Fritz Lang


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The Spiders (1920), 5.5/10
Destiny (1921), 7.2/10
Dr Mabuse the Gambler (1922), 7.4/10
Die Nibelungen (1924), 6/10
Metropolis (1927), 8.4/10
Spione (1928), 6/10
Woman in the Moon (1929), 7.0/10
M (1931), 7.8/10
The Testament of Doctor Mabuse (1933), 7.3/10
Liliom (1934), 5/10
Fury (1936), 7.3/10
You Only Live Once (1937), 7.2/10
The Return of Frank James (1940), 5/10
Man Hunt (1941), 4/10
Western Union (1941), 5/10
Hangmen Also Die (1943), 6.5/10
The Ministry of Fear (1944), 6.5/10
The Woman in the Window (1944), 6.8/10
Scarlet Street (1945), 7/10
Cloak and Dagger (1946), 4.5/10
Secret Beyond The Door (1948), 6/10
House By The River (1950), 6/10
Rancho Notorious (1952), 7/10
Clash by Night (1952), 5/10
The Blue Gardenia (1953), 5/10
The Big Heat (1953), 8/10
Moonfleet (1955), 4.5/10
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), 7/10
While The City Sleeps (1956), 7.6/10
The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960), 5/10
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If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me.

Fritz Lang nacque nel 1890 a Vienna. Il padre, architetto, tentò di avviarlo alla stessa carriera, ma il giovane si diede presto alla pittura e ai cabaret, fino a fuggire di casa e stabilirsi a Monaco dove cominciò a studiare arte. A ventun anni è in giro per il mondo, dall'Africa all'Estremo Oriente, e si mantiene vendendo dipinti, cartoline, vignette. Al ritorno sceglie Parigi, dove scopre il cinema, ma scoppia la guerra e, arruolatosi come volontario, va a perderla con onore in Galizia. Durante la convalescenza di una brutta ferita scrive la sua prima sceneggiatura, per Joe May. Alla fine della guerra si impiega come attore in una compagnia teatrale viennese. Ma presto l'occasione di trasferirsi a Berlino muta la sua vita e lo avvia alla regia cinematografica. L'apprendistato, nel genere giallo-avventuroso in voga ai tempi, dura fino al matrimonio con la sceneggiatrice Thea von Harbon, che diventa sua collaboratrice fissa.

L'esperienza con il cinema di basso rango gli rese familiari i modelli del feuilleton nero e di quello esotico. Lang assimila il cinema popolare e riflette sul suo ruolo di messaggero dell'anima del popolo. Un'influenza particolare esercitò su di lui anche la moglie, imbevuta di tardo-romanticismo patetico ed enfatico. Un'altra esperienza destinata a dare un'impronta determinante al cinema di Lang è rappresentata dagli studi di architettura, durante i quali egli è venuto a contatto con il moderno razionalismo. Imbevuto di razionalismo kantiano, di pessimismo schopen haneriano, e delle idee della grande scuola viennese della crisi, che spazia dalla musica con dodecafonia di Schanberg alla letteratura con il romanzo-saggio di Musil, Lang protrasse il suo vagabondaggio nella vitalissima cultura asburgica restando contaminato dalle tendenze parallele dell'arte e della scienza, in particolare nei confronti del linguaggio, attaccato dal logico Wittgenstein e dal musicista Schonberg, e nei confronti dell'animo umano, cosciente e subcosciente, che Freud andava morbosamente esplorando. La storia influì poi per conto suo, perché Lang, che aveva vissuto il crollo dell'impero, fu sempre ossessionato dalla lotta dell'individuo "buono" contro un fato "catastrofico".

Lang scripted Otto Rippert's dystopian six-part fresco Homunculus (1916).

Die Spinnen/ The Spiders (1920) is instead an exotic adventure movie full of stereotypes and little or no magic. The hero is ridiculously infallible and immortal, and the ordeal makes little or no sense.

Nel 1921 Lang realizza un film d'avanguardia: Der Mude Tod/ Destiny. La leggenda di stampo medievale (una ragazza supplica la morte di salvare il suo fidanzato, ma non riesce a tener accese le tre lampade che questa le affida e alla fine, disperata, si uccide per ricongiungersi con lui) si sposa a scenari plastici ed esotici (a ogni lampada corrisponde un incubo esoterico: a Bagdad nel basso medioevo, a Venezia nel rinascimento, nell'antica Cina) in un'atmosfera sì drammatica ma non morbosa. Il film è un festival di fantasia e, dalla casa della morte (mura alte fino al cielo, scale immense, la foresta di ceri nella cripta) alla prima morte dell'amato (la giovane bacia la testa dell'infedele sepolto fino al collo nel giardino del califfo), più maghi, nani, scheletri e animali impagliati. Lang si concede però poco al terrore; il film è frizzante e percorso da una vena di delicato sentimentalismo, tanto che nel finale degenera in un vero e proprio melodramma (la morte chiede una vita in cambio di quella del giovane, nessuno per quanto vecchio e malato, si offre volontario e a lei basterebbe lasciar morire un bambino tra le fiamme, mentre invece lo salva). C'è anche critica sociale: la gente viene descritta come avida ed egoista, disposta a tollerare il truce dittatore finchè i propri interessi non sono lesi.
In questo film Lang fonde insomma tutte le sue conoscenze (il cinema esotico, nero, storico, melodrammatico), il suo genio architettonico e le situazioni d'effetto della moglie; ma resta a metà strada fra il cinema storico-saggistico di Intolerance, il serial avventuroso e l'apologo espressionista sul destino.

Doktor Mabuse der Spieler/ Dr Mabuse the Gambler (1922) e` tratto da un romanzo di Norbert Jacques. Questa volta è il festival dei bassifondi, descritti nei loro aspetti più debosciati; ma anche il giudice, il milionario e la contessa sono mossi da istinti perversi. Film anarchico per eccellenza, mette sullo stesso piano polizia e criminale, legge e crimine. La depravazione dilata il modello iniziale del racconto poliziesco. Gli ambienti in cui si svolge l'azione sono sale da gioco e locali notturni, prigioni e fogne: da un lato la frenesia dell'orgia (prostituzione, gioco d'azzardo, omosessualità), dall'altro il destino inesorabile in agguato. E' anche un allucinante squarcio di realtà sociale del dopoguerra tedesco, esasperato fino ad essere preveggente della crisi e del nazismo. Lang descrive in fondo l'isteria del borghese medio di fronte all'inflazione, il tedesco che si sente sull'orlo della rovina è ipnotizzato dal mito del denaro. Proprio il denaro è la molla del film tutti, buoni e cattivi, sono spinti a sbranarsi da un'insaziabile avidità, il cui movente a livello inconscio è il denaro. Alla realtà del tempo si ispirano anche le battaglie fra poliziotti e banditi. In questo senso il realismo prende il posto del melodramma che aveva viziato l'opera precedente. Al centro del film è comunque la figura tipicamente espressionista del tiranno-mostro-mago Mabuse, un Caligari più reale (e per questo più spaventoso) e dalla personalità più completa (e per questo più suggestivo). Mabuse è molto di più: un maestro del travestimento, un vampiro che succhia denaro, un demone che seduce anime. Apologia del destino, poema del denaro, epicedio della borghesia, elegia del crimine, metafora nazionale e affresco sociale, il film fonde nel migliore dei modi cinema d'appendice e cinema espressionista.

The four-hour and a half silent movie Doktor Mabuse der Spieler/ Dr Mabuse the Gambler (1922), adapted from Norbert Jacques' novel "Dr Mabuse der Spieler" (1921), is a hybrid of detective thriller, gothic tale and love story. Unlike Frankenstein, Mabuse uses science not to build a superhuman monster but to turn himself into a superhuman monster. The plot is not always plausible. The portraits of the two women are humanizing detours.

