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FRITZ LANG by Patrick McGilligan

FRITZ LANG

The Nature of the Beast

By Patrick McGilligan

Pub Date: June 25th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-13247-6
Publisher: St. Martin's

 An adroit and revealing biography of the talented director of such classics as Metropolis and M. Few directors weathered the transition from silent movies to sound as successfully as Lang. His success in doing so may have been, in part, due to the fact that his aesthetic remained essentially visual, a masterful and calculated use of angles, framing, and lighting. Beyond their usefulness in creating tableaux vivants, actors were, he seemed to feel, more of an annoyance than anything else. Not surprisingly, the notoriously perfectionist Lang mistreated some very high-priced talent, including Peter Lorre, Spencer Tracy, and Marlene Dietrich, as well as a raft of hapless producers. As Henry Fonda once remarked: `` `It just doesn't occur to him that actors are human beings. . . . He is the master puppeteer, and he is happiest only when he can manipulate the blank puppets.' '' Only perhaps in M, the tale of a wretched child-killer, did Lang achieve a full and rich psychological portrait. With his ever-present monocle and soldierly bearing, Lang seemed the epitome of the autocratic Prussian, but in truth he was not only Viennese but half-Jewish and a committed leftist. Soon after Hitler came to power, Lang--then considered Germany's greatest director--went into self-imposed exile in Hollywood. He was a dedicated mythomaniac, and veteran film biographer McGilligan (Jack's Life, 1994, etc.) does an extraordinarily thorough job of separating Lang fact from Lang fable. Despite the constant battles on the set and budget overruns, Lang worked well into his 70s. His retirement years, however, were pure Sunset Boulevard, as the nearly blind Lang kept detailed diaries of the minutiae of his day, conversed with his wooden pet monkey, Peter, and had longtime live-in ex-lover Lilly Latte regularly procure him prostitutes. McGilligan is not a graceful stylist, but he has a great story to tell, and he tells it with verve, originality, and insight. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen)