Fritz Lang was completely uninterested in his mother's Jewish heritage while growing up. Nevertheless, it ended up being a key factor in his career when Nazi Germany rose up around the Austrian-born filmmaker and took over film industry of Germany (his adopted home). Lang was actually offered the opportunity to be supreme Fuhrer over the German film industry, but he instead fled Germany, because, he later claimed, he was fearful about what the Nazi regime would eventually to him because of his half-Jewish heritage.
Throughout much of Lang's life, many people thought of him as Jewish or at least part-Jewish. After Lang's experiences with Nazi oppression he became a staunch anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist; he made a number of anti-Nazi films. Later in life he apparently had some sense of Jewish identity. He may be best described as a partially ethnic Jew whose religion throughout life was a partially observed Catholicism.
From: David Michael Wharton, "Crucified to the Machine: Religious Imagery in Fritz Lang's Metropolis" in Strange Horizons, 6 January 2003
Fritz Lang's Metropolis... Certainly, the film's profusion of religious imagery can be traced back through Lang's lineage. Although his lapsed Catholic father and Jewish mother began their union at best uninterested in religion -- they requested a marriage ceremony stripped of all spiritual trappings, though they did not get it -- they did eventually embrace the tenets of Catholicism. The doctrines of that faith insinuated themselves into Lang, shaping his worldview, his politics, and his cinematic vocabulary. The language of Metropolis -- the themes, the images, the characters -- are all rooted firmly in the language of Judeo-Christian theology.From: Philip Kemp, "Fritz Lang" in World Film Directors, Volume One: 1890-1945, ed. by John Wakeman, H. W. Wilson Company: New York (1987), page 609:
...was born in Vienna, the only child of middle-class parents. His father, Anton Lang, was a municipal architect. His mother, Paula Schlesinger Lang, had been born Jewish but had converted to Catholicism early in life.From: Daniel Shaw, "Fritz Lang" on "Senses of Cinema" website, 2002 (http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/02/lang.html):
b. Friedrich Christian LangFrom: Patrick McGilligan, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, St. Martin's Press: New York (1997), pages 6-7:
...Fritz Lang grew up in fin de siecle Vienna, during the Golden Autumn of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he carried its intellectual and artistic heritage with him for the rest of his days. The son of a well-to-do construction magnate and his fervently Catholic (and formerly Jewish) wife, Fritz attended art school before World War I, imbibing the sensuous decadence of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. He also studied the explosive theories of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, gleaning from them ideas about amoral ubermenschen and unconscious drives which would animate his work for decades to come...
He had already demonstrated his versatility in both high art and sheer pulp. But his next film got him in trouble with the newly installed censors of culture, the Nazis. The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse (Das Testament des Doktor Mabuse) (1933) had too many uncomfortable parallels to the behavior and repugnant pronouncements of the thugs the Nazis employed to consolidate their power early on. Reichsminister Joseph Goebbels called Lang into his office to apologize for having to pull the film from circulation, and to offer its director the position of studio head of the new production company the Nazis were assembling. Lang immediately resolved to leave the country, in part because of a Jewish heritage he reportedly had the temerity to remind Goebbels of, and did so either that same day (if you believe his own dramatic account) or within the year.
...future film director, Friedrich Christian Anton Lang [Fritz Lang], was born on December 5, 1890. His parents, Anton and Paula Schlesinger Lang, at that time lived on the narrow lane of Schonlaterngasse in the Innere Stadt, or First District, inside the Ringstrasse, the wide beltway around the inner city. The shadow cast by Vienna's architecture is rendered all the more germane to Frit Lang's life story by that of his father. Anton Lang... was a builder or executor of architectural plans...McGilligan, pages 8-9:
How did Johanna Lang [Fritz Lang's paternal grandmother], who hailed form a humble background, come into this inheritance? [Fritz Lang's father was born into a wealthy home]. Johanna Lang was born in 1839 in Sichelbach, a village in southern Moravia... Today this area is part of the Czech Republic... [she] grew up in the country, came to Vienna as a young girl, and became housekeeper of a patrician Viennese family. There Johanna Lang fell in love with the son of the house, and found herself pregnant. Born and raised a Catholic (the first inkling of the Catholicism deeply ingrained in Lang's life), she had landed in a sinful, scandalous predicament. "Class barriers in those days were as rigid as castes in India," explained [Lotte] Eisner. But things worked out in the end: "She married an honest man who gave her child his name," Eisner wrote.McGilligan, pages 10-12:
This synopsized account... made a good story... However, no records survive to prove Lang's case, none that give any indication of Johanna Lang's lineage, nor point to the identity of the patrician family--whcih didn't have to be very patrician really, since many middle-class households could afford the modest expense of servants.
There is, in fact, no documented evidence of the true identity of Anton Lang's natural father [Fritz Lang's grandfather]. Only this can be substantiated from Viennese archive: the child of Johanna Lang was born August 1, 1860, in the maternity ward of a foundling's home in what was then the western suburb Alservorstadt (today located more or less downtown). George Sturm, a European specialist on Fritz Lang, ha performed exhaustive detective work on the family tree, and his research confirms that on the day of the birth the nuns crossed Alserstrasse and had the infant baptized by a parish priest. The godfather was the sacristan, the father's name unspecified. The birth register plainly listed Anton Lang [Fritz Lang's father] as an "illegitimate child."
Johanna Lang never named the father, and it appears that Anton himself did not know his identity--a theme repeated almost by chance in Fritz Lang's 1955 film Moonfleet... People familiar with the director's work will recognize the illicit love affair, illegitimacy, and the "doubling" of identity as recurrent plot situations that would become almost obsessional in his films. Lang liked to glamorize his own illegitimate family history right down tot he happy ending in which an "honest man" comes to the rescue as father to the child...
It can be hypothesized... that when Johanna Lang's first husband [who she married after Anton's birth], an Endl died, she inherited a partnership in Endl and Honus [the business that made her wealthy]... Anton never became an Endl or Schott in any case, and Johanna Lang conferred her own surnmae on the child. The "Lang," therefore, comes directly from Fritz Lang's paternal grandmother--her name and Catholicism being the first strong, lasting imprints on his identity.
Children, education, and religion were a mother's business. [Fritz] Lang's mother, Paula Schlesinger Lang, was the woman who nurtured and shaped the boy. Conversing with friends, Lang always placed his mother on a pedestal...There is a detailed account of the elaborate Christmas celebrations that young Fritz Lang participated in, only some of which is excerpted here. McGilligan, page 19:
Paula was born Pauline Schlesinger on July 26, 1864, on the outskirts of Brno, the provincial capital of Moravia... Today it is in the Czech Republic.... Paula's father was a Fabrikant, or factory owner, most likely of a mill for spinning and weaving wool. Her family was Jewish.
Pauline, by early 1993, was residing in Vienna in the Leopoldstadt, or Second District, a section of Vienna overwhelmingly comprised of Jewish immigrants and families... Pauline was part of an influx of Jews during the latter half of the nineteenth century that changed the balance of Vienna's population and played a key role in the rise of the middle class. Persecuted in previous generations, cyclically ostracized, Vienna's Jews had proved stubborn adherents of the city, and had recently prospered under an era of emancipation and reform...
Pauline Schlesinger, not quite nineteen and Anton Lang, her senior by nearly five years, were married in Vienna on May 22, 1883...