Mabuse spends his spare time playing with cards that have pictures of people instead of the regular pictures of card games. He is upset that his assistant Spoerri is sniffing cocaine. Mabuse's goon Georg is traveling on a train and pretending to be taking a nap. The passenger sitting across from him is transporting a commercial contract. Georg keeps checking the time on his watch. When the time comes, he attacks the other passenger, steals the contract and throws it on a car that has started moving precisely at that time. Mabuse is immediately informed of the success of the operation, although he reproaches the driver Pesch for being a few minutes late, and later Pesch complains to Georg that he'd like to quit, except Georg reminds him that there is death for those who quit. Later Mabuse is disguised as an old businessman who gets into his car. His car is hit by another car but the accident is just an excuse to receive the secret documents. He instructs his henchman to schedule a special announcement at the stock exchange that the documents have been stolen and half a hour later a new announcement that the documents have been retrieved. Meanwhile, in the poor part of town a drunk walks home and his wife insults him. It's another trick: the drunk, who is Mabuse in disguise, receives a key from the "wife" and sneaks into a secret hideout, perfectly sober, where counterfeit dollars are being counted by a group of blind men under the control of a man called Hawasch. Back to Mabuse, he stands in the busy stock exchange waiting for the special announcement. When the announcement is made that the secret contract between Holland and Switzerland has been stolen, stocks crash and, when the price is low enough, Mabuse buys. Then the news that the briefcase has been found spreads and the agents start buying like crazy the very shares that they had sold. When the price is high enough, Mabuse sells. Later we see Mabuse giving a lecture (as himself) at the psychoanalitic society.
Later Mabuse arrives at a cabaret where the audience is excited to admire the star of the Folies Bergeres, dancer Cara Carozza. Disguised as a distinguished gentleman, Mabuse uses a binocular to observe a young tycoon, Edgar "Gardi" Hull. At the end of the show the young man feels sick and starts walking mechanically towards Mabuse. Mabuse controls the young man through telepathic hypnosis and induces him to take him to an aristocratic club and introduce him as a gentleman named Hugo Balling. Then they play cards and the young man, unable to resist Mabuse's gaze, loses a fortune to Mabuse. Cara in her dressing room reads the notes sent by admirers but gets depressed when she reads one that simply has instructions for her to go to a hotel room. When Mabuse leaves, the young man doesn't remember anything and his friends think that he drank too much. They examine his last hand of cards and realize that he was holding the best cards to win, but threw them away. The young man still owes Balling/Mabuse some money and Mabuse left him a business card with the address of the hotel. The young man, however, is surprised to find a Hugo Balling who is not the one who played cards with him. In the room next door Mabuse's lady is eavesdropping. She comes out and walks in front of him to seduce him. It works and the young man invites her to an intimate dinner. While he's waiting for her, he receives the visit of a state prosecutor who is investigating a series of strange happenings involving gamblers who seem to be incredibly lucky: while they are always different people, they all share a superhuman ability to win at cards. The prosecutor suspects that it is the same man, a master of disguise. The woman confronts Mabuse outside his laboratory, where he is preparing a potion with the poison of a snake. She is in love with him but he only uses her for his mischief. Mabuse simply tells her that she is late for her mission. Cara walks into the young man's house just after the prosecutor has left and sees his business card. The young Gardi is ecstatic to see her and she pretends to be madly in love with him They spend the evening in the nightclub of Emil Schramm (a quick flashback shows us how he went from being a bum to becoming rich). The inspector is there to protect young Gardi but gets distracted by a sexy countess who never gambles. Mabuse is playing, disguised this time as a young blond man, and hypnotizes a Russian woman and wins all her jewels. Meanwhile, the countess panics when her husband walks in and the prosecutor helps her flee without being noticed. Clearly informed by his girl Cara that young Gardi is cooperating with a state prosecutor, Mabuse sends a threatening message to young Gardi. The state prosecutor decides to disguise himself as a gambler to track down Mabuse in the secret gambling joints of the city. But first he is invited to tea by the countess Dusy Told, whom he loves already. She is married but bored, and looking for adventure to escape domestic boredom. The inspector invites her to join his investigation. Cara visits Mabuse in his office while he is discussing with Spoerri. Cara is worried about the prosecutor's investigation but Mabuse laughs at her.
The prosecutor's assistant Karsten prepares a list of all the secret gambling joints and the passwords required to enter. The prosecutor, disguised as a middle-aged gentleman, sits at a table when Mabuse is playing disguised as a very old man. Mabuse points strange glasses with square lenses at the newcomer, trying to hypnotizes him, but the prosecutor resists. Mabuse flees. The prosecutor chases him. The chase takes him to a hotel room that is rented by a Dutch scientist. They enter the room and find that Mabuse has already left. In fact, he has left disguised as the hotel's office manager. Mabuse tells his chaffeur Georg to pretend to be a taxi driver and wait for the prosecutor. The prosecutor takes the fake taxi. Georg releases a gas that put him to sleep. The prosecutor wakes up on a small boat that is drifting away with no rows or sail to control it, but is saved by onlookers. Georg has stolen the prosecutor's id which is now in Mabuse's hands. Mabuse decides to kill Gardi and Cara is in charge of setting up the trap, but she drops Mabuse's note in Gardi's house and Gardi understands that she works for Mabuse. He phones the prosecutor who proposes to turn it into a trap for Mabuse. The prosecutor phones the countess but the countess and her husband are attending an esoteric seance: one of the people invited is a famous psychoanalyst: Mabuse. The countess walks out of the seance because she finds it ridiculous, and Mabuse offers to keep her company while the others continue the seance with the possessed medium.
Meanwhile, Gardi and Cara arrive at the modernist casino chosen by Mabuse. The prosecutor and his assistant Karsten are also there. The prosecutor calls the police to arrest the girl but the girl asks Gardi to follow her outside and outside Georg kills him. Only Cara is arrested, and she refuses to betray Mabuse. The prosecutor asks the countess for help to make Cara confess the name of her master. They fake her arrest for illegal gambling and she is thrown in the same cell with Cara. The countess sees that Cara is desperate and thinks that she mourns Gardi, but Cara tells her that she's worried about another man, and refuses to say whom. Cara simply calls him "the greatest man alive". The countess, who has a sterile marriage of convenience, is touched and envious that someone can love so unconditionally. The countess tells the prosecutor that she refuses to plot against Cara. At the aristocratic club Mabuse telepatically hypnotizes the countess' husband to make him play so the countess is alove, and then Mabuse flirts with the countess. Mabuse, who has been indifferent to Cara's fate, confesses his love for the countess. She is shocked. Mabuse telepatically forces her husband to cheat at poker, so that he is deserted by everybody. The countess faints and Mabuse kidnaps her while she is unconscious. During a drinking orgy with his gang (Georg, Hawash, Pesch and Spoerri), Mabuse madly declares that he want to become the most powerful man.
The count tells the prosecutor that he doesn't know what happened to him when he played poker and especially when he cheated. The count thinks that the countless left him because she is ashamed of him. The prosecutor suggests that he sees a psychoanalyst and the count immediately thinks of Mabuse. Mabuse is right then busy trying to rape the countess. He is interrupted precisely by the count's phone call. Mabuse visits the count professionally and prescribes that the count never leave the house and never talk to anyone else: he doesn't want the count to notice that his wife is missing. The prosecutor tries in vain to alert the count that the countess is missing: the butler has instructions to tell everybody that count and countess are traveling. The countess gets desperate when Mabuse tells her that nobody is looking for her anymore. Cara is transferred to another prison, and Mabuse learns where. She has never for a second thought of betraying Mabuse, but Mabuse dispatches Georg to the prison, who enters disguised as a guard (hard to believe!) and overhears the prosecutor interrogating her again. Georg informs Mabuse that she may be about to squeal on them, and Mabuse coldly orders to kill her. Georg sneaks again into the prison and delivers a vial poison to Cara and asks her to take it. Loyal to Mabuse to the end, she does take it. Mabuse has also dispatched Pesch, disguised as an electrician, to place a bomb in the prosecutor's office. When the prosecutor returns to his office, Pesch detonates the bomb but the prosecutor survives and Pesch is arrested. Pesch too refuses to squeal. The prosecutor has a brilliant idea: bring Pesch and Cara face to face. But Pesch finds Cara dead and panics that he will end the same way if he squeals. Mabuse, disguised as a political agitator, stirs up a crowd by spreading the false rumor that the police has arrested Johannes Gutter, someone who has fought hard for them. The mob attacks the police wagon that is carrying Pesch. When the cops show Pesch to prove that he is not Johannes Gutter, Georg shoots him dead. The police have been humiliated again: first the killing of Gardi, who was being protected by the police, then the suicide of Cara in prison, and now the killing of Pesch while being transported by the police. The prosecutor still doesn't know who the mastermind is.
Mabuse, however, is getting nervous and decides to leave town. He begs the countless to leave with him: he tells her that he is determined to have her. Meanwhile, he has reduced the county to a demented alcoholic, alone with only a servant in his giant mansion. He hallucinates and sees himself surrounded by duplicates of himself. Mabuse, who is responsible for his madness, visits him one last time and destroys his already weak psyche by telling him that his wife left him and wants to commit him to a madhouse. The count commits suicide. The servant finds his body and calls the prosecutor. The prosecutor then learns that the countess has been missing all the time. The servant tells the prosecutor that the count's condition worsened after Mabuse started the treatment. Meanwhile Mabuse informs the countess that her husband is dead. The prosecutor discusses the count's suicide with Mabuse who argues that the wretched man was under the influence of a hostile force and invites him to attend a public demonstration by Sandor Weltmann of how people can be forced to do things against their will. It's a trap. Back home Mabuse disguises himself as this Weltmann and instructs his goons to have a car ready outside the theater. During his performance, hypnotizes the crowd to believe that an exotic parade is coming out of the stage and marching towards them. Mabuse then hypnotizes the prosecutor and telepatically orders him to exit the theater and get into the car; all of this in front of an ecstatic audience. The prosecutor obeys like a robot. He starts driving away in what is a suicide mission, while on stage the show ends with a standing ovation. Six coworkers of the prosecutor who are outside chase the prosecutor's car and pull him out just before the car falls off a cliff. The prosecutor now connects the dots and realizes that Mabuse is the mysterious mastermind. The police surround Mabuse's house. Mabuse burns all the compromising documents while his goons shoot at the police. The gang is badly outnumbered. The prosecutor phones Mabuse and asks that he surrenders, but he replies that he has a hostage, the countess. Hawasch is killed. Mabuse has to let the countess go in order to save himself. Georg and Spoerri are arrested and the countess is rescued. The police search in vain for Mabuse: he has escaped through a trapdoor into the sewers. He reemerges into Hawasch's counterfeiting workshop, but Hawash has locked the gate from the outside by Hawash. Realizing that he is trapped forever with the blind men because Hawash is dead, Mabuse goes mad. Meanwhile, the tough Georg refuses to cooperate with the police, but Spoerri, a coward, tells the prosecutor where Mabuse went after the prosecutor shows him the key found on Hawash's body. Mabuse is having hallucinations, seeing the ghosts of Gardi, Pesch, Cara and the count. He plays cards with the count and Gardi: this time it's the count who accuses Mabuses of being a cheater. In reality Mabuse is playing with the counterfeit banknotes, and the blind men are standing back, terrified. Then he also imagines monsters. Finally the prosecutor and the police arrive and find him delirious on the floor. The blind men are freed and Mabuse is arrested.

