AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Hangmen Also Die!
Alternate Title: We Killed Hitler's Hangman
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   26 Mar 1943
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 24 Mar 1943; Prague, OK premiere: 27 Mar 1943
Production Date:   late Oct--mid-Dec 1942
Duration (in mins):   131
Duration (in feet):   12,555
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   H. H. v. Twardowski (Reinhard Heydrich)  
    Brian Donlevy (Dr. Franticek Svoboda)  
    Walter Brennan (Stepan Novotny, Professor of History)  
    Anna Lee (Mascha Novotny)  
    Nana Bryant (Mrs. Novotny)  
    Billy Roy (Beda Novotny)  
    Margaret Wycherly (Ludmilla Novotny)  
    Dennis O'Keefe (Jan Horok)  
    Gene Lockhart (The beerbrewer Emil Czaka)  
    Tonio Selwart (Chief of Gestapo Kurt Haas)  
    Alexander Granach (Gestapo Inspector Alois Gruber)  
    Reinhold Schunzel (Gestapo Inspector Ritter)  
    Louis Donath (Schirmer)  
    Arno Frey (Camp Lieutenant)  
    Sarah Padden (Mrs. Dvorak)  
    Jonathan Hale (Dedic)  
    Byron Foulger (Bartos)  
    Edmund MacDonald (Mr. Pillar)  
    Lionel Stander (The Taxi Driver)  
    Lester Sharpe (Rudy)  
    Arthur Loft (General Votruba)  
    George Irving (Neeval)  
    James Bush (Pescacek)  
    Virginia Farmer (Landlady)  
    William Farnum (Viktorin)  
    Emmett Vogan (Hostage)  
    William Benedict (Hostage)  
    John Abbott (Hostage)  
    Charles Middleton (Member of underground)  
    Eddie Kane (Head waiter)  
    Ralph Dunn (Czech policeman)  

Summary: In Prague, Czechoslovakia, surgeon Franticek Svoboda is pursued by the Blackshirts, a division of Nazi police, and is assisted in evading them by Mascha Novotny, a passerby who misdirects the Blackshirts. After news comes that the Nazis' head executioner, known as the "Reichsprotector," has been assassinated, Nazi officials close all businesses early. Franticek is unable to find a room for the night because he is out after curfew, so, having gotten her address from a flower shop, he appears at Mascha's door just after her fiancĂ©, Jan Horok, leaves. Mascha realizes that he is the assassin and reluctantly lets him in, pretending that he is "Karel Vanyek," a stranger she met at a symphony. Mascha's father, Professor Stepan Novotny, invites Franticek to spend the night as their guest because he is sympathetic to the underground movement, for which Franticek is working. That same night, the taxi driver who delivered Franticek to the scene of the crime is questioned at Gestapo headquarters and commits suicide rather than face torture. Mrs. Dvorak, a vegetable seller who was seen speaking with Mascha is also questioned and beaten by the Gestapo. Unable to identify the killer, Chief of Gestapo Kurt Haas orders that 400 Czechoslovakian civilians be arrested and held until the killer surrenders. Stepan is among those arrested, but he goes willingly, as he knows the importance of the resistance movement. Franticek suffers a guilty conscience because of the widespread response to his act, but his co-conspirators urge him not to surrender as they feel his struggle is a symbol for all Czechoslovakians. Distraught over her father's arrest, Mascha begs Franticek to give up, but he refuses. Mascha attempts to turn him in to the Gestapo, but meets with resistance from the Underground. By the time she arrives at Gestapo headquarters, Mascha grasps the importance of Franticek's act, and therefore only begs for Stepan's life. Inspector Ritter consults with Inspector Alois Gruber and Haas, who suspect that she is the woman who misdirected the Blackshirts, but they release her. Mascha then goes to see Jan, who is distraught because he has been interrogated all day by the Nazis and thinks Mascha has been unfaithful with Franticek. Mascha allays his fears without revealing the true nature of her involvement with Franticek. As she leaves Jan's apartment, Mascha is arrested by the Gestapo, and they put her in a cell with Mrs. Dvorak. One by one, everyone acquainted with the Novotnys is interviewed, and all remain faithful to the story about "Vanyek," although the Gestapo has confirmed that no one by that name exists. When Gestapo police intercept a note and roses intended for Mascha from "Vanyek," they release Mascha, who then is visited by Franticek. Knowing that Mascha's apartment is bugged, Franticek gives Mascha written lines to repeat. While revealing his true identity to her, Franticek leads the Gestapo police to believe that he is merely a suitor. Haas is convinced of Franticek and Mascha's innocence and calls off his investigation, but Gruber remains suspicious. Franticek and Dedic, the leader of the underground movement, hatch a plan to free the hostages without betraying Franticek. To this end, they invite Czech beer brewer and Nazi informant Emil Czaka to lunch. Czaka suspects it is a set-up and informs Gruber of the appointment. During the lunch, Czaka unwittingly confirms his affiliation with the Nazis, and the underground members try to take him hostage. When Czaka attempts to escape, Gruber's police shoot members of the underground and take others hostage. Dedic escapes to Franticek's apartment with a bullet in his lung, while his captive partners refuse to divulge their secrets to the brutal Gestapo. A taxi driver, meanwhile, informs the Gestapo about the bleeding man he dropped near Franticek's apartment, and Gruber and the police converge on the apartment. Gruber finds Franticek and Mascha in an apparently compromising situation, but fails to find Dedic. However, Gruber shames Mascha in front of Jan, who then goes on a drinking spree with Gruber. The next day, Gruber suddenly recalls a detail from the night before and realizes that he was set up. Jan tries to stop him from leaving, but Gruber knocks him unconscious. The Gestapo, meanwhile, has begun indiscriminate executions of the hostages in groups of forty. Under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo, Mascha and Franticek go to Czaka's favorite restaurant, where Mascha pretends to recall Czaka as the man she saw running from the scene of the murder. Czaka is at first confident of his alibi, but every person then interviewed supports Mascha's story. Czaka's final hope lies with Gruber, with whom he spoke on the day of the murder. Gruber, however, is murdered by Franticek and Jan. When later questioned by the Gestapo about Gruber's disappearance, Jan testifies that Gruber spent the night carousing with him, but then left in the morning. Czaka admits that he was home in the morning, and is shocked when his butler lies that Gruber visited him. Gestapo police search Czaka's house and find Gruber's calling card, a gun whose bullets match those used to kill the executioner, a train time table, and Gruber's dead body. Czaka is arrested as the assassin and the hostages are released. As Czaka is being driven to Gestapo headquarters, the inspector stops the car and releases him, then shoots him in the back as he runs to a church. Later, an official report from Berlin affirms that Czaka was not the assassin, but declares that as "the sharpest terror failed to force the people to denounce the real assassin," they must "save the face of the German occupational authority and choose the lesser evil by accepting Czaka as the assassin and thus close the case." 