Curiously, the Lang-Schlesinger marriage was formalized by a civil ceremony. Although "mixed" marriages between Catholics and Jews were forbidden by law, the common custom was for Vienna's Jews to convert to Catholicism, or for non-Jews to declare themselves without religious faith. Yet Anton Lang, though himself baptized and raised a Catholic, declared himself without religious denomination, while Paula Schlesinger was listed in the records--meticulous city records the Nazis would later peruse--as mosaisch, or Jewish.
Anti-Semitism was on the rise in Vienna. Assimilation was important, and it may be that Paula Schlesinger felt socially obliged to convert. Vienna's longstanding preoccupation with Catholicism as well as "Germanness" would dramatically mark the Lang family.
This was a family that displayed obvious equivocation about religion. Before their marriage, Pauline Schlesinger and Anton Lang made a special request for dispensation for the religious ceremony, a request rejected by authorities. Seventeen years elapsed before Lang's parents arranged a "double conversion" to Catholicism and a second, religious ceremony in August of 1900, embracing Catholic precepts. This occasion, which necessitated a special license, was orchestrated not in Vienna, but over one hundred miles to the west, at Ort am Traunsee, near Salzburg, where the Langs had a vacation villa. Church records show that Lang's mother was baptized, while Anton Lang was formally readmitted "to the breast of the Holy Catholic Church."
Fritz Lang was almost ten years old by 1900, and up to that time had been diligently raised a Catholic by his Jewish mother. He himself had been baptized on a Sunday less than a month after birth, in the baptismal font of the parish Schottenkirche, or the Scots Monastery, in the Innere Stadt. The Langs had set up house around the corner from the Schottenkirche on Schenkenstrasse, the road that leads to the Burgtheater...
While it was unusual that the parents of the baptized child were not Catholics in good standing, this irregularity was addressed by a clause added to the baptismal affidavit to the effect that the non-Catholic mother and father pledged to raise the boy in the Catholic faith. So they did--"Catholic and very puritanical," in Lang's words.
Ironically, according to Friedrich Steinbach, it was Lang's mother, the convert, who took responsibility for indoctrinating her son in the catechism and rituals, while Lang's father, busy with work and more ambivalent about religion, skipped Mass on Sundays and acted almost heretically upon occasion. Steinbach told this anecdote: As a young boy, Steinbach was standing on the balcony of the Lang summer home in Gars am Kamp with Anton Lang, who was hid godfather as well as his uncle. A storm was brewing. Thunder rang out, lightning flashed across the sky. Suddenly, Anton Lang opened his arms to the heavens, and, to his horror, cried out, "Hit me! Hit me now! Send a bolt for me!" Then, turning to the boy, who cowered before such blasphemy, Anton Lnag asked with a malicious grin, "Do you really believer everything they tell you?"
Young Fritz Lang was probably present at the "double conversion" in 1900, and likely blocked it out of his memory...
Christmas at home was always celebrated before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve a custom Lang adhered to in America. There was always a candlelit tree that stretched to the ceiling, with presents piled underneath...McGilligan, pages 20-21:
It was true, Lang conceded year later, that when he was in fourth or fifth grade, there occurred a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in Vienna, signaled by a series of public anti-Semitic remarks by Vienna mayor Karl Lueger. Indeed, there was a student at Lang's Realschule that accepted no Jews as members, and whose members loudly proclaimed Germany as their fatherland. "I went about my business in those days without paying much attention to nor understanding such things," he said in an interview...McGilligan, page 22:
School opened with a church service, at which attendance was obligatory for Catholic students. Two hours a week were devoted to religious classes. The school strove for an atmosphere of tolerance, however, and rabbis and Protestant ministers visited the school at intervals. There was a minority of Jewish students, and partly as a consequence classes were usually divided into "a" and "b" groups. It was an implicit circumstance that the "a" groups were all Catholic, while up to half of the members of the "b" groups were Protestant and Jewish. Interestingly, Lang was placed in the "a" group for the first four years; then, at the time when anti-Semitism flared up in Viennese society (especially 1905-1906), he was switched to the mixed "b" group...
Starting in Realschule, Lang was reading more adventurously--Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Schiller, Goethe, Shakespeare, Heinrich Heine, and Hans Sachs (not so well known outside Germany, but a serious Meistersinger who wrote poems on moral and religious subjects, medieval dramatic tragedies, and moral comedies). The Lang family owned deluxe editions of these authors as well as all the classic plays and books.McGilligan, page 25:
Lang had learned about love and sex from Catholicism, and his outlook remained intrinsically Catholic throughout his life. There were Madonnas, like his own mother, pure and saintly (Kriemhild before the vengeful transformation; one-half of Brigitte Helm/Maria in Metropolis). And there were whores, who possessed the tempting inducements of sin. Sins could always be forgiven, and like Mary Magdalene, prostitutes could be uplifted. Prostitutes in the end were for Lang, as for Peter Altenberg, a shrine at which to prostrate himself and worship.About actress Gerda Maurus, with whom Fritz Lang had an affair, from McGilligan, page 109:
The religion teacher at the Realschule had been a priest who also heard the pupils' confessions. Lang always remembered that this particular clergyman would force one student, who had been held back in his matriculation, to recite the Ten Commandments, then, after the Sixth Commandment, interrupt him each time with "Thou shalt not be unchaste! Not true, my dear boy?" This student was the most sexually mature of them all and one time invited "the boldest of us," including Lang, to visit three of the most notorious spots on Spittelberg, regarded as an immoral part of town.
Also importantly, Vienna in May of 1924 is where the director made the acquaintance of Gerda Maurus, another blue-eyed blonde, from the suburb of Breitenfurt. Her father was an engineer and inventor, and like Lang she had been raised a Catholic... Her ethnic background was Croatian.McGilligan, page 158:
Lang did not think very long or deeply about the Nazis, not early in the game. He regarded politics as not only beneath him, but remote from his own island-world of power and privilege. He was "unpolitical," a word that a friend of his, the Berlin journalist Paul Erich Marcus... used in one of his books to describe those among Germany's artists and intellectuals--most of them, really--who woke up late in the day to the horror of Adolf Hitler.McGilligan, page 218:
Lang, according to his own point of view, thought of himself as Catholic and a German patriot--"entirely Aryan," in Gottfried Reinhardt's accusing words, "which he [Lang] only half was." In his mind Lang had set aside his family--and, naturally, along with them the Jewish background of hs mother and her parents. Although, from his very arrival in Berlin, Goebbels was well-known for his anti-Semitic ravings, the fundamental threat--and evil--of the Nazis would take time to dawn on the director.
"It was not like [Siegfried] Kracauer and the others say," said Cornelius Schnauber, a fellow German who landed in the United States and became the director's close friend rather late in Lang's life. "Lang was rather indifferent [to the Nazis] and a little bit stupid."
It was no longer as easy to sleepwalk by 1931. Events would soon jar Fritz Lang awake.