Il dittico Die Nibelungen (1924) fu una concessione agli istinti Wagneriani di von Harbou. La saga attinge a un epos atemporale che ne fa tanto una esaltazione delle tradizioni Germaniche quanto una tetra profezia del nazismo. Il film è soprattutto un'occasione per abbacinare lo spettatore con scenografie monumentali: la prateria immersa nella nebbia, la steppa sconfinata su cui avanzano gli unni, la foresta incantata e il drago. Il film fu interamente girato in teatro di prosa. L'audacia architettonica riduce però gli uomini a miniature informi, piccoli punti neri sullo sfondo i cui atti sembrano sempre futili, anche quando sono tragedie immani. Siegfried e Kriemhild, destinati a sposarsi, muoiono l'uno a causa di un tradimento e l'altra, diventata sposa di Attila, per compiere la vendetta. Mentre la prima parte, dedicata alle peripezie di Siegfried, e un esercizio di geometria, la seconda, in cui Kriemhild tiene fede al suo giuramento, è un una serie di impressionanti massacri. Ma il colosso è figlio dell'industria pesante tedesca più che del romanticismo wagneriano, ed è molto lontano dallo spirito dell'espressionismo.
This five-hour film is certainly not a psychological masterpiece. Scenes follow each other without much of a cinematic experience: it is basically a lightweight reading of the book for those who can't read and writer. Basically it's a soap opera.