Production Company: Arnold Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
  Walter Mayo (Asst dir)
  Fred Pressburger (Asst dir)
Producer: Arnold Pressburger (Pres)
  Fritz Lang (Prod)
  T. W. Baumfeld (Assoc prod)
Writer: John Wexley (Scr)
  Bert Brecht (Adpt and orig story)
  Fritz Lang (Adpt and orig story)
Photography: James Wong Howe (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: William Darling (Art dir)
Film Editor: Gene Fowler Jr. (Ed)
Set Decoration: Julie Heron (Set dresser)
Costumes: Eleanor Behm (Miss Lee's dresses by)
Music: Hanns Eisler (Mus)
  Arthur Gutmann (Cond)
Sound: Fred Lau (Sd)
  Jack Whitney (Sd rec)
  Sound Services, Inc. (Sd rec)
Make Up: Blagoe Stephanoff (Makeup)
Production Misc: Max Pretzfelder (Tech adv)
  Carley Harriman (Prod mgr)
Country: United States

Songs: "No Surrender," music by Hanns Eisler, lyrics by Sam Coslow.
Composer: Sam Coslow
  Hanns Eisler

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Arnold Productions, Inc. 26/3/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP11978

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
 
Subjects (Major): Assassination
  Gestapo
  Nazis
  Patriotism
  Prague (Czechoslovakia)
  World War II--Resistance movements
 
Subjects (Minor): Arrests
  Brewers and breweries
  Engagements
  Escapes
  Executions
  Family relationships
  Florists
  Impersonation and imposture
  Informers
  Suicide
  Surgeons
  Taxicab drivers
  Torture
  Wire-tapping
  World War II--Collaborators

Note: The working titles of this film were Never Surrender , Unconquered and We Killed Hitler's Hangman . The film closes with shots of Prague and the words "NOT The End." The actors are listed in different order in the two opening credit lists. Actor Reinhold Schunzel's surname is misspelled "Schuenzel" in the onscreen credits. This film was inspired by the 1942 assassination of Nazi Deputy Protector of Bohemia-Moravia Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, Czechoslovakia, by a Czech resistance fighter. Heydrich, known as the "Hangman of Europe," was responsible for proposing and enacting the methodical extermination of Jews during the early years of World War II. Nazi troops retaliated against the Czech people for Heydrich's death with the massacre and destruction of the people and town of Lidice. Over 1,600 people were killed. In 1943, MGM also released a film about Heydrich titled Hitler's Madman .
       According to a 13 Nov 1942 HR news item, director Fritz Lang considered using Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem, "The Murder of Lidice," as a prologue to this film. Although the poem does not appear in this film, it was used in Hitler's Madman (see below). An Aug 1942 LAEx news item reported that the producers were hoping to cast actress Teresa Wright in the film, and HR reported that John Beal had been cast. Although a still photograph indicates that Ray Middleton was cast in the production, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to a HR news item, the film's premiere in Prague, OK, featured a "hanging in effigy" of Adolf Hitler. This was Bertolt Brecht's first and only U.S. screen credit. Brecht had fled Nazi Germany but returned to Europe in 1947 to avoid questioning by HUAC. According to a modern source, he wrote other American scripts but did not get screen credit on those films. Modern sources report that writer John Wexley earned a solo screenplay credit after he submitted a case to the Writer's Guild claiming that Fritz Lang and Brecht had worked mostly on the original story. Modern sources also note that at the time Brecht was working on the screenplay, he was under investigation by the FBI, as were many German American citizens, due to the war. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), and Best Sound Recording. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Mar 43   p. 95.
Box Office   27 Mar 1943.   
Daily Variety   23 Mar 43   p. 3, 6
Film Daily   23 Mar 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Sep 1942.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Oct 42   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Nov 42   p. 3, 9
Hollywood Reporter   18 Dec 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Mar 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Apr 43   p. 6.
Los Angeles Examiner   29 Aug 1942.   
Motion Picture Herald   27 Mar 1943.   
New York Times   16 Apr 43   p. 24.
Variety   24 Mar 43   p. 20.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
AFI Membership
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.