...Fritz Lang... was suspect politically; many of the refugees were Jews who wrote their Jewishness on their sleeves; in Fritz Lang they saw somone who was Germany personified--and who continued to make a point of declaring himself a Catholic.McGilligan, page 246:
One of the climactic images [of You Only Live Once] is famous: Eddie, cradling Joan in his arms, struggling to get away, framed in the cross-hairs of a gunsight. Eddie is shot; he weaves and stumbles on ahead with his last dying breath. The backlighting suggests the opening of the pearly gates. Over the soundtrack comes the gentle voice of the priest, Father Dolan, beckoning him onward--a la Liliom--"You're free, Eddie, the gates are open!"McGilligan, page 261:
Peter Bogdanovich asked the director if the ending was meant as irony or the truth. "As the truth," replied Lang. "You may laugh, but don't forget I was born a Catholic--perhaps I'm not a good Catholic according to the Church--but Catholic education (and probably any education which has to do with ethics) never leaves you. And I think it was the truth for those people--th doors are open now."
In September of 1939, a deaf and very nearly blind Anton Lang [Fritz Lang's father] was brought by his doctor to the doorstep of the Convent of the Sisters of Charity, whose nuns cared for the sick and dying in Gars am Kamp, the Lang family's rural retreat in Austria. There he would live out the few remaining months of his life, emaciated and infirm, suffering from glaucoma. On February 14, Lang's father suffered an attack of pneumonia. He died, after receiving Extreme Unction from a Catholic priest, on February 28, 1970, at the age of eighty.McGilligan, page 288:
Although Fritz Lang had very little contact with his father, he, the favored son, was named heir to three-eights of the estate, with five-eights going to Anton's widow, his second wife, Malwine Lowenthal Lang. The eldest son, Adolf, received nothing.
Anton Lang had married again in 1922, eighteen months after the death of Lang's mother Paula--which may have increased Lang's alienation from his father. Malwine Lowenthal was a divorcee, also with Jewish ancestry [like Fritz Lang's mother]; and now that Austria was controlled by the Nazis, this affected the final dispersal of the Lang estate.
The family assets had been whittled down to the villa at Gars am Kamp and four small fields east of Vienna, in Prinzendorf and Ort an der Donau. According to the Nazi racial laws, Anton Lang had been listed as "married to a Jewess," and his widow had trouble even obtaining a lawyer to claim her rightful share. Her "non-Aryan" classification made holding on to the property all but impossible. A lawyer represented Fritz Lang's interests at the reading of the will, and it was very swiftly arranged that the family possessions be auctioned off to pay debts.
The U.S. premiere of Lang's last German film--the banned-in-Nazi-Germany The Testament of Dr. Mabuse--was conveniently timed for March 1943, to coincide with release of Hangman Also Die. In interviews the director could bracket both films: his latent anti-Nazism of 1933 blended with his vociferous anti-Nazism a decade later...McGilligan, pages 324-325:
In none of these accounts, tellingly, did Lang make any mention of his own Jewish heritage. In fact, publicity went out of its way to describe him as an "Austrian director" who was in fact the opposite of Jewish. "While many famous Jewish directors had to flee Germany because of the 'Aryan' work decrees, Lang, a Christian, fled only because he is a believer in democratic government," reads Fritz Lang's entry in Current Biography, which also came on the heels of Hangmen Also Die, in 1943. It was standard for Current Biography to consult the subject, and Lang cooperated with his profile...
To those emigres who knew something of Lang's personal story, and who remembered the chain of events that prompted him to leave Germany in 1933, this was soft soap. To those who were Jewish, it showed insensitivity to anti-Semitism, and indifference to one of the most heinous Nazi policies. Lang's politics hadn't shed their blinders.
In his letter the writer succinctly stated the moralistic theme of Scarlet Street [directed by Fritz Lang]: "It asserts that there are higher moral laws which cannot be violated by any man. It says even if you fool the police you are caught by the judgment of your own conscience, that no one can escape it, and that it is far less terrifying to be punished by police courts and the executioner. It says the real juge, jury, and executioner lie within themselves.About Fritz Lang's film Scarlet Street, from: McGilligan, page 327:
[footnote] Lang told Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg that he personally devated the morality of Scarlet Street with Production Office official Joseph Breen, using his Catholicism as a wedge in the argument. "Look," the director told Breen (according to Lang), "we're both Catholics. By being permitted to live, the Robinson character in Scarlet Street goes through hell. That's a much greater punishment than being imprisoned for homicide. After all, it was not a premeditated murder, it was a crime of passion. What if he does spend the rest of his life in jail--so what? The greater punishment is surely to have him go legally free, his soul burdened by the knowledge of his deed, his mind constantly echoing with the words of the woman he loved proclaiming her love for the man he'd wrongly send to death in in his place . . ."
In private, Lang took the Catholic point of view that the electric chair was a barbarism of the state. In the film it is the tool of a brutal justice: the no-good Johnny is executed for a crimem he didn't commit. In a train scene, a eporter coming back from the event leans over and strikes up a conversation with Chris. He tells him that, no matter the truth of the case, everybody possesses their own internal judge, jury, and courtroom...About Fritz Lang's film Cloak and Dagger, from: McGilligan, page 340:
This is how Dudley Nichols--Lang himself--perceived Scarlet Street. It was a story about the punishment of guilt, not ill-fated love. "I read somewhere that the Hays Office had been created by a Jesuit," he told Peter Bogdanovich. "And Hays himself was a Catholic." [Footnote: "Actually, Lang is in error--Hays was an elder of the Presbyterian Church.] I had not the slightest difficulty with this picture--because Robinson was punished--a great punishment.
Gina, the Italian guerrilla figher, was both sinner and saint, ennobled more by Fritz Lang's Catholicism than by his politics... The director's talismans are sprinkled throughout the film [including] a group of nuns, collecting for charity, who betray the hiding place of the underground. (The nuns, of course, are impostors; the robed Catholics in Fritz Lang films were generally on the side of the angels.)About Fritz Lang's film American Guerrilla, from: McGilligan, page 373:
Lang made a point of heroically positioning the Catholic Church; as in Metropolis, the film's cliimax would take place in a cathedral--a religious sanctuary invaded, and turned into a battleground. Even an altar boy pitches in during the final shoot-out against the Japanese.McGilligan, page 247:
Not to mention the fact that the "misunderstood criminal" of You Only Live Once has a number of well-placed societal benefactors in the story, including a frock-wearing representative of the Catholic Church and a duly-appointed district attorney.McGilligan, pages 466-467:
...in 1973, the Directors Guild of America offered a formal tribute to Lang... It was there, at the Directors Guild tribute, that the Last Dinosaur made a remarkable statement about fate, and himself. It had been over forty years since his first film, and thirteen years since his last. He had been pondering fate, in his life and work, for a long time. Most critics thought Fritz Lang's films were about the fight against fate and destiny. The philosophy the aging director now articulated rejected much of this critical theory, and bespoke his thoughtful stoicism approaching death.McGilligan, page 473:
"All of my German films and the best of my American ones deal with fate," Lang said at the Directors Guild tribute. "I don't believe in fate anymore. Everyone makes fate for himself. You can accept it, you can reject it and go on. There is no mysterious something, no God who puts the fate on you. It is you who makes the fate yourself."
A director who had suffered more than his fair share at the hands of fate thus executed a complete turnaround at the end of his life. What had Fritz Lang finally admitted? That not everything is preordained? Not everything was someone else's fault? That life was more comlicated than the through-line of the best scenario? Perhaps, that tragedy and mistakes flowed naturally from actions, and from a life completly lived?
