Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 25th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1943
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: John Wexley, Bertolt Brecht, Fritz Lang
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Anna Lee, Gene Lockhart, Dennis O’Keefe, Margaret Wycherly, Nana Bryant, Lionel Stander
BluRay released: August 29th, 2016
Approximate running time: 134 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: PG (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Academy
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Synopsis: Hell bent to catch the Nazi administrator of Czechoslovakia’s assassin, the Gestapo frantically search the city of Prague in hope of catching the culprit before they can flee the city. After a few days of searching and nowhere closer to finding the assassin, the Gestapo then round up 400 Czech’s and every hour forty of prisoner’s are too be executed until the assassin is in their custody.
Hangmen Also Die! was co-written and directed by Fritz Lang, a filmmaker who is most remembered as one of key contributors to German Expressionism. Notable German films directed by Lang include, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, Metropolis, Spies, Woman in the Moon and M. Notable Hollywood films directed by Lang include, Scarlet Street, Clash by Night and The Big Heat.
Key collaborators on Hangmen Also Die! include screenwriter Bertolt Brecht (The 3 Penny Opera), cinematographer James Wong Howe (The Rose Tattoo, Seconds) and composer Hanns Eisler (None But the Lonely Heart, Night and Fog).
Upon its initial release Hangmen Also Die! was one of those rare examples where a film that was based on real life events is released while the original sources still fresh in the news headlines. Without a doubt this film’s greatest strength is that the two main creative talents behind Fritz Lang and Bertolt Brecht both fled Germany when the Nazi’s rose to power. Another strength of this film is ability to balance real life with fictional events.
The premise is rock solid, the narrative is meticulously constructed and pacing is never an issues as this film does a superb job of allowing key moments to fully resonate. Though characters are well defined and their motivations are never in doubt. It should be noted that this film has no grey area, it is crystal clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are?
From a production stand point there is not an area where this film does not excel. Visually Hangmen Also Die! is an extraordinary espionage / thriller hybrid that often foreshadows a style that is often employed for Film Noirs. Key moments in this film include, a scene right after the after assassination where a potential witness a cab driver jumps out of a window. Another standout moment includes the sequence of events which involve several characters who all co-conspirator to have a traitor exposed.
Not to be overlooked or undervalued are the performances in this film. With this film’s standout performances being, Brian Donlevy (Kiss of Death) in the role of the fugitive assassin and Gene Lockhart (The House on 92nd Street) in the role of Emil Czaka, an opportunist who is only out to save his own skin. Other notable cast members include, Dennis O’Keefe (Woman on the Run), Lionel Stander (Once Upon a Time in the West) and Anna Lee (How Green Was my Valley) in the role of Masha Novotny, a woman who inadvertently becomes entangled in the man hunt following the assassination.
Hangmen Also Die! comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in its intended 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The source used for this transfer is superb shape, contrast and black levels remain solid throughout and details always look crisp. Also there are no issues with DNR or compression and print debris is very mild.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in English and removable English SDH subtitles have also been included. There are no issues with distortion and though there is mild background noise, it is never intrusive. Dialog comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced.
Extras for this release include, a trailer for the film (1 minute 46 seconds), a restoration comparison (5 minutes 2 seconds), Story of a Hangman: Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, an interview with the author of Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich (28 minutes 33 seconds) and an audio commentary with film historian Richard Peña.
Topics discussed in the interview with Robert Gerwarth include, how the film is loosely based on real life events, director Fritz Lang and screenwriter Bertolt Brecht only collaboration, how the film’s ending is one of a handful of moments in the film that are fictionalized and based on the aforementioned real life events and background information about the real life events which inspired this film.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, information about Fritz Lang and Bertolt Brecht, the ups and downs of their only collaboration, how Bertolt Brecht was not happy with the way the film turned out, real life events that inspired the film, the cast and information about them, ow all the German characters were portrayed by German actors and the remaining cast were American actors, how Lang’s background in architecture plays a role in the way he frames a composition, key moments and other production related topics. Though this track starts off with a wealth of information. It should be noted that the latter half of the track dies have several long stretches of silence.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option and a booklet with cast & crew information, an essay about the film written by Gerd Gemunden and information about the transfer. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall Hangmen Also Die! get an exceptional release from Arrow Academy, highly recommended.