The first part is titled "Siegfried". It opens in the shop of a blacksmith where the young and handsome Siegfried is forging a sword, while an old long-haired man crouched in a corner stares at him with the eyes of a wild animal. The blacksmith Mime tests the finished sword by cutting a feather in two. He tells Siegfried to return to the court of his father, king Siegmund, in Xanten. Outside the shop, men are eating like chimps. The men tell Siegfried about the kingdom of Burgundy and we glimpse a procession of dignitaries in the capital Worms past a row of soldiers that blocks our view. We also catch a glimpse of princess Kriemhild. Somehow Siegfried gets hysterical about traveling to that court and forces the men to explain the route. Mime leads Siegfried on his horse to the trail and bids him farewell, convinced that the hero will never arrive at Worms. However, the forest is a kind of Jurassic Park. Siegfried has to slay a giant iguana, and then he hears a bird advising him to bathe in the blood of the beast so that he will become invincible. We see that a leaf falls on his shoulder, which is therefore never touched by the miraculous liquid. Meanwhile, the princess Kriemhild and her brother the king are listening to a bard who is already singing a song about the invincible Siefried. Siegfried is attacked by a swarf, Alberich, but survives and Alberich has to beg for his life. Alberich offers Siegfried the magic cap of invisibility that will allow Siegfried to turn into anything and even to disappear. Alberich leads Siegfried into a cave to his gold, held on a giant plate by dwarfs chained to it, a treasure that includes the sword forged in the fire of blood, but then he tries to kill Siegfried. Siegfried kills Alberich who turns into stone as do all the dwarves, and before dying Albertich curses Siegfried and his heirs. All of this is sung by the bard to the princess. Now Siegfried is rich, invincible and even invisible. He is also the king of the land of the dwarves. He shows up at Kriemhild's castle and demands to see her brother the king, Gunther. The king's adviser Hagen is hostile but the king accepts the visit. We see Kriemhild's dream: two black birds attacking a white bird. Siegfried does not waste time: upon arrival he proposes right away. Gunther is in love with Brunhild, the feared queen of Iceland (shown as an archer). The negotiations for the marriage turn violent and the soldiers of the two kings are about to start a battle when princess Kriemhild appears, slow and calm, with a bowl of a dark drink for Siegfried. Hagen advises king Gunther to use Siegfried to win the hand of Brunhild, and Siegfried accepts to help. The queen is soon alerted that a foreign ship is approaching her island. The queen is not friendly at all: she challenges Gunther to three tests: throwing the stone, jumping and throwing the javelin. Siegfried turns invisible and helps Gunther win all three tests. The following day they all depart for Worms. Brunhild, however, tests Gunther in private and easily wrestles him to the floor. She therefore swears that she will never be his wife, suspecting that she was the victim of a trick. Gunther marries Brunhild and, at the same time, he consents to Siegfried marrying Kriemhild, but this makes Brunhild even more suspicious because so far Gunther has introduced Siegfried only as a vassal, not a noble worthy of marrying a princess. The double wedding looks like a traditional Christian wedding (never mind that the epic is set in pre-Christian Germany). Hagen again asks Siegfried to help Gunther. Siegfried assumes Gunther's appearance and wrestles Brunhild who wants to have no sex with Gunther. She surrenders, he takes her magic armlet, and then Siegfried lets Gunther into the room and Gunther can finally have sex with her. Kriemhild receives the treasure that Siegfried got from Alberich, which now is her dowry. Kriemhild also finds Brunhild's armlet and wears it. When Siegfried sees it, he tells Kriemhild to remove it and confesses that he helped Gunther cheat Brunhild into submission. Brunhild sees the huge procession of carts carrying Siegfried's treasure and becomes even more suspicious: this is clearly no humble vassal. Siegfried even distributes jewels to the workers who carried the treasure. Sensing that she is being cheated, Brunhild provokes Kriemhild by forbidding her to enter the cathedral with her: if Siegfried is only a vassal, then Kriemhild is only the wife of a vassal. This infuriates Kriemhild who then insults Brunhill telling her the truth, that it's Siegfried who defeated her all the time, and that she, Kriemhild, now has her armlet. A furious Brunhill humiliates Gunther and demands that Siegfried the impostor be killed. She refuses to eat or drink until her humiliation has been avenged. Gunther is initially reluctant to kill Siegfried but Hagen convinces him. Gunther organizes a hunt in the forest Hagen tells Kriemhild that war might erupt and she stupidly tells him of the weak spot on Siegfried's shoulder (asking Hagen to protect Siegfried when in fact Hagen wants to kill him). Kriemhild even marks the spot with a cross. During the long hunt Hagen waits for a chance and then lures Siegfried to a secluded creek and strikes Siegfried in that spot. A dying Siegfried is carried in front of Gunther and Hagen, and clearly incriminates Hagen even if he cannot speak any word. Whent the hunting party returns to the castle with Siegfried's corpse and the news of Hagen's murder, Brunhild is now even more disgusted by Gunther, who killed a brother-in-law for a woman's whim. Kriemhild demands that Gunther kills Hagen to avenge her husband but of course Gunther, who was complicit, refuses. Kriemhild swears revenge against Hagen in front of her assembled family, while Brunhild, dressed in white like a ghost, kills herself on Siegfried's corpse.
The second part of the film is titled "Kriemhild's Revenge". The ambassador of Hun king Attila meets with Gunther, dispatched by his king to ask for Kriemhild's hand. Kriemhild distributes Siegfried's treasure to the population and asks them to remember how Siegfried was betrayed. Kriemhild accepts the marriage proposal but demands that the ambassador helps her to exact her revenge against Hagen. Hagen senses the danger of this alliance and throws the remaining treasure of Siegfried in the river. He is seen by Kriemhild's valet who reports it to Kriemhild. Confronted, Hagen tells her that the treasure is now in a place where nobody can use it to plot against the family. He is obviously very loyal to Gunther and his family. The ambassador leads Kriemhild through the snowy country to Attila's court, but, before leaving her land, she stops to pray on Siegfried's tomb (and receives a very Catholic blessing from the priest). By the time she reaches Attila's court, it is spring. The court of Attila is depected as a constant orgy of uncivilized barbarians, and Attila himself is not exactly a handsome man. The subjects are intimidated by the refined Kriemhild, their new queen. So is Attila himself. Some time later Attila is on his way to conquer Rome. His army is camped in the steppes and the soldiers are getting upset that Attila hesitates. He overhears them making fun of him, tamed by a white woman. But the news arrives that Kriemhild has given birth to his son. Attila rides back home to meet his son. Kriemhild asks him to invite her family to visit them. The family arrives in the summer. Kriemhild demands that Attila murders Hagen but Attila refuses to kill a guest: a guest is sacred under his ancestral traditions. She then offers a fortune in gold for the killing of Hagen to the half-naked brutes who work for Attila. Attila invites the guests to a party. He is surprised when they show up armed and escorted by all their soldiers, but Hagen has spotted suspicious manoeuvres by the brutes (that Attila is not aware of). The soldiers camp outside the palace (which is really just a bigger cave). In the middle of the party the brutes come out of their caves and attack the Gunther's soldiers, who are enjoying their own spontaneous party of dancing and singing. It's a massacre. Only one man escapes. Wounded, he reaches the palace and alerts Gunther's family. Hagen kills Kriemhild's baby. Attila turns against the guests, but the guests, led by Hagen, lock themselves in the palace. The brute Huns try in vain to capture Hagen and Gunther's family but the guests are superior warriors with superior weapons. The brutes assemble in large numbers and besiege the palace. Attila's army attacks the palace from all sides. One of her brothers beg Kriemhild who is staring coldly from outside. She replies to turn over Hagen to her and she'll stop the bloodshed. Despite the repeated attacks and despite outnumbering the besieged, Attila's men fail to reconquer the palace. The ground is littered with dead bodies. Kriemhild still demands that Attila's men kill Hagen, indifferent to the fact that the defenders of Hagen are her own brothers. The ambassador's only daughter is engaged to one of Kriemhild's younger brothers: he begs both her and Attila to stop the fighting, and she is fighting on Gunther's inside the palace. But Attila too wants revenge, revenge for the killing of his son, so he orders a fight to the end. The ambassador challenges Hagen in duel but his daughter's fiance, Kriemhild's brother, interferes and is killed. Kriemhild's youngest brother carry his body to her, to show her what her vengeful madness has accomplished. She only reiterates that she wants Hagen's head. The young brother refuses and is killed in front of her by the attacking mob. Kriemhild, always watching from outside, sees that Hagen has won again and repelled another attack, despite the death of her younger brothers and of the ambassador. Hagen makes fun of her: so many deaths, but he is still alive. Kriemhild, without consulting Attila, orders that the palace be set on fire. Attila remarks that he and Kriemhild were never united in love but are united in hatred. Kriemhild stares emotionless at the burning palace, like a mummy or a robot. Hagen decides to surrender so that Kriemhild will spare his king: he is willing to give up to save her brother Gunther, while she is willing to let her brother burn alive. But Gunther and his men refuse to accept his sacrifice. Kriemhild hears the bard sing one last song before asphyxiating. Hagen protects Gunther from the falling ruins while all their loyal men die. One surviving vassal of Gunther, who had been allowed to leave the palace, ventures inside to rescue Gunther and Hagen. Kriemhild demands Hagen what happened to Siegfried's treasure, but Hagen replies that he is loyal to his king, i.e. to her brother Gunther. Kriemhild coldly commands that Gunther be beheaded. Hagen, laughing, refuses to tell her where the treasure is. She personally slays him with the sword that used to be Siegfried's. A man who had enough of her madness stabs Kriemhild to death. Attila commands that her body be taken back to where Siegfried lies because she never stopped loving her first husband.

Lang passò dal passato al futuro, dalla leggenda alla fantascienza, con Metropolis (1927), un kolossal tratto da un romanzo della moglie Thea Von Harbau e sceneggiato sotto l'influsso dell'architettura modernista e dell'industria pesante. (Il budget, due milioni di marchi, è uno dei maggiori dell'epoca).

Una ragazza predica pace e amore nelle catacombe. Gigantesche fabbriche dominano il mondo. Gli operai come schiavi vivono sottoterra. E quando il figlio del padrone si innamora di lei, il padrone ordina a uno scienziato pazzo di rapire la ragazza e di costruire un automa con le sembianze della ragazza che incita alla rivolta i lavoratori. Per avere un pretesto per reprimere i disordini, alcuni bambini rischiano di morire e i lavoratori infuriati vorrebbero uccidere la predicatrice ma invece distruggono il sosia. Il giovane insegue lo scienziato, lo uccide e salva la ragazza. Padrone e lavoratori si riconciliano per merito del figlio. Finale peraltro voluto dalla moglie e ripudiato dal regista che voleva invece far partire i due giovani su un razzo, abbandonando la citt… alla distruzione.