Marriage [to his long-time girlfriend] would be the final means of controlling his legacy. So Lang finally agreed to marry Latte, although it was a ceremony that nobody witnessed. Lang told Dan Seymour that he and Lily were quietly married in Palm Springs. He told Howard Vernon that the two of them had eloped to Las Vegas. And he told Cornelius Schnauber that a rabbi had been summoned up to the house to formalize their union.McGilligan, page 475:
At last, it seemed, Lily Latte had become the third Frau Lang. The Directors Guild was notified for pension purposes. A will was drawn up where she was cited as Fritz Lang's wife and legal heir, and when the obituaries were written, she would be so described.
And yet a search of all available records in California and Nevada reveals no certificate of marriage. It appears to have been the last of the director's legends.
[Fritz Lang in his old age] had become very sentimental about his childhood, and seemed drawn again to his Catholicism. One day Lang asked Latte to get him a copy of "Our Father," whose words he had forgotten; then he asked for a priest to come and see him. It was shortly before he died. The director and the priest spoke privately. "Somehow he [Lang] was a relgious man," said actor Howard Vernon. "He needed it. I don't know if it was a faith built on fear, or respect of God. But he did consider himself a Catholic, which I found amusing, and not Jewish. But he also felt himself Jewish. He felt both, maybe, according to the circumstances--a rabbi for marriage, a priest for dying."McGilligan, page 477:
On August 2, 1976, his suffering ended... Lang was eight-five.
In the final years of his life, Lang had written, in German, a 20- to 30-page short story called "The Wandering Jew." It was "a kind of fable about a Wandering Jew," according to Pierre Rissient. After Lang's death, Rissient asked Latte [Fritz Lang's third wife] if he might arrange for its publication. "No," she replied, "because Fritz would want to be known as an atheist."McGilligan, pages 33-34:
Arriving back in Vienna [in] 1914, Lang felt like a stranger... Slowly Lang adjusted, rediscovering Vienna's sights and pleasures... Some excursions were almost talismanic. He joined other pilgrims at the two-towered Maria Taferl Church high above the Danube, across the river from the burial site of the archduke and his wife, at another church in Arstetten. He touched the iron tree stump at Stock-im-Eisen Square for good luck.McGilligan, page 47:
Perhaps it was [Fritz Lang's] very first script. Although Fritz placed the film in 1919, it seems possible,nevertheless, that Lilith und Ly was one of Lang's earliest hospital scenarios (the one he once vaguely recalled as a "werewolf story")... Contemporary newspaper notices claimed that the Lilith und Ly script was inspired by an original Sanskrit manuscript... which Lang acquired during his "extensive" travels in Asia. But the film's main idea, of an artificial creature brought to life with a slip of parchment, is clearly pinched from the Jewish legend of golem, a monster of clay which can only be brought to life by placing a sacred text into its mouth.McGilligan, page 53:
Then Lang wrote an otto Rippert melodrama called Die Frau mit den Orchideen (The Woman With Orchids). This may be the 1919 film... whre he claimed to have acted more than one role... "I appeared in a film of mine which Otto Rippet directed, as an actor in three roles: as a German mounted telegraph mesenger, as old [Catholic] priest, and as Death. The Viennese Touch!"...McGilligan, page 56:
Lang followed with another similarly themed scrip for Rippet. Tales that taught the pitfalls of love and sex--featuring respectable men ruined by lusty temptresses-would predominate throughout Fritz Lang's career... A blend of eroticism, violent crime, and the supernatural had already begun to emerge as Fritz Lang's forte.
The year 1919 was also, probably, the year the film director married "L."... Public records were searched in several countries, but "L"'s real name shows up only once: in family archives at Vienna's Rathaus, or City Hall. There the first wife of Fritz Lang was added to files as "Lisa Rosenthal"... Lisa Rosenthal may have been a pseudonym... Professor Cornelius Schnauber, who explored the subject of the first wife in guarded terms witht he director (and then, like Lotte Eisner, withheld discussion of her from his books about Lang), believed she may have been Jewish.McGilligan, pages 62-63:
Thea von Harbou [who would become Fritz Lang's second wife] was blond and blue-eyed, a stately German type... Her lineage was more Prussian than Lang's monocle.... Educated in a convent and by private tutors... Like Lang, von Harbou also enjoyed popular fiction; she worshiped Karl May and in her twenties could regale visitors by reciting May's translation of parts of the Koran.McGilligan, page 64:
Von Harbou [Fritz Lang's girlfriend and wife-to-be] was, like Lang, fascinated with India... Her first scenario in collaboration with Lang would exploit their mutual fixation with India... Von Harbou was busy with the adaptation of her 1917 novel Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb), when Joy May assigned Lang to help her with the writing and plan the details of production. Her novel was about a German architect who falls in love with a temple dancer in India. The scenario would be divided... into two parts: Part One, called Die Sendung des Yoghi (The Mission of the Yogi), would be followed by Part Two, Das indisch Grabmal.McGilligan, pages 87-88:
At the same time, von Harbou and Lang began to develop a second project, an original story that could not have been more dissimilar from the Indian epic. This scenario was drenched in melodrama and Christian mythology. The plot involved a woman and an out-of-wedlock child fathered by an author-philosopher who espouses free love. The illegitimate mother marries the man's twin brother. The author fakes his own suicide and goes off to live as a hermit in the mountains, where he is pursued by the distraught woman. The story ends with a miracle amid a spectacular snowstorm and avalanche, with a statue of the Virgin Mary that appears to come alive and walk on the snow. Hence the working title: "Madonna im Schnee."
May... gave a priority go-ahead to Das wandernde Bild (The Wandering Image), as "Madonna im Schnee" was eventually retitled. [More about the making of this film, one of many made by Lang that featured overt Catholic themes and imagery.]
The period of hard work, the crisis of his [Fritz Lang's first] wife's death, the presures of making Doktor Mabuse, der Spieler--all had passed by the mid-summer of 1922. Perhaps, then, it was merely to keep up appearances that Fritz Lang and Thea von Harboou decided to be married, on August 26, 1922, in Berlin-Schmargendorf at 8:30 A.M. They formally celebrated the success of the film, and cemented their husband-and-wife partnership.There is no indication that Fritz Lang was a Nazi or had Nazi leanings. His patriotic film Die Nibelungen unexpectedly became immensely popular among Nazis. McGilligan, pages 102-103:
In the marriage papers, Lang, following his father's example, declared his religion as agnostic ("without confession"), while von Harbou named herself a Protestant. Shortly after the wedding, according to her World War II interrogation papers, she stopped practicing any religion, "for private reasons."
Marriage was not the only realignment for the film director. Shortly after the ceremony, the Vienna-born Lang took out citizenship papers and pledged his patriotism to Germany. Such a move was "fashionable" at the time, he would hve to explain, defensively, years later.
When the Nazis came to rule, Lang's film [Die Nibelungen, 1924] seemed to rise up in patriotic esteem, even taking on a hint of dark political meaning. In 1929 the National Socialist paper Der Angrif praised Die Nibelungen as a "film of German loyalty." It is true that, as Lotte Eisner wrote, "this German film was he favorite viewing of Hitler and Goebbels, dark-complexioned men who saw themselves as blond heroes of a heroic race."McGilligan, pages 169-174:
...Kracauer was not the only one to point out the racial implications of certain characters. This was noticed by critics in 1924, when the film was first released. According to Frank Aschau in the widely read Berlin weekly Die Weltbuhne, "The evil dwarf Alberich, who represents obscure powers, is, and it can't be mistaken, depicted as a Jew. Not as a handsome Jew, naturally, but as a vile Jew." Lotte Eisner,coming to the director's rescue, argued in her book that if anyone exaggerated the racial implications, it was not the fault of Lang or Pommer. She insisted that makeup artist Otto Genarth was "simply influenced" by the grotesque character makeup" of the Russo-Jewish Habimah ensemble visiting Berlin at the time. Also in her book Eisner quoted Friedrich Engels, the socialist collaborator of Karl Marx, on the moving subtext of the Siegrfried legend. She extolled Lang's "realistic view" of the characters, which precluded any racism.
Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30... Many artists and intellectuals left Berlin immediately following the Reichstag fire, which Hitler blamed on the Communists, and which the Nazis used to whip up public furor... [Film producer] Seymour Nebenzahl was Jewish; so was Erich Pommer, as was widely known. ("Pure Jewish--everyone knew that," in the words of Conrad von Molo.) These two were scarcely alone. The Nazis ascribed Jewish lineage to a majority of motion picture figures, from the obscure to the most illustruous people. A Nazi Party tabulation in 1932, quoted by Helmut Heiber in his Goebbels biography, claimed Germany's motion picture distribution companies were 81 percent Jewish-run, with 41 percent of the scenarists, 45 percent of the composers, and 47 percent of the directors classified as Jewish, according to the Nazi racial arithmetic.McGilligan, pages 174-176:
Lang himself rarely mentioned his mother's [Jewish] background; when he did, it was a circumstance he played down, or misstated, or--in the most generous interpretation--regarded as irrelevant for most of the first half of his life, until history decreed otherwise. He steadfastly referred to himself as Catholic, though, ironically, many people in Germany's film world took it for granted that the director of Metropolis and M was Jewish.
With the rise of the Nazis and their hate-filled propaganda, anti-Semites--often with more than one ax to grind--made it their duty to ferret out ancestral clues and pigeonhole people as Jewish. And Fritz Lang had already begun to be mentioned within that category. The French magazine Cinemonde, for one, had referred to Lang as a Jew in its December 19, 1929, issue. "Although Jewish," reported the magazine, discussing the pros and cons of the director's latest motion picture, Die Frau im Mond, "Lang possesses all the qualities and faults of the Germanic race: patience, scientific application, reasonable temerity, but also grandiloquence, bombast, pride, chauvinism."
Lang would not have missed such an indiscreet item, and he would hvae to worry about its resonance in an increasingly Nazified Germany. There may have been similar squibs locally in Berlin. Several people interviewed for this book mentioned a rumor that they remembered circulating in Berlin early in 1933, a revelation, much bruited about in film circles, which alleged as fact what many of them already presumed--that Fritz Lang, the leading director in all of Hitler's Germany, was a Jew. "Some malicious tongue came out with the story that Mr. Lang's grandmother on one side or another was Jewish, and he fell out of favor," remembered Harold Nebenzal.
Some attributed this rumor to Thea von Harbou, Lang's estranged, Nazi-leaning wife--she who knew the family history. To whatever extent von Harbou was a Nazi, however, there is no hint of her acting spitefully toward Lang, nor any record of anti-Semitic words or deeds on her part...
Early in 1933 Goebbels had raised the stakes by calling or for a wide-scale boycott of all Jewish businesses. Shortly after the Nazis took over, Gobbels commandeered control of all radio operations, introducing new guidelines and restrictions, while denouncing Jewish onership and themes. Everyone anticipated that his next move would be aimed against the "Jewish" film industry...
Even though it was unclear what Gobbels would do, and how the not-yet-monolithic screen community would respond to any dictates, Lang had no real reason to suspect that he or his films would be specifically targeted. Indeed, in mid-March of 1933, the editing of Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse was just entering its final stages. It was an unfortunate coincidence of history that it would become one of the first films submitted for consideration to the Third Reich's new Minister of Propaganda.
...Lang's name was prominently displayed in a public announcement... on March 27, listing film figures who had taken part in the founding of the "directors' unit" of Nationalsozialistesche Betriebsorganisation (NSBO). This was part of the psuedo-union movement of National Socialist-minded workers...
This is the most damning scrap of evidence that Lang, hoping to stave off the moment of confrontation, cozied up to the Nazis. The director's partisans insist that his name could have been added tothe list without his direct approval. It could have been published expressly as Nazi publicity. Lang rarely addressed the issue, except for an assertion in a 1962 interview that he held no "managerial position" in any type of pro-Nazi organization.
...Fellow director Kurt Bernhardt, who detested Lang before and after the summit gathering, remembered bitterly that Lang was not only present, but sat alongside the new propaganda minister, lending him his prestige (Lang "never admitted being Jewish" then or any other time, Bernhardt made a point of adding). As one of the most recognizable personalities in Germany's film industry, the director may have had little option...
His [Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels's] speech singled out four favorite films as models to which good German filmmakers should aspire. One was Greta Garbo's Love, a 1927 silent film based on Anna Karenina, Tolstoy as rendered by the MGM director Edmund Goulding; another was Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin, the classic Russian film about a mutinous episode in the 1905 revolution; the third, Der Rebell (The Rebel), about the Tyrolean struggle for freedom against the Napoleonic occupation army, was a German film from 1932, co-directed by Luis Trenker and Kurt Bernhardt. The fourth was Fritz Lang's Die Nibelngun, which the Minister of Propaganda singled out for effusive praise: "There is an epic film that is not of our time, and yet it is so modern, so contemporary, so topical, that even the stalwards of the National Socialist movement were deeply moved."
"What a backstairs joke of film history, of world history almost!" Paul Erich Marcus wrote, years later. Eisnstein, Bernhardt, even Lang--according to common knowedge--were Jewish. Edmund Goulding, an Englishman, and Luis Trenker were the only gentiles among those listed by the anti-Semitic Gobbels. It was a chilling irony, and the Jews among the crowd realized their days in Geramny were numbered; many resolved then and there to flee at the first opportunity.
Following Goebbels, Adolf Engl of the Reichsverband der deutschen Lichtspieltheaterbesitzer (a national organization of theater owners) gave a speech, laying down "the hard line," according to David Stewart Hull in his book Film in the Third Reich. Engl called for an end to the influence wielded by the foreign-owned Tobis, non-German distributors, and the "Friedrichstrasse crowd" (a veiled reference to pioneering Jewish producers who had their offices on that street). Arnold Raether from the Ministry of Fine Arts concluded the program by telling the gloomy audience that in the future the government would issue permits only to companies and cinemas able to demonstrate conclusively their Nazi principles.
"No one at the meeting protested Goebbels's declaration becaue the walls of the room were lined with storm troopers," recalled Kurt Bernhardt. "If you said anything, you were dead."
...According to some accounts, Goebbels took Lang aside after this conference for a few words, sotto voce. That is how Lang himself told the story sometimes, and it is conceivable that Goebbels did whisper to the monocled director that he wanted him to come and speak to him in private about Das Testament...
Lang sometimes told it the other way around. According to Curt Riess, producer Seymour Nebenzahl, anticipating the blow of censorship, had asked Lang, against his own better judgment, to have a word with Goebbels. "His producer, who happened to be Jewish, had asked him to," wrote Riess, "because one of the first things Goebbels did was ban Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. The producer was sure that Lang would be able to get that ban lifted. Lang's conversation with Goebbels took a different turn."
