Hangmen Also Die (1943) (NTSC)

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Released 2-Mar-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1943
Running Time 133:53
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Fritz Lang
Studio
Distributor

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
Brian Donlevy
Walter Brennan
Anna Lee
Nana Bryant
William Roy
Margaret Wycherly
Dennis O'Keefe
Gene Lockhart
Tonio Selwart
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $14.95 Music Hanns Eisler


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, this is 1942
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In German occupied Prague in World War II, Hitler’s “hangman” Reinhard Heydrich is assassinated by resistance fighter Dr. Franticek Svoboda (Brian Donlevy). On the run, Svoboda is aided by Mascha Novotny (Anna Lee) and later takes shelter for the night in the home of Mascha’s father Professor Stephen Novotny (Walter Brennan). In response to the killing of Heydrich, the Nazis round up 400 prominent Czech citizens, including Professor Novotny, as hostages. They then commence to execute some hostages at 24 hour intervals, announcing that the killings will only stop when the Czechs hand over the assassin. Mascha, her fiancé Jan (Dennis O’Keefe) and Svoboda must each search their conscience to deciding whether the sacrifice of the life of one will stop the carnage. Meanwhile, they play a dangerous cat and mouse game with Gestapo Inspector Alois Gruber (Alexander Granach) who has his suspicions about Svoboda and, as well, an informer in the resistance ranks.

     From producer / writer / director Fritz Lang and writer Bertolt Brecht, Hangmen Also Die, released in 1943, is the fictionalised account of the assassination in 1942 of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia. Other than the assassination itself, nothing is factual; the real assassins, two Czechs flown in from England, were quickly eliminated while Hitler’s vengeance included the obliteration of the Czech towns of Lidice and Lezaky (which were supposed to have links to the two assassins) and the massacre of the citizens. So instead of facts, which could not be expected to be known by the filmmakers in 1943 (the assassination took place in May 1942, the film was released in the USA in April 1943), Hangmen Also Die delivers wartime anti-German propaganda of the highest order.

     In Hangmen Also Die, the Germans are all brutal, calculating, corrupt and, often, deliberately effeminate, while the Czechs are (almost all) brave, noble and self-sacrificing in their desire to free their country from Nazi tyranny. The story is powerfully aided by the fact that both sides get accomplished acting performances; Alexander Granach as the plainclothes Gestapo inspector leading the hunt and Reinhold Schunzel as the sinister interrogator Inspector Ritter are both excellent, while Walter Brennan (winner of three Oscars between 1937 and 1941 for supporting roles) and Anna Lee are both first-rate, although Brian Donlevy has little to do except look stoic. They have a tense, sparse script from Fritz Lang and Bertolt Brecht to work with that does include small touches of black humour, such as Ritter’s problems with his chair! The other highlight of the film is the superb black and white photography of James Wong Howe, winner of two Oscars for black and white cinematography in 1956 and 1964 (for The Rose Tattoo and Hud respectively). This is a film where darkness dominates, where few things are clear and the shadow of prison bars across the screen with the silhouette of an SS officer with a riding crop creates more menace than a dozen gory images of violence.

     Hangmen Also Die is a wonderful and underrated Fritz Lang film, a tense, compelling cat and mouse war time thriller. It may be anti-German propaganda, but it is propaganda of the highest order and well worth watching in its own right. For fans of Fritz Lang this is a must.

     The ending of Hangmen Also Die is quite abrupt, showing the SS covering their mistakes and without any information about the fate of the characters. Apparently there was a longer version, approximately 140 minutes, that is now lost: for a discussion about footage missing from the existing prints of the film follow the link here. See also the Region comparison section below and the extra footage available in the German Region 2 release.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Hangmen Also Die is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio was 1.37:1.

     The DVD cover explains that the print was digitally remastered from the original (but slightly damaged) nitrate negative. For a film that is almost 70 years old it looks pretty good. There are, not surprisingly, numerous artefacts; dirt marks, scratches (some quite noticeable such as the vertical scratches around 9.07 and 118:33), occasional damaged frames (i.e., 37:14), reel change markers, grain plus wavering and jumping frames. However, they are not very distracting and in fact this print looks better than I had expected. The best news is that this is a good sharp print (for its age), blacks are great and the shadow detail quite wonderful; a definite asset in a film so dependant upon light and shadows for its impact.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 192 Kbps. There is some slight hiss and the occasional minor crackle but this audio is pretty good. Dialogue is clear and the effects, such as the cracking of Ritter’s knuckles during his interrogating, come over nicely. There is, of course, no surround or subwoofer activity.

     The orchestral score by Hanns Eisler is melodramatic but fits the film well.

     Lip synchronization is fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Nothing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This Australian NTSC release is “all region” coded and as far as I can see is similar to the US Region 0 NTSC and UK Region 0 PAL versions, although the PAL release has combing not evident in our Australian release. There is also a Region 2 German PAL release with a 12 page booklet (in German), photo gallery and Fritz Lang biography and filmography. It includes extra scenes of approximately 1 minute’s duration, missing in the other releases, that show that the hostages are in fact shot, even though the (supposed) assassin was caught. This probably makes it the version of choice.

Summary

     Hangmen Also Die is an underrated Fritz Lang film, a tense, compelling cat and mouse war time thriller. It may be anti-German propaganda, but it is propaganda of the highest order and well worth watching in its own right. For Fritz Lang fans this is a must.

     The audio and video is good for an almost 70 year old wartime film. There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, May 06, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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