A city of skyscrapers is propelled by huge machines, kept alive by a giant clockwork that relies on the slavery of zombie-like masses of workers who live and work underground. At the end of their shifts, they take the elevators that take them deep below the city, to their depressing city of cubes. Above ground the city is just the opposite: a magnificent combination of imposing buildings and paradisiac gardens for the ruling elite. In one such garden a group of beautiful girls play with the spoiled son of the city's dictator, Freder. A young woman spoils the fun by leading into the garden a crowd of poor children and proclaiming that all human beings are brothers. The servants send her away, but her beauty has left an indelible mark on Freder, who decides to find her. He then ventures in the workers' quarters and wonders among the giant machines. The workers work frantically, moving like mechanical parts. When one worker collapses, the machine explodes, and Freder has the vision of a monster swallowing the workers. When he wakes up, he witnesses the procession of the stretchers that take away the deads. Work resumes, but Freder rushes back to his father's palace to report the explosion. His father is anger at his assistant Josaphat, guilty of not having informed him of the explosion. Grot, the chief worker in control of the "heart" machine, also informs Freder's father that "plans" have been found in the pockets of the dead workers. These mysterious plans have been circulating for a while. Freder's father fires Josaphat for his inefficiency. Josaphat is terrified by the consequences (he will be sent down to the workers' city) and is about to shoot himself when Freder saves him. They become best friends, while a spy begins to surveille Freder's moves.
Freder visits the machine room again and offers a worker to trade place. The worker takes off in his clothes and goes to spend the money in the red-light district, while Freder takes care of the hands of a clock-like machine.
His father, in the meantime, visits Rotwarg the inventor. Rotwarg hates him for causing the death of Hel, Freder's mother. Apparently, they both loved the same woman, and Rotwarg still hates the man who stole her from him. In his obsession for her, the inventor is building a mechanical replica of her. She is already capable of walking but doesn't have a face yet. Rotwarg explains to Freder's father that the plans are about the catacombs, and takes the dictator down the stairs to such catacombs.
Freder finds a piece of paper in his pocket (another "plan") and is invited to a secret meeting of the workers at the end of his shift. Freder follows the other workers in the catacombs. The meeting has been called by a woman, who turns out to be his beloved Maria. Maria talks of peace and love, and of a "mediator" who will come and lead them to a better life. Freder's father hears everything but cannot see Freder. Rotwarg, on the other hand, sees that Freder is with the workers. Freder's father decides to punish the workers by sending a replica of Maria to destroy their city. He thus asks the inventor to give the android the face of Maria. Rotwarg decides to accept because he knows that Freder's son is among the workers and his death will be his best revenge.
Rotwarg kidnaps Maria and takes her to his cellar. As he is searching for the worker who has his clothes, Freder hears her scream but can't find her in Rotwarg's house. Rotwarg has already performed the operation and Freder finds the fake Maria with his father. The shock is so strong that Freder collapses. Maria becomes a sensual dancer who bewitches all the men of Metropolis, who kill each other just out of jealousy. Nobody knows that the real Maria is kept prisoner in Rotwarg's cellar.
The fake Maria convinces the workers to stage a revolution. The mob of workers destroys the machines. Freder's father orders Grot to open the gates and let them destroy even the "heart" of the city, because this will destroy their own city. The mob falls in the trap and the waters begin to flood the workers' city while they are storming the huge machine. But Freder's father overhears Rotwarg telling Maria that his son is with the workers and that Rotwarg's goal is precisely that Freder dies. The dictator thus frees Maria, who flees towards the workers' city. She arrives in time to save the children and the women. She is soon joined by Freder and Josaphat, who lead the crowd to safety.
While the fake Maria is entertaining the decadent elite, the workers dance around the machine they have destroyed. At last, Grot gets their attention and explains that their city is being flooded and their children are dying. This turns the mob against Maria. They chase the real Maria until they run into the party led by the fake Maria. They capture the fake Maria and burn her at the stake. While the fake Maria dissolves and reveals its mechanical structure, the real Maria is kidnapped again by the mad inventor, who believes her to be the reincarnation of Hel. Freder chases him up the roof of the cathedral. The two fight and eventually Freder kills him. Freder's father has joined the mob and can only pray while his son fights for his life. The dictator is almost attacked by the mob, but the news arrives that the children are safe. Fullfilling Maria's prophecy, Freder mediates the hand-shake between Grot and his father, between the workers and the elite.
(The ending was requested by his wife and Lang repudiated it. His ending would have had the young couple flying away while the city was falling apart).
La trama banale e un po' ridicola (un po' melodramma e un po' propaganda interclassista), piena di stereotipi del feuilleton ("Frankenstein", "Il Mostro di Notre Dame"), e la figura un po' comica del protagonista (un ragazzotto che esagera tutte le emozioni) è compensata dalla immane rappresentazione della vita nella città futura: il paradiso dei padroni (piscine e giardini pensili) contrapposto all'inferno degli operai (i sotterranei in cui vivono e le fabbriche in cui lavorano); il frenetico movimento degli ascensori, dei treni, degli aerei e degli uomini.

All'espressionismo in senso lato si possono ricondurre invece alcuni simboli: la centrale elettrica Moloch, la colossale macchina che governa Metropolis (il tiranno dio-macchina crudele e terribile); lo scienziato pazzo rintanato nel suo castello (il mago, infernale, avido, capace di ipnotizzare gli uomini); la donna-automa (doppelganger, il mostro, strega malefica).

Metropolis sfrutta diversi espedienti del teatro d'avanguardia (le scale di Jesner e gli ascensori di Piscator). Ma oscilla anche pericolosamente tra colossal medievale e melodramma a lieto fine; l'esaltazione dell'amore, morale apparente, viene raggiunto tramite un'orgia disumana (nel senso letterale del termine visto che vi partecipano un automa e le macchine). Questa contraddizione spiega invece l'opera come film ideologico, inteso a mettere in guardia contro rivoluzioni irresponsabili, quando con l'amore si possono sedare tutte le discordie, secondo una morale riformista e cristiana.

Metropolis

L'inizio è una fantasia tecnologica: grattacieli che sovrastano abissi di sopraelevate; presse, ingranaggi e pistoni mostruosi; ciminiere.

La seconda scena mostra il plotone degli operai che cominciano il loro turno: camminano come automi, a capo chino, in schiera ordinata; entrano nell'ascensore che li porta nei sotterranei (una lunga fila di condannati diretti alle camere di sterminio in un campo di concentramento).

I sotterranei sono a loro volta una città, ma invece di grattacieli ci sono palazzoni grigi, abitazioni povere, donne vestite di nero e bambini vestiti di stracci.

Nel palazzo del dittatore il figlio sta giocando attorno ad una fontana con una sua amica. Il giardino è una specie di paradiso terrestre. Improvvisamente irrompe una ragazza povera che porta con sè decine di bambini della città inferiore. La ragazza viene subito messa alla porta, ma il giovane ha tempo di innamorarsene.

Per ritrovarla si avventura nei sotterranei. Assiste con raccapriccio ad una tipica scena di lavoro: centinaia di omini arrampicati sugli ingranaggi di una macchina enorme, impegnati in un lavoro sfiancante, un'esplosione tremenda causata dal cedimento fisico di uno degli operai, l'uccisione in massa del gruppo di operai (salgono una grande scalinata in cima alla quale è situato il patibolo, fino a coprirla del tutto), il nuovo plotone di operai che arriva a sostituirli mentre i cadaveri vengono portati via. Il giovane scappa e sfreccia attraverso le autostrade sopraelevate nel traffico intenso di veicoli e aerei verso il palazzo paterno. Il dittatore non è insensibile, ma antepone ai sentimenti la ragion di stato.

Il capo degli operai rivela al dittatore che esistono piani di un complotto. Il dittatore licenzia il suo segretario per non aver saputo prevenire il complotto, e il giovane fa appena in tempo a salvare il disgraziato dal suicidio e prenderlo al proprio servizio. Torna poi nei sotterranei, dove assiste ad altre scene di lavoro disumano alle abnormi macchine che garantiscono l'energia necessaria alla città superiore. Si offre di sostituire un lavoratore e viene coinvolto nei piani sovversivi. Si reca alla fine del turno ad una riunione segreta.

Nel centro della città, nel suo laboratorio-catapecchia cadente, l'inventore pazzo comunica al dittatore di aver creato una macchina a forma di donna corazzata, che sarà presto in grado di sostituire i lavoratori. Il dittatore gli chiede anche di decifrare i piani del complotto e poco dopo lo scienziato gli comunica che si tratta di una pianta delle antiche catacombe, al di sotto dei sotterranei.

Il dittatore si fa accompagnare e assiste alla riunione segreta dei lavoratori, i quali ascoltano estatici le parole della ragazza che chiede pace ed armonia e annuncia l'avvento di un mediatore in grado di rappacificare ricchi e poveri. I lavoratori la adorano in ginocchio, come se pregassero davanti ad una sacra visione (sullo sfondo c'è un altare con un candelabro). Come in una messa, la ragazza compie la sua predica e racconta la storia di Babele: gli astrologhi decidono erigere la torre, migliaia di lavoratori vengono radunati come formiche, e devono portare giganteschi blocchi di pietra, ma alla fine si ribellano e distruggono la torre.

Il dittatore preoccupato, chiede allo scienziato di dare al robot le sembianze della ragazza, in modo da poterlo poi usare per seminare la rivolta e sabotare i piani pacifisti della ragazza. Il giovane ha manifestato il suo amore alla ragazza, e i due si sono dati appuntamento nella cattedrale, ma la ragazza viene rapita nelle caverne dallo scienziato. Il giovane ne sente le urla, ma, avventuratosi nel laboratorio, rimane prigioniero delle sue trappole e quando ne esce è in preda ad una forte febbre che gli fa avere gli incubi: durante un party di ricchi da un sarcofago esce una danzatrice del ventre che un'idra gigante solleva in cielo; nella cattedrale uno scheletro di mette a suonare il flauto e fa risuscitare i morti, poi impugna la falce e avanza minaccioso.

Il robot sobilla i lavoratori alla rivolta. Scoppia la sommossa: i lavoratori accorrono da ogni parte armati di arnesi e si scagliano contro le macchine. Il dittatore ordina che si dia loro via libera in modo che distruggano la loro propria città e se stessi. In effetti la ragazza-robot li spinge a sabotare anche la centrale, e la conseguenza è un'alluvione che rischia di uccidere i loro bambini. Questi vengono messi in salvo dalla ragazza vera, appena fuggita, e dal giovane, che l'ha raggiunta, su una specie di zattera ricavata dal grande campanello di allarme. La città frana e i lavoratori si scagliano ora contro la ragazza-robot, accusandola di essere una strega. Lei è nella città superiore, a far festa con i ricchi, ma la massa dei lavoratori invade la città, bracca la ragazza e la riportano di sotto.

