Hangmen Also Die!

Hangmen Also Die! is a 1943 noir 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 Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Alexander Granach and Anna Lee, and features Gene Lockhart and Dennis O'Keefe. The music is by Hanns Eisler and James Wong Howe served as cinematographer.

Hangmen Also Die!
1943 Theatrical Poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Produced byFritz Lang
Arnold Pressburger
Written byStory:
Fritz Lang
Bertolt Brecht As Bert Brecht
John Wexley
StarringHans Heinrich von Twardowski
Brian Donlevy
Walter Brennan
Arno Frey
Anna Lee
Music byHanns Eisler
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byGene Fowler Jr.
Arnold Pressburger Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
27 March 1943 (premiere)
April (general)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film is loosely based on the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Reich Protector of German-occupied Prague, number-two man in the SS, and a chief mastermind of the Holocaust, who was known as "The Hangman of Prague." The real Heydrich was assassinated by Czech resistance fighters parachuted from a British plane in Operation Anthropoid, but in the film, which was made during World War II before the full story had become public knowledge, Heydrich's killer is depicted as a member of the Czech resistance with ties to the Communist Party.

Hangmen Also Die! was Bertolt Brecht's only script for a Hollywood film: 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. Hanns Eisler was nominated for an Academy Award for his musical score. The collaboration of three prominent refugees from Nazi Germany Lang, Brecht and Eisler is an example of the influence this generation of German exiles had in American culture.


During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, surgeon Dr. Franticek Svoboda (Brian Donlevy), a Czech patriot, assassinates the brutal "Hangman of Europe", Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), but his getaway car is discovered and therefore his planned safe house must reject him. When a woman whom he does not know, named Mascha (Anna Lee), deliberately misdirects German soldiers close to finding him, he seeks her home as an alternative safe house. This turns out to be the home of her father, history professor Stephen Novotny (Walter Brennan), whom the Nazis have banned from teaching. This plan works. But because the assassin now cannot be found, the Nazi leaders in Prague decide to create an incentive for him to turn himself in or for others to do so. They arrange with the help of fifth-columnist Emil Czaka (Gene Lockhart), a wealthy brewer for 400 citizens, including Professor Novotny, to be executed, forty at a time, until the assassin is named. Through a complex series of events, however, the resistance manages to frame Czaka himself for the murder, but not before the Nazis have executed many of the hostages.


Cast notes


A number of different 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".[5][6] It has been reported 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.[7]

Teresa Wright, John Beal and Ray Middleton were also considered at one point to appear in the film,[5] which went into production in late October 1942 and wrapped in mid-December of that year.[8]

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).[5]

Hangmen was Brecht's only screen credit for an American film, although he supposedly worked on other scripts during his time in Hollywood, without receiving credit. 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.[5] 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."[9] Wexley himself was blacklisted after he was named a communist in HUAC hearings.[10]

Hangmen Also Die had a world premiere in Prague, Oklahoma on 27 March,[11] 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 then opened nationwide in the first days of April, beginning with 20 key cities.[12]


The music for Hangmen Also Die was composed by Hanns Eisler, Brecht's collaborator on a number of plays with music. 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 Oscar.[13]

The song "No Surrender" in Hangmen was written by Eisler with lyrics by Sam Coslow.[14]


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".[15]

See also

Other films on this subject


  1. IMDb Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
  2. IMDb George Irving (I)
  3. IMDb Lionel Stander
  4. Alexander Granach, From the Shtetl to the Stage: The Odyssey of a Wandering Actor. Transaction Publishers, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4128-1347-1.
  5. "Hangmen Also Die! (1943) - Notes". TCM.com. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  6. IMDb Combined details
  7. TCM Trivia
  8. TCM Overview
  9. Gerd Gemünden (Winter 1999). "Brecht in Hollywood: Hangmen Also Die and the Anti-Nazi Film". The Drama Review. MIT Press. 43 (4): 65–76. doi:10.1162/105420499760263534.
  10. IMDb "John Wexley" biography
  11. "Product Digest: Hangmen Also Die". Motion Picture Herald: 1225–1226. March 27, 1943 via Internet Archive.
  12. "Premiere Held for 'Hangmen Also Die'". Motion Picture Daily. March 28, 1943. p. 6 via Internet Archive.
  13. IMDb Hanns Eisler
  14. TCM Music
  15. "The 16th Academy Awards (1944) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
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