Friedrich “Fritz” Christian Anton Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was an Austrian-German-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany’s school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the “Master of Darkness” by the British Film Institute.[1] His most famous films are the groundbreaking Metropolis (the world’s most expensive silent film at the time of its release) and M, made before he moved to the United States, where he contributed greatly to film noir.

Goebbels rumour

On the set of The Woman in the Moon, 1929

Many of the rumors about Lang’s life and career are hard to verify. The most famous rumor is that Joseph Goebbels called Lang to his offices for a meeting in which he gave Lang two pieces of news[4]. The first was that his most recent film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, 1933) was being banned as an incitement to public disorder. The second was that he was nevertheless so impressed by Lang’s abilities as a filmmaker, he was offering Lang a position as the head of German film studio UFA. Lang had been, unbeknownst to Goebbels, already planning to leave Germany for Paris, but the meeting with Goebbels ran so long that the banks were closed by the time it finished, and Lang fled that night without his money, not to return until after the war.

The problem is that many portions of the story cannot be checked, and of those that can, most are contradicted by the evidence: Lang actually left Germany with most of his money, unlike most refugees, and made several return trips later in the same year. There were, of course, no witnesses to the meeting besides Goebbels and Lang, but Goebbels’s appointment books, when they refer to the meeting, mention only the banning of Testament. No evidence has been discovered in any of Goebbels’s writings to affirm the suggestion that he was planning to offer Lang any position. Jean-Luc Godard‘s film Contempt (1963), in which Lang appeared as himself, presents a bare outline of the story as fact.

Whatever the truth of this story, it is known that Lang did in fact leave Germany in 1934 and moved to Paris, where he filmed a version of Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom, starring Charles Boyer. This was Lang’s only film in French (not counting the French version of Testament). He then went to the United States. Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou, who had started to sympathize with the Nazis in the early 1930s and joined the Nazi party (the NSDAP) in 1932, stayed behind. The two were divorced in 1933.

While his career had ended without fanfare, his American and later German works were championed by the critics of the Cahiers du cinéma. Lang died in 1976 and was interred in the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.