Allestiscono un rogo di macerie e la mettono al fuoco. Il giovane pensa che si tratti della vera e cerca invano di fermarli, mentre la folla danza ebbra gridando "la strega, la strega". Quando il robot si disfa, tutti capiscono di essere stati ingannati dal dittatore. La ragazza vera è invece di nuovo nelle mani dello scienziato, che, braccato dal giovane, la trascina fino in cima alla cattedrale, mentre sotto si forma una folla di lavoratori. Mentre lo scienziato e il giovane lottano in bilico sul nulla, accorre il dittatore, terrorizzato dalla scena. Ora è lui a temere per la vita di suo figlio. La folla lo rispetta perché sa che è stato proprio suo figlio a salvare i loro figli. Alla fine il giovane vince, precipita lo scienziato. Il dittatore, provato dall'esperienza, fa pace con la ragazza e con il capo degli operai.

Spione/ Spies (1928), adapted from Thea von Harbou's novel, is a hybrid of spy thriller, gangster movie and love story. A lot of adventure is packed in more than two hours, even though the plot contains several implausible oddities. The ending, however, predates Hitchcock: tragic and amusing and philosophical at the same time.

Someone tries to assassinated the minister of trade and important documents are stolen. Journalists criticize the inaction of the authorities. A man drives at high speed to the police but is killed before he can complete his sentence: "I know who..." The head of secret services receives a private letter: it's the minister of interior ridiculing the secret services for their inaction. An ordinary man, Hans, is arrested by the police and delivered handcuffed to the head of the secret services. Hans walks in and detects a miniature camera disguised as a ring on the finger of the chief's assistant Vincent. Vincent is arrested for spying and refuses to reveals who paid him. When they are alone, the handcuffs are removed from Hans, who is then shown to be secret agent 326. The chief shows him the pictures of all the agents who investigated the mysterious ring of spies: all dead. Now the film shows us the man behind the spies: an invalid in a wheelchair who works at a heavily guarded foreign department of a bank. He reads in the newspaper that Morrier, condemned to death, has been saved from the gallows by masked men. And a grateful Morrier is soon delivered to him. Morrier pulls a lever and a display shows a line: a Lady Leslane is on her way to the bank. We see a car driving next to hers, presumably a spy. A colonel Jellusic is being followed by a detective. He walks into a car where a sexy woman is waiting for him. The bank's director, Haghi, asks to see Lady Leslane and we see that he is the invalid in a wheelchair. He blackmails her: he has photographic proof of her opium addiction. He wants her to find out from her diplomatic husband Roger if and when a secret treaty with Japan will be signed. The invalid receives the visit of a sexy Russian woman, Sonya, who tells him that she has successfully seduced colonel Jellusic. The invalid shows her a picture of agent 326: her next victim. She stages a fake killing at 326's hotel and begs 326 to hide her, which he does (not clear why!) The victim is actually alive: a book stopped the bullet. While he take a bath to look more handsome, she steals documents from his desk. She tells him that she was almost raped and he believes her. Then she disappears. She reports back to the invalid banker but also tells him that she cannot work on this assignment because agent 326 reminds her of her brother Sacha, executed by czarist Russia. Haghi the banker forces her to set up a trap for 326 but she has fallen in love with him (after seeing him just one time?!?) When he shows up at her place, he too has fallen in love with her. They kiss passionately. On the way to a dancehall, she gifts him a Russian icon. While they are dancing, she sees Haghi in the audience who is watching them, and fakes an illness so she can sneak out. She takes a taxi in a hurry. Haghi has sent her a message to meet with colonel Jellusic and pay him for some secret documents. Agent 326 is puzzled by her disappearance and a little boy tells him that he knows where the taxi took her. He takes another taxi and follows her. He arrives when Sonja is leaving after paying the colonel and receiving the documents. He sees Sonja run away because the colonel is trying to kiss her, but she disappears before he can ask any question. On the other hand, the colonel boasts that she's his girl. Agent 326 takes a taxi to her house and finds the door open and the place empty: she has moved out. Sonja delivers the documents to Haghi, but then refuses to plot against 326. Haghi tells her that she has to remain in his compound. Agent 326, having lost any trace of her, spends the evening getting drunk in a bar (run by a big black man). Throughout this ordeal, Japanese men have been keeping an eye on him and Sonja. Now the head of Japanese counterintelligence, Akira Matsumoto, approaches 326 and tells him that Sonja is a spy, and then helps him to a taxi as it starts raining heavily. Haghi has already replaced Sonja with another sexy girl, Kitty, who pretends to be a homeless abused by her parents when Matsumoto finds her in the storm. Matsumoto takes her home, but she tries in vain to seduce him. Agent 326 reports back to his boss who shows him pictures of suspects and Agent 326 recognizes colonel. Another agent reports that the colonel has left on the Orient Express. The chief dispatches two agents to meet with the colonel and offer him money to betray the spies who hired him. Someone informs Haghi. Haghi orders one of his men to ruin the colonel by reporting him to his superiors. When Jellusic enters his apartment, he understands that he is finished and asks to be allowed to kill himself. Haghi obtains from Lady Leslane the information about the signing of the treaty that he wants to disrupt. Just then the Matsumoto is dispatching three men to Japan, each with one copy of the treaty. Agent 326 arrives at the train station where Jellusic stopped. The agent who was following the colonel tells him that Jellusic is dead, officially of a heart attack. They find an envelop that the colonel left at the station: it contains Sonja's payment. Agent 326 telegrams the serial numbers of the banknotes to agent 719 so that they can track down who paid the colonel. Meanwhile, Haghi's men have stolen all three packages sent by Matsumoto to Japan, but Haghi finds only worthless newspaper pages inside: the three couriers were only a decoy. Matsumoto is ready to leave for Japan and he has the treaty in his suitcase. Kitty seduces him and, when he wakes up, he finds his suitcase open and the treaty gone. He commits suicide (in front of a Buddha image?!?) Haghi now has the treaty but needs to send it across the border. Haghi asks Sonja to do it, promising that he will let her free and will spare 326's life: in reality he just ordered one of his goons to kill 326. 326's chief orders the closure of all borders, aware that the treaty must not fall into the wrong hands or war will erupt. 326's chief is informed that a Russian courier will be trasporting the treaty across the border. 326 and his boss visit agent 719, who works undercover as the clown Nemo. Agent 719 has bought a ticket for 326 on Sonja's train, in the last car of the train. 326 doesn't know that Sonja is the courier. She sees him board the train but she hides, unsure what to do. Haghi's goons, who somehow know that 326 is on the train (something that only his boss and the clown knew), detach 326's car, the last car of the train, and send it to railtracks where it crashes against a train that rides in at high speed. Sonja hears the noise of the crash. Her train stops to take care of the victims of the crash. Sonja runs on the rail tracks to the wreckage and looks for 326. She finds him still alive. She also finds a Haghi goon and understands that it was Haghi who caused the accident. The goon flees. 326 and Sonja take someone's sidecar motorcycle and chase the car with Haghi's goons into town. Sonja tells 326 that the mastermind of the spy ring is banker Haghi, and 326 asks the chief to surround the bank. The police confiscate all the records of the bank. Haghi captures Sonya and the chaffeur who was taking her to safety, and sends 326 a message to have the police leave the bank or Sonja will be killed. 326 refuses the blackmail and let the search for Haghi throughout the building continue. Haghi prepares to release poison gas, blow up the safes and leave. Poison gas is released and the cops have to withdraw. 326 risks asphyxiating but finally breaks the right wall and finds Sonja and carries her outside. All of Haghi's men surrender to the police. Haghi is now a wanted man, his picture on every newspaper's front page. We see briefly Haghi in the clown's dressing room, preparing for a show. 326 and his boss understand that their agent 719 is Haghi when one of their agents reports that agent 719 altered the serial numbers of the banknotes from the numbers in 326's telegram. Agent 719 is performing his show and the audience is laughing out loud at his jokes, but he soon realizes that cops are surrounding the stage. He pulls out a gun but, realizing that he doesn't stand a chance, points the gun to his head and kills himself. The audience of the theater gives him a standing ovation.

Lang then directed the sci-fi movie Frau im Mond/ Woman in the Moon (1929), a three-hour adaptation of Thea von Harbou's novel "Die Frau im Mond" (1928), the last installment of Lang's trilogy of colossal films.

An old scientist, Georg Mannfeldt, has been living for 30 years poor like a dog. He throws out Walt Hunter, a man whom the scientist accuses of being a thief. He is visited by the young businessman Wolf Helius, his only friend, who has tried to put money in his coat but the scientist returns it angrily, despite being hungry. A flashback shows us the scientist's speech at an astronomical conference (about 30 years earlier) in which he was derided for arguing that there is a lot of gold on the Moon. Helius is a rich man and has decided to fund a mission to the Moon. He will take the scientist with him but not Helius' assistant Hans Windegger, who is just then proposing to Friede. Helius has in fact kept the mission secret. The scientist warns Helius that three nights earlier someone tried to steal his manuscript. The scientist begs Helius to keep his manuscript, the work of his life, in a safe. The scientist has another friend: a mouse that lives inside the walls of his apartment and that he feeds. Windegger invites Helius to his engagement party but Helius ignores the invitation and looks upset at the news of the engagement. While his chaffeur Gustav is stuck in traffic, a pretty street vendor sells him flowers. Two thieves break into Helius' house while a man distracts the maid. When the chaffeur reaches Helius' home, he realizes that Helius is lying unconscious in the back seat. The maid's child alerts the maid, who runs outside to help out. Helius realizes that someone stole the manuscript while he was unconscious. Taking advantage of the commotion, the thieves walk out of his apartment with some stuff and even steal Helius' car. Helius then discovers that they also took everything from his safe. Helius summons Windegger, who is initially reluctant to leave his party but Friede herself tells her to (and again Helius is upset to hear her voice). While he waits for them, Helius is visited by the sleazy Hunter, who admits to be behind the theft. He is in fact the man who distracted the maid. Turner tells Helius that he represents five of the richest people of the world (four men and a woman), who want to keep control of the Earth's gold. The film shows us the five discussing We now see what has been stolen: a model for a manned space rocket. The five have been spying on Helius and know that he sent an unmanned rocket to the Moon, H32, which successfully photographed the dark side of the Moon. The five watch a projecton of the photographs, which show atmosphere and life on the dark side of the Moon. They are determined to get their hands on the Moon's gold and are sending Turner to offer a deal. Back to Helius, office we see Turner offering the deal: a joint expedition or destruction of the rocket. Either they share in the gold or nobody will have it. Helius rejects the proposal and Turner leaves. Just then Friede and Windegger show up. Helius tells them what happened. Windegger rushes home to make sure that he has a copy of the rocket design. Alone with Friede, Helius discusses his dilemma and then decides to accept the deal with the criminals. He doesn't want to include her in the mission because all the previous Moon explorers have died, revealing that he has feelings for her. Helius summons Turner, whom we see in a car with the pretty girl who sold the poisoned flowers to Helius. Soon the spaceship is ready in a giant hangar, and a crowd assembles to witness the launch with photographers taking pictures of Friede when she climbs the rope ladder to enter the spaceship and with a live radio broadcast. The crew is: Helius, the scientist (who brings his pet mouse), Windegger, Friede, and Turner. The journey to the Moon takes 36 hours while they are strapped to tiny beds (no spacesuit, no oxygen, not even a helmet). They all fall asleep. When Friede doesn't seem to wake up, Helius panics and reveals that he is in love with her. Turner too has trouble waking up: the scientist wishes him dead but Helius revives him. They walk around the spaceship as if there was no acceleration and there was normal Earth gravity. Friede discovers a stowaway: the maid's son Gustav, a fan of science-fiction pulp magazines. The group stares emotionally at the distant Earth from a window of the spaceship (that seems to be open). Finally the effects of gravity are felt on the crew that starts floating in the air (although Friede seems to immune as she stands up normally). When the spaceship begins its descent, Windegger panics and gets into a loud argument with the scientist, who is eager to land whereas Windegger is eager to fly back to the Earth. Windegger starts maneouvres to return to Earth without even setting foot on the Moon, disappointing Friede. The scientist wears a spacesuit, drops a rope ladder and finally lands. He realizes that there is oxygen, removes the helmet and starts running around like a child. Helius, Friede and the boy stick their heads out of the window to watch him. And soon all of them walk outside without even wearing spacesuits. Windegger and Friede don't talk to each other anymore. Friede cries in front of Helius, perhaps regretting that she chose Windegger over Helius. Helius sets out alone to look for the scientist, who has been missing for several hours, and has been followed by Turner. The scientist has discovered boiling pools and mines of gold, proving his theory; but Turner is right behind him. As Turner walks towards him, the scientist backs out carring a huge chunk of gold and falls into a hole and dies. Turner fills his pockets with gold. He then flees before Helius and boy arrive to find the dead scientist. Back to the spaceship, Turner immobilizes Windegger and tries to enter the spaceship. Friede blocks him and then Helius arrives to wrestle with him. Turner pulls out the gun but the boy has just freed Windegger who shoots him with his own gun. Turner dies admitting that nobody on Earth cares about him. Windegger realizes that Turner's bullet has damaged their oxygen tanks and half the oxygen has been lost. They don't have enough oxygen for all of them to travel back to the Earth: one of them must sacrifice and remain on the Moon. Windegger is angry that nobody listened to him when he wanted to abort the trip. Helius gives Friede two matches, one shorter than the other, which she hides in her fist, and Windegger picks the shorter one: he's the loser. Helius feels bad about it: he drugs a drink and serves it to Windegger and Friede. Friede, however, doesn't drink, but Helius doesn't notice. Then he tells Gustav the boy that he has decided to remain on the Moon and that he, Gustav, has to pilot the spaceship back to Earth, and explains how to do it. Helius disembarks and watches as the spaceship takes off. At the camp he is surprised to find Friede: she guessed what he was doing, and chose him over her husband.

6) M

Testamento del crollo morale della società tedesca è M (1931), storia di un criminale psicopatico che compie delitti orrendi in conseguenza dei quali subisce la caccia tanto da parte della polizia quanto da parte della malavita organizzata che l'ha condannato a morte. La vicenda, ispirata a un fatto di cronaca nera (il mostro di Düsseldorf), è resa secondo i modelli del giallo; le tecniche espressioniste (le strade buie popolate di facce sinistre, i sotterranei, manifesti pubblicitari e vetrine usati come simboli erotici o omicidi) servono a dipingere un mondo cupo ed esasperato, una società tanto disfatta che il limite fra istituzioni statali e bande di gangster si fa di giorni in giorno più labile. In questa impietosa constatazione, Lang svolge una dolorosa tesi sull'ambiguità della giustizia (il mostro alla fine viene condannato da una giuria di criminali e salvato dalla polizia). Il ragazzotto (Peter Lorre) che vaga inosservato per le vie della città viene pervaso all'improvviso dal bisogno di uccidere: si strofina le mani madide di sudore, fischietta il solito motivo, non parla quasi mai. Il personaggio è disegnato da questi pochi tratti in tutta la sua complessa psicologia: isterismo, paura di sè e degli altri, infelicità.

Il mostro espressionista non è più fine a se stesso: il bruto che violenta bambine è un essere umano, un innocuo piccolo borghese come tanti che deve sedurre le sue vittime con atti normali e che, braccato dagli inseguitori, chiede pietà. Il film afferma implicitamente che l'uomo più insospettabile può essere un mostro, che ogni uomo può diventarlo e macchiarsi di delitti spaventosi. E' un avvertimento, un presagio, una confessione, allo stesso tempo. Lo stesso tribunale che lo condanna a morte è un'immagine agghiacciante della società tedesca, dipinta come un'accolita di piccoli o grandi criminali che vogliono soltanto conservare la proprio impunità.

Quando i capi della delinquenza, spaventati dal fermento delle forze dell'ordine, decidono di catturare il mostro, si alleano con i mendicanti (ed è proprio uno di loro a mettere i cacciatori sulla pista della preda). Lang conduce così il film nei fondi più bassi; la popolazione della città sembra composta di automi incapaci di sensazioni che non siano scene di panico, mentre quella dei bassifondi è la parte attiva, pensante, libera, umana. L'ambiguità si spinge a dissertare su quanto di criminale vi sia nell'umano e viceversa; e su quanto disumana possa essere una società senza crimine, una società inviolata di puro ordine.

