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DVD SAVANT

Jump Cut #7:
HANGMEN ALSO DIE


Director of the Wannsee Conference and architect of the Final Solution, Reinhard Heydrich.

11.06.10: An uncut disc exists -- although it seems to be already OOP. Read the DVD Savant review here. Savant's original 2000 DVD Savant review of Hangmen Also Die! is still up as well.

Near the end of the Kino Video DVD of Hangmen Also Die!, there's a telltale jump cut that even the sharp-eyed Video Watchdog failed to detect (Tim Lucas, issue #45).

Just as the evil Czech traitor Emil Czaka (an excellent Gene Lockhart) is dying a la James Cagney on the steps of a church at midnight, the film undergoes a ragged CUT to an airy SS office for a fast but unsatisfying ending.

The Nazis read coded messages acknowledging that they identified the wrong man as the assassin of Reinhard Heydrich, the 'Hangman of Prague', but in order to save face, must claim there was no error. The movie ends with a song of freedom over long shots of the city.

The problem is that the story arc of Hangmen Also Die! has not been closed. Czaka has paid his debt, true, but there's no real finish for Dr. Swoboda (Brian Donlevy), Mascha Novotny (Anna Lee) or her Professor father (Walter Brennan). As Professor Novotny is a hostage with the Nazis and on the brink of being executed, the situation begs for closure. None of these very emotionally gripping stories is resolved. Classicus Interruptus.

Seeing that a job needed to be done, Savant headed immediately to the books. All of them repeat what the Internet Movie Database says - Hangmen Also Die! is supposed to be 140 minutes long. Kino clocks their nice new DVD in at 133 min, 52 seconds. Even the British Board of Film Censors offered useful information: On May 31 of 1943 it gave the film (imported through a U-boat blockade, we suppose) an A for Adult rating at just under 139 minutes.

Lotte Eisner's great book Fritz Lang had the answer sought by Savant. It too listed the running time as 140 minutes. But on page 230 of the hardbound edition she describes missing material:

"... the spectator is thrown into new suspense as to whether the conviction of Czaka will in fact halt the killing of the hostages [Note: With the heroine's father among them]. Some copies of the film circulating in France do not, in fact, show the death of Novotny and the remaining hostages; but in the original version of the film the fact of the shooting of the professor was shown, followed by the flower-decked graves of the hostages, to indicate that the Nazis in fact broke their promise..."

This pretty much solves this part of the riddle, but it opens up another. Does the 134-minute Kino print represent this one missing section, or is it even shorter than the British cut, officially 138m, 53s long? Was the British film cut for violence or grossness (the Nazi zit-picking?) and the original ending left untouched? Was the French cut the same as what's now on Kino's disc?

So, the hostages were shot after all and the heartbroken survivors were left to steel themselves for the struggle against their oppressors. This uncompromising ending would truly have been a grim show for 1943 audiences accustomed to finales substantially more uplifting, even when tragic. But who knows who saw what in a film 57 years old? Perhaps Hangmen Also Die! screened intact in the U.S., but was cut for foreign distribution, and the foreign negative is the only one that has survived? Or maybe it was quickly re-cut right here in Hollywood, after audiences complained about its negativity. Or maybe it was cut after the war, when the propaganda necessity of being brutally realistic was no longer a concern. It's all Savant hot-air conjecture. Who knows? Tell us!  1

Kino is to be praised for bringing out this Fritz Lang gem. They would appear, however, to be unaware of the missing ending or unable to find it, or both. The copy on their DVD is very good, but it is a shame viewers can no longer see Hangmen Also Die!'s real ending. A few more years of obscurity, and this gap could become as murky as the general unawareness that surrounded the original ending to Kiss Me Deadly.

--- January 18, 2000

Annotation, November 8, 2006:

1. Six years have passed since this article was written. Now comes this welcome note from Christoph Michel referring to a new region 2 release of Hangmen Also Die! ... an uncut copy is apparently now available:

Hi Glenn. On October 26 (2006) another DVD of Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die! was released, this time on the German e-m-s label. I got it today and it's a mix of good and bad news.

The biggest news first: The version on this disc contains the shooting of the hostages and the mourners' procession along their graves (between Czaka's death and the cover-up). I understand that the Kino and Orbit discs are missing this sequence -- or was I misinformed? (Note: the Kino is definitely missing it.) The running time is 2:09:19 (PAL) which corresponds to 2:14:43 (NTSC) or almost a minute more than Kino/Orbit.

The sequence in question happens to run exactly one minute: From Czaka we fade to the killing of the hostages, fade to their mass grave, fade to (same camera position) the mourners' later walk along this grave as they place flowers on it, cut to Svoboda standing alone by a dead tree watching, cut to the Novotny family as Mascha (with her fiancé Jan) lays down a wreath, cut to the mourners, fade to headquarters.

The e-m-s release had been announced as a 2-disc SE (with a long-form Fritz Lang documentary) but came out as a single low-price disc instead. Supplements are meagre. There's a well-researched 12-page booklet (in German) on the production history, mostly on the Brecht-Lang collaboration, written by film scholar & lecturer Peter Ellenbruch. On the disc itself there are merely eight screens of bio-filmography for Fritz Lang (in German) and a brief photo gallery (including a different view of the killing of the hostages).

Brightness is noticeably boosted but the image is head and shoulders above the two versions reviewed at DVD Beaver. It also seems ever so slightly cropped in comparison to the screenshots in the review but that may be my TV. I can't take screenshots and the only ones I found on a German board are strangely elongated.

The German subtitles are removable. There's also a German dub for those who like this kind of thing, and a second set of German subtitles for re-instated passages. At least I can show the packaging: Inside a 'classy' cardboard box of rather sober design (attached) there's a keep case holding the disc and booklet (cover based on a US poster, also attached).

Hope this was of use. Kind Regards -- Christoph Michel

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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