond the Door (1948)
- House by the River (1950)
- American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950)
- Rancho Notorious (1952)
- Clash by Night (1952)
- The Blue Gardenia (1953)
- The Big Heat(1953)
- Human Desire (1954)
- Moonfleet (1955)
- While the City Sleeps (1956)
- Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1957)
- Der Tiger von Eschnapur (The Tiger of Eschnapur, or: The Tiger of Bengal) (1959)
- Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb, or: Journey to the Lost City) (1959)
- Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse (The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) (1960)