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Hangmen Also Die!

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hangmen Also Die!
1943 Theatrical Poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Screenplay byJohn Wexley
Story byFritz Lang
Bertolt Brecht
Produced byFritz Lang
Arnold Pressburger
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byGene Fowler Jr.
Music byHanns Eisler
Arnold Pressburger Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • March 27, 1943 (1943-03-27) (premiere)
  • April 1943 (1943-04) (general)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States

Hangmen Also Die! is a 1943 war film directed by the Austrian director Fritz Lang and written by John Wexley from a story by Bertolt Brecht (credited as Bert Brecht) and Lang. The film stars Brian Donlevy, with Walter Brennan, Anna Lee, and Gene Lockhart, and Dennis O'Keefe in support. Alexander Granach has a showy role as a Gestapo detective, and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski has a cameo as Reinhard Heydrich. Hanns Eisler composed the Academy Award nominated score, and James Wong Howe was cinematographer.

The film is loosely based on the 1942 assassination of Heydrich, the Nazi Reich Protector of German-occupied Prague during World War II. The number-two man in the SS, and a chief mastermind of the Holocaust, Heydrich earned the epithet of "The Hangman of Europe." Though the real Heydrich was assassinated by Czech resistance fighters parachuted from a British plane in Operation Anthropoid, this was not known at the time of filming. Instead, Heydrich's killer is depicted as a member of the Czech resistance with ties to the Communist Party.

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In Prague, during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, surgeon Dr. František Svoboda, a member of the Czech resistance, assassinates the brutal "Hangman of Europe", Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. Before he can escape the scene his getaway car is discovered, forcing his planned safe house to reject him. When a stranger, Mascha, deliberately misdirects nearby German soldiers searching for him, he seeks out her home as a sanctuary, under an alias. Her father is Stephen Novotny, a respected history professor whom the Nazis have banned from teaching. He realizes Svododa must be the assassin, but is willing to risk everything to hide him.

Because the assassin now cannot be found, the Nazi leaders take hostages and threaten to execute them, all 400, forty at a time, until the killer turns himself in or is betrayed by his own people; it doesn't matter if they are sympathetic to the Reich, fearful for the life of loved ones slated to die, or imagine doing so will limit the bloodshed, the result will be the same.

Emil Czaka, a wealthy local brewer, is part of the resistance and attends its meetings and knows its leaders. In reality, he is a German and fifth-columnist. When resistance members trick him into revealing he is a collaborator he initially weathers the upheaval. Meanwhile, the executions continue, then at a faster pace.

Determined to extract revenge, the resistance manages to frame Czaka for the murder. Even though the Nazi hierarchy knows he is not guilty, they publicly accept the resolution as if it were true to save face.



A number of working titles have been reported for Hangmen Also Die: "Never Surrender", "No Surrender", "Unconquered", "We Killed Hitler's Hangman" and "Trust the People". It has also been known as "Lest We Forget".[2] It has been claimed that when a book with a similar title to "Never Surrender" or "No Surrender" was published while the film was in production, the producers held a contest for the cast and crew to suggest a new title. The contest was won by a production secretary who received the $100 prize.[3]

Teresa Wright, John Beal and Ray Middleton were also considered at one point to appear in the film,[2] which went into production in late October 1942 and wrapped in mid-December of that year.[4]

Director Fritz Lang had considered beginning the film with Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "The Murder of Lidice". He decided against it, but the poem does appear in MGM's film about Heydrich, Hitler's Madman (1943).[2]

Hangmen was Brecht's only American film credit, although he supposedly worked on other scripts during his time in Hollywood, without receiving any. It is claimed that the money he earned from the project enabled him to write The Visions of Simone Machard, Schweik in the Second World War and an adaptation of Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.[citation needed] He left the United States shortly after testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. John Wexley received sole credit for writing the screenplay after giving evidence to the Writers Guild that Brecht and Lang had only worked on the story.[2] However, it seems that there is more Brecht in the script than is commonly accepted: the academic Gerd Gemünden writes that he spoke to Maurice Rapf, the judge on the case, who told him "it was obvious to the jury that Brecht and not Wexley was the main author, and that Wexley furthermore had a reputation as a credit stealer. It was only because of the fact that only written evidence was admissible, and since only Wexley's name appeared on all drafts, the jury had to rule in his favor."[5] Wexley himself was blacklisted after he was named a communist in HUAC hearings.

Hangmen Also Die had a world premiere in Prague, Oklahoma on 27 March,[6] an event which featured Adolf Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini being hanged in effigy on Main Street. The mayors of Washington, Kansas, and London and Moscow, Texas attended. The film opened nationwide in the first days of April, beginning with 20 key cities.[7]


The music for Hangmen Also Die was composed by Hanns Eisler, Brecht's collaborator on a number of plays with music, and earned a nomination for a Best Score Academy Award. Eisler only worked on a small number of American films, the most notable of which are Deadline at Dawn (1946) and None But the Lonely Heart (1944), for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award.

The song "No Surrender" in Hangmen was written by Eisler with lyrics by Sam Coslow.[8]


Hangmen Also Die was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Hanns Eisler for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture", and for Jack Whitney of Sound Services Inc. for "Best Sound, Recording".[9] The movie is rated at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.[10]

See also

Other films on this subject:


  1. ^ "'Hangmen' to be shown United Nations Reps". Variety. March 3, 1943. p. 17.
  2. ^ a b c d "Hangmen Also Die! (1943) - Notes". Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  3. ^ TCM Trivia
  4. ^ TCM Overview
  5. ^ Gerd Gemünden (Winter 1999). "Brecht in Hollywood: Hangmen Also Die and the Anti-Nazi Film". The Drama Review. 43 (4). MIT Press: 65–76. doi:10.1162/105420499760263534. S2CID 194960396.
  6. ^ "Product Digest: Hangmen Also Die". Motion Picture Herald: 1225–1226. March 27, 1943 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ "Premiere Held for 'Hangmen Also Die'". Motion Picture Daily: 6. March 28, 1943 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ TCM Music
  9. ^ "The 16th Academy Awards (1944) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  10. ^ Hangmen Also Die! - Rotten Tomatoes

External links

This page was last edited on 20 February 2024, at 12:04
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