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On May 27, 1942 the Nazi Reichsprotector of Bohemia/Moravia, the "Hangman" Reinhard Heydrich, died from the bullets of unidentified resistance fighters. Hangmen Also Die is the story of Heydrich's assassination in fictionalized form. It was Bertolt Brecht's only comparatively successful Hollywood project; the money he received allowed him to write "The Visions of Simone Marchand", "Schwyk in the Second World War" and his adaptation of Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi". Hanns Eisler won an Academy Award for his musical score. Written by
J.Arnold Free <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During the Joseph McCarthy-inspired "Red Scare" era in the 1950s, this was one of the films labeled "subversive" by the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) because it was alleged to have contained dialog that might be construed as pro-communist. Writer John Wexley was even "blacklisted". It wasn't seen again in the United States until the mid-'70s. See more »
In reality, Heydrich was assassinated by a team of Czech exiles sent back to the country by the British government. See more »
One of a handful of propaganda films made by Hollywood during WWII to show how various occupied European countries dealt with the situation; similar films included THE MOON IS DOWN (1941), EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943), THE NORTH STAR (1943) and THIS LAND IS MINE (1943). This one, however, differs from these in that it tackles a real-life event i.e. the assassination of Heydrich - dubbed "The Hangman" (his assassination was the subject of two more films, the contemporaneous HITLER'S MADMAN  and OPERATION DAYBREAK ) - and is further elevated by the contribution of two important figures of pre-war German art, director Lang and writer Bertolt Brecht.
It also features a great cast (mostly delivering excellent performances, but is saddled with a miscast and rather stiff Brian Donlevy in the lead): Walter Brennan and Gene Lockhart are featured in overly familiar roles but their contribution is, as ever, reliable and entirely welcome; best of all, perhaps, are Anna Lee and Alexander Granach; beloved character actor Dwight Frye (most familiar to horror-film buffs) appears here in one of his last roles but, as was generally the case, is regrettably given only a couple of lines!
Long and heavy-going, with the propagandist element coming off as fairly corny now, but the film is held firmly together by Lang's fine direction and James Wong Howe's superb noir-ish lighting (the Region 1 DVD by Kino was eventually re-issued as part of a 5-Disc Noir set). It also involves a couple of scuffles which are quite tense and energetic (Granach's death scene is especially striking), while the last third resorts to the organized frame-up by the Czechs of a traitor in their midst (collaborationist Lockhart) - which, in itself, is no less frightening an act than the heinous persecution of the Nazi regime!
I'm confused, however, about the film's running-time: the print I watched ran for 129 minutes in PAL mode (which would bring it to about 134 minutes when converted to NTSC); even so, it contains the ending missing from the DVDs released in Regions 1 and 2 which, being the same version i.e. cut and having the same length (134 minutes), would indicate that the Kino edition is a PAL conversion - which means a full running-time of 139 minutes (a minute short of the 'official' length, as per Lotte Eisner's book on Lang)! To make matters worse, both the Leslie Halliwell and Leonard Maltin film guides I own cite HANGMEN ALSO DIE! as being 131 minutes long!!
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