Review: Hangmen Also Die!
Blu-ray: Hangmen Also Die! (1943)
Hangmen Also Die! is set in wartime Czechoslovakia, where surgeon Franticek Svoboda is pursued by the Nazi police and is assisted in evading them by Mascha Novotny. News spreads that the Nazis’ head executioner, known as the Reichsprotector (the Hangman) has been assassinated. Is the doctor the killer?
With Fritz Lang as director and Bertolt Brecht as screenwriter it seems sacrilegious to do anything other than give this a glowing review. Now I love ‘classic’ films that are black and white, so having only ever read about this film I was rather excited to watch it. I knew it would look fantastic (James Wong Howe is the cinematographer) and it certainly does, with a new BFI 2K restoration cleaning not only the picture but also the sound. It has been recut to include some ‘censored’ material (possibly the hint of Nazi torture).
I normally watch a film, then re-watch before I write about it, and although I was entertained and occupied for the first 20 minutes or so, I found myself drifting off mainly because of the labyrinthine plot of various shouty Nazis and stuffy suited Czech baddies/goodies (Walter Brennan plays the heroine’s Father, which is quite strange as I expected him to put on a cowboy hat and ride off on a donkey).
It was only on re-watching with Richard Peña’s extremely informative commentary over the film that it became more ‘alive’ for me. His insight lifts it up, opens it wide and him pointing out the once missing scenes makes this a wholly different film experience…up to a point, and then I became somewhat bored again. I never moan about watching what I like to call ‘Hardcore’ films – meaning films you can’t look at your phone while watching… but this one, it was too long, and too… convoluted for my taste. So despite its pedigree and history AND restoration, I must admit that if it had half an hour chopped off it, it might have captured my attention throughout.
Great extras again; the story of the hangman presented by author Richard Gerwarth is essentially the true story of the real hangman and his British funded Czech assassins.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
- 2K restoration from original film materials of the full-length uncensored version
- High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Audio commentary by film historian Richard Peña
- Story of a Hangman: Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, an interview with the author of Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich
- Newsreel footage
- Restoration comparison
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
First pressing only: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing by Gerd Gemunden, author of Continental Strangers: German Exile Cinema, 1933-1951