...On the following day... the German Board of Film Censors announced that Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse had been banned from exhibition. The only reason given was that the film posed "a threat to law and order and public safety--in accordance with a regulation to be found in the Law of Censorship," noted Gosta Werner in Film Quarterly.
...According to Harold Nebenzal, his father [the film's producer, Seymour Nebenzahl] was an early and fervent anti-Nazi who in the early 1930s was already warning his Jewish friends to heed the ominous threats of Goebbels and the demagogic Gauleiter Julius Streicher and liquidate their businesses. Seymour Nebenzahl was under no passport restrictions because he was not a German citizen; fearing what was about to happen under Goebbels, according to his son, the producer loaded the negative of Das Testament into the trunk of his Mercedes with Dutch license plates and drove it across the border.
Another event on March 29, the day after the Kaiserhof meeting: The Ufa board convened, and the largest film company in Germany signaled its capitulation tot he Nazi regime by firing all Jewish employees.
...With his contacts among police and officials, Lang had no difficulty obtaining copies of the long-range Nazi plans. One ten-page document, which is preseved among the director's papers on deposit at the University of Southern California, outlined the projected rules and regulations in the new concentration camps. Lang went through the document dated January 8, 1934, marking up key points and underlining the sections describing the punishment that was to be duly meted out to "Jews and other people who are considered harmful to the State."
Indeed, it must have been a rude awakening, all of a sudden, for the high-powered German film director to be forced to think of himself as an ordinary human being--and a Jew.
[More on this subject, not excerpted here.]
It was either the "end of March,"... or... "early in April," that Goebbels and [Fritz] Lang sat down face-to-face at the Ministry of Propaganda on Wilhelmsplatz... Writing this story into the annals for posterity, it was crucial for the film director to fix the date as early as possible in 1933, to make it clear that he had faced up to the Nazis at the first opportunity.Fritz Lang's escape from Nazi territory into Paris was assisted by a girlfriend, Lily Latte. McGilligan, page 178:
In one version, which Lang gave to Movie magazine in 1962, he stated that Nazi henchmen approached him, threatening the censorship of Das Testament. Cocky, perhaps with the knowledge that his trusty Browning was near to hand, he mustered a curt riposte: "'If you think you can forbid a Fritz Lang picture in Germany, go ahead.'
"Then I was ordered to go see Dr. Goebbels..." ...Lotte Eistner's version of these momentous events related that Lang "followed a humiliating obstacle course through empty corridors... with bodyguards screaming 'Heil Hitler' behind him...
Goebbels, however, was charming. Lang always made took keen a point of Goebbels's charm... According to the Movie version, Goebbels profusely apologized for having to ban Das Testament...
On to more important business. The propaganda minister told the director that the Fuhrer was one of his most avid fans. The Fuhrer had "loved" Metropolis, which he had seen a low point in his career, and of course Die Nibelungen, too whose majesty had apparently caused the Nazi leader to break down and weep. Lang quoted Goebbels quoting Hitler: "Here is a man who will give us great Nazi films!"
Hitler, in short, wanted Lang to serve as the head of a new agency supervising motion picture production in the Third Reich. He would become the Nazi's Fuhrer of film.
The way Lang usually told the story, it was here and now that he suddenly realized the depth of trouble he was in. From that moment on he knew that he had to flee Germany. Now the director was really sweating... Lang's first thought was whether he might be able to escape Goebbels's presence in time to make it to the bank and withdraw some needed money. But the banks closed in the midafternoon...
Lang plunged into murky waters. Astonishingly, according to published accounts, hehimself ventured to mention his Jewish ancestry. "Mr. Minister, I don't know if you know that my mother, who was born Catholic, had Jewish parents." (Even if that wasn't quite the story.)
This could be overlooked, Goebbels replied, in light of Lang's service during the Great War.
There were many hand-me-down versions of this critical portion of their afternoon-long exchange. Director Billy Wilder, quoting one, told what happened next: Goebbels "brushed aside Fritz Lang's own objection that he wasn't a 'pure Aryan'--[reassuring him that] something could be arranged." Lang included a self-complimentary remark in his telling. "We know about the 'flaw' you have," Goebbels replied, "but your qualities as a film director are so exceptional that we intend to make you the president of the Reichsfilmkammer."
The director could have become an Ehrenarier (honorary Aryan)--of which there was a considerable number in Germany in the arts, especially before the last alarm bells went off in 1939. Lang probably could have avoided directly any explicitly Nazi propaganda films. Goebbels was perfectly in favor of the occasional Ehrenarier--and of innocuous entertainment. The "vast majority" of the films cranked out during Nazi rule were "light and frothy entertainments set in urbane surroundings and cozy circles, places where one never sees a swastika or hears a 'Sieg Heil,'" in the words of Eric Rentschler, author of The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife.
But could Fritz Lang imagine himself an Ehrenarier direcign light and frothy entertainments?
"Mr. Lang, we decide who is Jewish or not," Goebbels interrupted Lang's private thoughts, even more emphatically reassuring the director about his future in Hitler's Germany.
This is when Lang truly made up his mind--to get out of thre, out of that office, out of Berlin and Germany posthaste... "When I left," Lang picked up the story... "it was too late. I couldn't get any money. I went home and said to my servant, 'I have to go to Paris. Prepare what will be necessary for a few days,' because from that moment on I didn't dare tell the truth to anyone.
Some people beliee Lily Latte was especially alert to Hitler because she was more left-wing than Lang, even leaning toward Marxism; and that in America later on her thinking began to influence the progressive sociopolitical perspective of the director's motion picture output. Other people are astonished by this assessment, and assert that Lily Latte never uttered a political sentiment in her life.McGilligan, page 207:
No matter. Lily Latte was Jewish and, unlike Lang, highly conscioius of her Jewishness--highly conscious, earlier than the director, of the insidious Nazi ideology. "I think Lily Latte had something to do with Lang leaving Germany [when he did]," said Cornelius Schnauber, "because she was Jewish and she was already his mistress. She told me she warned him, 'One day they will also be after you.'"
Immigration and Naturalization records show that Latte crossed into the United States on December 20, 1935... Her papers state... Her race: Hebrew. Her nationality: German...McGilligan, pages 179-180:
What really happened?McGilligan, page 181:
Lang didn't make stories up out of whole cloth; he exaggerated, edited, embellished... Note how, as Georges Sturm has astutely pointed out, Goebbels's pronunciamento ("Mr. Lang, we decide who is Jewish . . .") compares with the widely quoted remark of Vienna Mayour Karl Lueger from the time when the director was a youth--it had virtual status as a proverb even then--"Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich" ("I determine who is Jewish").
Most likely the foredoomed encounter with Goebbels was actually an extended series of meetings, brief and casual and relatively congenial. Probably the one climactic meeting between the two nevr did take place, in exactly that way. Perhaps the meetings, whether they occurred three o'clock in the afternoon or late at night, carried on for some time after March or April 1933.
Perhaps Lang dithered and dallied, trying to decide whether to accept Goebbels's offer, or how to get out of it gracefully. Perhaps he struggled with the question: How Jewish am I?
Lang's cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner told film historian Gero Gandert an anecdote about sitting in a limousine with the director, one day, on the way to some unnamed film location. Lang told his favorite cameraman plainly that Goebbels had offered him the dictatorship of the German film industry. And Lang asked wagner, "Should I accept?"
Although for years the Goebbels legend was accepted wholesale by film fans and the pres, one group that always regarded it skeptically was Lang's fellow refugees from Germany who wound up in America. Gottfried Reinhardt was one of severl who stated in an interview, "Lang could have sayed in Germany, there's no question about it, if they hadn't found out that he was half-Jewish. He tired to stay. He was a dishonorable man, a totally cynical man. I dn't think he gave a damn [about politics]."
As Lang refined his story in interviews, it annoyed the emigres all the more. Twenty years after his death, it still inflames Germans in Germany, where Lang--for better or worse--remains central to the cultural heritage. A new generation of film historians and journalists there have investigated the Goebbels story, accusing Lang of slowness or indifference where the Third Reich was concerned, while noting the self-serving as well as political reasons he had for leaving Berlin in 1933.
In its November 26, 1990, issue, the German magazine Der Spiegel went to the lengths of publishing a sensationalistic artice... analyzing the director's 1933 passport. The article, written by editor Willi Winkler, summarized Lang's version of events, compared dates with the passport, and concluded that the director had falsified the facts.
"Lang knew exactly how, his whole life long, to style his own myth," wrote Winkler. "His biggest success was the Goebbels number. He was the only witness." The dawning came late for the "apolitical Lang." The director realized that he was "half-Jewish" and that "the Nazis might start to get serious about race politics." The German national weekly casually discounted Lang's Jewishness as the root motivation for his departure: "The real reason [he left Germany] was his hurt male pride."
March and April  were certainly hectic months: the banning of Das Testament, Goebbels in public and private... and the dissolution of the marriage between Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou... The divorce rocked Berlin's film scene. Even in America the news was reported in the press, giving as one of the causes of their separation the revalation that Fritz Lang was "not Aryan."McGilligan, page 182:
After Lang left [Germany], German film interests tried to salvate Das Testament by mandating the shooting schedule of some additional footage that would please Goebbels, including flashbacks with the Inspector Lohmann character. "There was a lot of money involved," explained Andrew Marton, the man brought in to perform surgical editing, who was himself Jewish and who would later escape to England and join the exodus to America, where in time he became a prominent second-unit director.McGilligan, pages 183-184:
By 1938... Fritz Lang's disertion of Germany in favor of the United States. By then, the director had made it clear that he would never return to the fatherland. He had been stripped of German nationality and had taken the U.S. pledge of citizenship, and he was conspicuously engaged in directing highly-touted movies in Hollywood, wher he was widely reported by the press asa virulent anti-fascist opposed to Hitler's dictatorial regime.More about Fritz Lang's second wife, Thea von Harbou, from: McGilligan, pages 330-331:
Even so, over time Lang was spared the worst of the Nazi vilification suffered by Jewish and non-Jewish artists who chose to leave Germany. There seems to hve been genuine regret in his case, as if the Nazi leaders also blamed themselves for fatally misreading the man who had directed their immortal Die Nibelungen...
Lang, however, was included indirectly in Fritz Hippler's 1940 pseudo-documentary Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) which included scenes from M in it ssweeping attack on "degenerate Jewish art." Hans Beckert's final monologue, inserted out of context, was presented as a Jewish confession, proving the race was incapable of controlling its base desires and unfit to live in a "moral society." One of the most memorable soliloquies in cinema, the final monologue was ironically the speech for which Fritz Lang always gave undiluted credit to his wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou, who was in fact in solid standing with the Nazis.
All famous people who had joined the NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers' Party, i.e., the Nazis] were suspect in Germany after the war [World War II], and Thea von Harbou was detained in Staumuhle, a pison camp run by the British, from July 10 through October 10, 1945...McGilligan, pages 192-194:
Whether von Harbou or her interrogators jotted down the comment in her detention papers that she was divorced from "the Jewish director Fritz Lang" is uncertain, but otherwise her former husband did not come up in the questioning. Von Harbou denied any anti-Semitism, denied involvement in any Aryanization of Jewish property, noting instead several instances where she had acted as a good Samaritan--helping people out of Germany or out of trouble with Goebbels (including her Jewish secretary Hilde Guttmann and actor Alfred Abel, who had played the master of Metropolis). "Although I am unwilling to mention things that I once found a matter of course," von Harbou told the interrogators, "I don't think there is anyone who can claim that I hurt or insulted them because of their race."
It is sadly true, however, that she prospered during the Nazi reign. Von Harbou worked with dedicated Nazi filmmakers such as Gustav Ucicky and Veidt Harlan, the latter the director of the infamous Jud Suss (1940)--a film described by historian Richard Grunberger as "the cinematic curtain-raiser for the Final Solution." She seemed at the beck and call of that Staatsrat, or "Artist of the State," actor Emil Jannings, one of the most prominent Nazi enthusiasts, and a friend from the time of her salad days in the theater. Von Harbou acted as a "script doctor" or consultant on several Jannings vehicles. And she wrote the script for at least one film (1943's Die Gattin) starring one of Goebbels's actress-girlfriends, Jenny Jugo.
Her annual income, which she listed for the American questionnaire ranged near 120,000 Reichsmarks a year, or close to the tremendous sum of $50,000. The spring of 1940, when she admitted to joining the [Nazi] party, was actually a propitious time to become a Nazi: Things were going well in the war, and it might not have seemed like any kind of risk.
Significantly, even in the formal statement she made in her own defense, von Harbou didn't distance herself from the Nazi ideology, nor express any repentance for Third Reich wrongdoing. This was something that always bothered even some of her close relatives. Her nephew, Vinayak Tendulkar, lived with her as a boy for almost a year after the war. "She never criticized in any way," said Tendulkar, "never mentioned any dislike of the Nazis. She must have known, because she was moving in Germany's high society, of the inhuman rule of the Nazis--the treatment of Jews and others."
Von Harbou's indomitable, upbeat personality did not change. In prison she directed a version of Faust. Once released, the scenarist of Der mude Tod, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, and M toiled as one of the Trummerfrauen, or "rubble women," for a solid year, from October 1945 to October 1946. To earn her food rations and coupons, she stooped among the rubble, separating the good bricks from bad, helping to rebuild Germany.
People in Hollywood remembered [Fritz] Lang cackling when he learned von Harbou had been reduced to collecting bricks from Berlin rubble. Yet her interrogation papers point out that, at age fifty-seven, she would have been exempt from this back-breaking work: Von Harbou had volunteered.
When the daily work on Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse came to an end, Conrad von Molo had taken a job on another film for Ufa, Walzerkrieg (Waltz Time in Vienna); this was direced by Ludwig Berger, another well-known director of the era, born in Germany, who also happened to be Jewish. (Bergen's contract would be nullified for that reason by the Ufa board at the close of production.)McGilligan, pages 199-200:
But von Molo had kept in touch with [Fritz] Lang... Arriving for the first time of his life in Paris, he [von Molo] spotted Fritz Lang himself at the station, waiting for him. Lang stood with someone von Molo recognized but didn't know personally: Robert Liebmann. This writer, who, like Lnag, had only one good eye (the other was glass), ranked as one of Germany's leading scenarists [screenwriters] since his adaptation of Der blaue Engel in 1930. A former journalist and critic, Liebmann was expert at blending fantasy and realism, and in his career wrote, often in collaboration, over one hundred outstanding thrillers, musical comedies,parodies, adventure, horror, and crime films.
