Lang ImageFritz Lang began his career as a scriptwriter, but soon moved on to directing. Many of his scripts were co-written with novelist Thea von Harbou, who he married in 1924. Lang, fled Germany in 1933. Thea von Harbou stayed in Germany, where she later wrote and directed films for the Third Reich. Lang and Harbou were divorced in 1934.

Many, if not most, of Lang's silent films are dominated by powerful visual design, and are either pure fantay films, or include strong fantastic elements in their plotlines.

The Spiders, a two part serial produced in 1918-1919, dealt with a mysterious multinational criminal society seemingly bent on plundering the world's treasures. Inspired by the thrilling serial of Feuillade, the first episode of The Spiders offers exotic locales, a hidden treasure trove, poison gas, a heroic princess, a message in a bottle, and a secret meeting of the Spiders in their secret underground headquarters. Part Two, unfortunately, offers repetition of scenes and themes from the first story rather than develop and expand the tale's mythos. The two parts for The Spiders were released several months apart.

One of Lang's most influential silent films was Destiny (1920). Inspired by Griffith's multi-story film Intolerance (1916) and Richard Oswald's Uncanny Tales (1919), Destiny established the omnibus form as a method for presenting short horror tales. The film itself is a fantasy, concerning a young woman who visits Death in his great castle to plead for the life of her husband. Death presents her three tales of love through the ages to show her the uselessness of her request. Paul Leni would later build on Lang's film for Waxworks (1924), and Richard Oswald used the template for his and the form reached it's greatest popularity in the 1970's with a sub-genre of British horror films inspired by the success of Tales from the Crypt (1972).

Lang returned to the serial thrills of The Spiders for Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922). Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind, employed hypnosis to expand his power in the instable environment of post-WWI Europe. Like The Spiders, Dr. Mabuse was a two-part tale. Unlike the earlier films, the two episode of Mabuse were intended to be presented on consecutive nights.

Most of Lang's silent films were epics. The two-part adaptation of Wagener's Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, and Woman in the Moon were all big-budget voyages into fantastic worlds beyond where any previous filmmaker had ventured. The results were mixed. Metropolis cost over 5 million marks to produce, and bankrupted its studio. Some of the scenes from Metropolis, however, are among the most memorable visions in cinema history.

Lang fled Germany in 1933. By 1936 he was in Hollywood, where he would direct films for the next 20 years.

Fritz Lang Filmography.

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Copyright 1996 E.H. Larson.