Liebmann, who was Jewish, also had fled Nazi Germany. He and his colleague Hans Muller had been victims of the March 29 Ufa-board purge of Jewish employees, and in fact were denied credit on the screen for their last script--the film von Molo had been workin on, in fact, Walzerkrieg. Now Liebmann was adapting Liliom for Pommer and Lang...
Liebmann was one German film refugee who never left Paris, and whose fate became "unknown" after Nazi Germany occupied France in 1940. Only recently, French film historian Bernard Eisenschitz confirmed that Liebmann perished in a Nazi death camp during the war.
Right from the first showings, [Fritz Lang's film] Liliom was maligned. The Catholic clergy and militant Catholic youth of France raised a protest. The scenes on earth were too sexually provocative, but even they were preferable to the jocular ones set in a cotton-candy heaven. The French Catholic Church decided that "the film was anti-Catholic and showed Fritz Lang's conception as being too much against that of the Church," according to Mandelik.McGilligan, pages 273-274:
...The carnival and outdoor scenes, filmed on soundstages, are a feast for the senses, fluidly staged and photographed. The knife fight, for which the sound track goes abruptly silent, is one of those rituals of death that the director staged, in film after film, with the intricacy of a dance routine. The scenes in heaven are spiked with humor, even if the Catholic Church failed to recognize their underlying reverence.
The director [Fritz Lang] was still in an obliging mood, however. When cast and crew decamped to locations near Kanab, Utah, Lang could breathe a sigh and do his best to enjoy himself. He visited nearby Indian reservations during shooting breaks. The box-office popularity of The Return of Frank James and the constant presence of Virginia Gilmore made the production pleasant, and the chore relatively simple...McGilligan, page 389:
In later years, the director would remmeber one shot in Western Union, engineered by Cronjager, with considerable pride: A camera pans up a telegraph pole to reveal a loose wire cut by an Indian war spear, then a ninety-degree pan reveals a nearby troop of Indians arrayed in war paint. But in general the production minimized the director's pictorial strengths. Lang in the wilds was surprisingly restrained, almost subdued in the face of God's surroundings; and he didn't warm to color, ironically--not in his previous Western or this one--until he moved indoors to shoot Moonfleet many years later...
...Western Union isn't such a bad picture. It's quite ageeable, really, the opposite of the intended rugged saga... Robert Young plays the tenderfoot, Richard Blake, who is trying to live up to the expectations of his rich father (Dean Jagger [later a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]).
Screen rights for Clash by Night [which became a film directed by Fritz Lang] had been purchased by an earlier RKO regime. Now the plan was to remove the "social background of unemployment" (Lang's words) and all the hard-edged political realism of the stage play. And sanitizing Odets would be the task of screenwriter Alfred Hayes.McGilligan, pages 447-448:
A complex, erudite personality, [Alfred] Hayes cuts an intriguing figure in this equation. Born in London, raised in New York City, he had been a young Communist poet--didactic, not unlike Brecht--who was once extolled in New Masses as the "lyric poet of the New York working class." Hayes's stanzas eulogizing Joe Hill, the militant labor organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World executed in Utah in 1915, were adapted into a ballad by songwriter Earl Robinson; the song, "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Again," would become a standard folk tune and rallying cry on picket lines.
In Rome, from 1961 to 1962, [Fritz] Lang worked on some attractive prospects--including another epic set in India.McGilligan, page 470:
Lang took on the India project for a Rome-based production company, agreeing to live in Rome on and off for several months. He helped develop a script for "Kali Yung and Moon Dassemra," film that would focus on the nineteenth-century mass killings perpetrated by a secret cult, the Brotherhood of Thugs [Thugee]. The hero of the screen story was a young cholera doctor, falsely accused of cult involvement, trying to clear his name by eradicating the conspiratorial society... This notorious cult appears in both Gunga Din and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Lang's project was eventually filmed by Italian director Mario Camerini in 1963 as Kali Yug - La Dea della Vendetta.
A longtime opponent of the Production Code, Lang found himself mourning its passing, and bemaoning the excesses of nudity and sex that took up increasing screen time in the early 1970s. At the same time Lang found it his professional obligation to keep up with the burdgeoning field of pornographic films. He was over eighty when he expressed a desire to see Deep Throat, the X-rated hit starring Linda Lovelace that was so controversial. So one of his surrogate sons trooped with him down to one of the smut theaters on Santa Monica Boulevard. Lang sat up front, close to the screen, peering at the closeups of fellatio with his outsized magnifying glass. "He wanted to see it because everybody was talking about it in this town and it was selling out," said Dan Seymour.From: Patrick McGilligan, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, St. Martin's Press: New York (1997), page 89:
Afterward, the director pronounced Deep Throat disgusting. Not everyone in the Web knew that the Master Spider [Lang] had gone to watch the hard-core film, so another time, another surrogate son was recruited to take the director back to the relevant theater. Once again Lang watched Deep Throat, up close, front row, magnifying glass--and once again Fritz Lang pronounced it disgusting.
The extraordinary achievements of Der mude Tod and Doktor Mabuse, der Spieler would have been enough to ensure Fritz Lang's lasting position among the greatest German directors, even if he had never worked again. One who equaled Lang in stature, Ernst Lubitsch--a proven master of both Jewish comedy and grandiose epics--had left Berlin for Hollywood in December of 1922... another filmmaker raised in Vienna, G. W. Pabst, who arguably matched Lang in his uneven career, was just emerging in 1923. Only F. W. Murnau rivaled Lang's pre-eminence.The final page of McGilligan's landmark biography of Fritz Lang, from: McGilligan, page 481:
Up in heaven, if there is a heaven for tyrannical screen artists, the director is reading this with a smile and a frown. The smile is for the perfect martini in his hand and the ideal producer he has met up with there. If only he could redo, remake, everything!
The frown is for Lotte Eisner's book, which, of course, as he foretold, Lang finally has been able to read in heaven. Eisner's book was published in 1976, shortly after Lang's death, and dedicated to "my old friend Fritz Lang, whom fate did not enable to hold this book in his hand." She bent over backward to honor tht friendship. Lang was given credit for the silliest things: the title of The Return of Frank James, with its "double meaning"; even the choice of name for Jesse James's brother Frank, "rightly named, upright, straightforward, naturally decent." No Fritz Lang film was less than worthy, even American Guerrilla in the Philippines. There, location photography was mandated by the director's "passion for documentary detail"; somehow Lang has transformed an episodic script into a "chanson de geste, reminiscent of Brecht's epic theater."
Her book would turn out to be "a saint's life," in the words of David Overbey, who asisted Eisner. In her memoirs, eight years later, Eisner admitted that the Lang book was "patchy" and "cursed." There were translation problems, but the real, emotional problem for Eisner was her closeness to her subject. She couldn't break free with her own thoughts. Knowing Lang for nearly fifty years had finally intimidated her.
Up in heaven, Lily Latte [Fritz Lang's third wife] is off on an errand. Lotte Eisner, who died in 1983, is sitting to one side of the director, awaiting his remarks. Peter the monkey sits on the other side. Lang's monocle is clenched in his eye. He has filled pages and pagesof a yellow pad with his criticisms and corrections. The director looks up at Peter, gives him a theatrical wink. "Are you ready . . .?"
When Fritz Lang is finished with that book, he will start right in on this one.