Il mostro, marchiato a gesso con una M sul cappotto, si rifugia in un edificio deserto, ma non ha scampo; nel sotterraneo in cui viene trascinato si alleste un processo; il mostro non può difendersi, è terrorizzato dall'idea di essere realmente un mostro, ha coscienza di se stesso; alla fine riesce soltanto ad articolare: "ma non è colpa mia!", grido di denuncia contro ciò che spinge a commettere il crimine, indirettamente contro la società, che ne è la prima causa, e metaforicamente addirittura contro l'essenza dell'uomo stesso, il cui unico scopo è violare le leggi naturali. Tema centrale del film è infatti l'indeterminatezza della colpa. Mentre si svolge il processo. la polizia sta accorrendo, e giunge appena in tempo. Nel continuo scambio delle parti è la polizia a sottrarre il criminale alla giustizia; la stessa polizia che, volente o nolente è stata alleata del crimine costituito, ora difende il crimine individuale. Banditi, mendicanti, poliziotti e folla compongono il quadro della città, l'ambiente, al tempo stesso aperto e chiuso, in cui si svolge l'azione; dalla città futura Lang passa a quella presente (da Metropolis a Düsseldorf). La vita della comunità evocata nel film è basata sulla difesa del proprio status (di borghese, che è mostro per caso, di delinquente che il mostro minaccia di rovinare, di poliziotto sia pur conteso fra tante giustizie diverse, o di uomo della strada che vuol sentirsi protetto) più di psicologia sociale si tratta di economia sociale. Tutta la città si mette in moto per sradicare il corpo estraneo che blocca gli ingranaggi della vita quotidiana.

Mentre l'influenza del commentario sociale alla Brecht è palese, anche se riciclata nella personale langhiana visione apolitica della società, non traspaiono riferimenti al processo Kafkiano; mentre là nulla è detto e il condannato accetta una giustizia assurda, qui tutto è chiaro e legittimo, eppure il condannato rifiuta di riconoscersi colpevole; sono due concezioni opposte dell'individuo nella società, una umana, quella di Lang, che vuole assolvere il capro espiatorio e puntare il dito contro il vero mandante, l'altra disumana, quella di Kafka, in cui la colpa di tutto dev'essere espiata dall'individuo: Lang prova simpatia per la vittima che è dentro ogni criminale.

I retaggi più sensibili dell'avventura espressionista sono lo sdoppiamento della personalità del borghese-mostro e la concezione di un destino ineluttabile che sovrasta le sue azioni.

Il film è anche un capolavoro del thriller; le scene di maggior suspense (la finale e la scena in cui il mendicante cieco riconosce il motivo fischiato dal bruto) sono caricate da un meccanismo narrativo altamente funzionale.

Sia per la perfezione formale sia per i diversi strati di morale il film è una delle opere più importanti dell'epoca, e forse la maggiore di Lang.

Il lungo Das Testament Des Doktor Mabuse (1933), ultima collaborazione fra Lang e von Harbon, è la continuazione del film di dieci anni prima.

Un uomo, Hofmeister, e` nascosto nel magazzino di una grande fabbrica. E` terrorizzato. Gli uomini della fabbrica lo scorgono ma lasciano che fugga. Hofmeister, appena tornato a casa, telefona al commissario e gli parla di un'organizzazione criminale che falsifica denaro, ma la sua credibilita` e` crollata dopo essere stato espulso dalla forza per aver accettato una tangente. Sta per rivelare il nome del capo quando si sente un colpo di pistola: Hofmeister scompare nel nulla.
Nel manicomio in cui e` ricoverato Mabuse, il direttore Baum tiene una conferenza sui pazzi e cita Mabuse, un genio del male, che impazzi` e uso` l'ipnosi per fini criminali. Dopo essere stato internato in quel manicomio, Mabuse non ha mai piu` parlato, ma passa tutto il tempo a scrivere note di piani criminali.
Nella fabbrica intanto i banditi preparano un colpo. Mabuse in manicomio scrive come un pazzo e un uomo raccoglie i fogli mentre il direttore Baum lo osserva.
In un caffe` il giovane Kent ringrazia la giovane che gli presto` soldi quando era disoccupato e disperato. Adesso glieli ha restituiti perche' ha trovato un buon lavoro.
Il milionario Kramm fa notare al professore Baum che i crimini pianificati da Mabuse vengono commessi e sospetta che Mabuse usi l'ipnotismo per farli uscire dal carcere e farli eseguire da altri. Kramm non fa in tempo a parlarne alla polizia perche' viene ucciso nel taxi da un killer che qualcuno ha avvertito.
Nel covo della banda si discute del misterioso capo che nessuno ha mai visto e che non tiene per se nemmeno un centesimo del bottino. Kent riceve un messaggio da Mabuse che gli fissa un appuntamento. La polizia sta ancora cercando Hofmeister e sta indagando adesso anche sull'omicidio di Kramm.
Hofmeister viene ritrovato: e` impazzito ed e` stato affidato a Baum. Mabuse intanto ha smesso di scrivere, e` immobile con lo sguardo fisso nel vuoto. Kent viene rimproverato dal capo e messo in guardia perche' si oppone all'omicidio. Kent scrive alla donna di dimenticarlo.
Uno scienziato della polizia riesce a decifrare il messaggio che Hofmeister aveva scritto sul vetro della finestra: Mabuse.
Il commissario legge l'incartamento relativo al caso di Mabuse e risale cosi` al professor Baum.
Mabuse intanto e` morto proprio quel giorno e il suo cadavere e` stato portato via. Il commissario va a vedere il cadavere in presenza del professore. Baum e` talmente infervorato nel parlare di Mabuse e del suo prodigioso cervello che si tradisce: parla del "testamento" di Mabuse, il documento in cui Mabuse illustra i suoi piani criminali.
Tutti i banditi sono stati intanto convocati da Mabuse per mezzanotte.
Il commissario studia il documento di Mabuse, il cui obiettivo sembra quello di spargere terrore. Il commissario sta leggendo il piano che nella fabbrica Mabuse sta illustrando ai suoi banditi.
Kent viene incaricato di commettere un omicidio. A casa trova una nota "ti amo" e la donna che lo aspetta. invano lui la supplica di lasciarlo, lei insiste, e allora lui le rivela di essere un criminale, di essere stato in carcere per quattro anni e di lavorare per una gang di contraffattori. La donna lo convince ad abbandonare la gang, ma Mabuse lo condanna a morte e gli da` soltanto tre ore di vita.
Intanto la polizia ha finalmente una traccia: una ragazza che riceve gioielli da un gangster. Kent e la ragazza vengono chiusi in una stanza , destinati a morire. Il commissario irrompe nello stabile e arresta tutti i gangster, ma nessuno dei gangster gli puo` rivelare nulla perche' nessuno ha mai visto il capo in faccia. Ma dalla confessione di uno di loro scopre perlomeno che Kramm passo` le ultime ore dal professor Baum.
Kent e la ragazza hanno rotto le tubature e fatto allagare la stanza: l'acqua li protegge dall'esplosione e poi possono fuggire.
Baum, convocato dal commissario, ammette di aver visto Kramm prima della sua morte ma non parla al commissario dei sospetti di Kramm su Mabuse. Quasi si tradisce quando sobbalza nel vedere Kent vivo. Kent non lo conosce... il commissario si scervella per capire come il professore possa conoscere Kent se Kent non lo conosce. Kent e` convinto che il capo sia Mabuse, ma il comissario e` convinto che i morti non possono comandare nessuno. Mettendo insieme i due misteri, il commissario ha la rivelazione: si reca al manicomio convinto che Mabuse sia ancora vivo. Kent sente la voce di Baum e riconosce la voce del capo, ma Baum si e` gia` volatilizzato.
Il comissario scopre la mappa della fabbrica chimica: il covo dei banditi. La fabbrica e` in fiamme. La polizia cerca Baum ovunque ma non lo trova. E` Kent a scorgerlo mente scappa nel bosco. Lo inseguono in auto. Baum dirige verso il manicomio e va a rifugiarsi nella cella di Mabuse con il manoscritto di Mabuse (si vede lo spettro di Mabuse che gli offre il manoscritto e poi gli apre la porta della cella).
Mabuse, una volta internato in manicomio, aveva cominciato a ipnotizzare il direttore e lo aveva spinto a dirigere la sua organizzazione criminale. quando Mabuse mori`, il direttore, invece di riprendere la propria personalità, si immedesimo` sempre più con il ruolo destinatogli dal defunto, proseguendone i misfatti.
In questo film Mabuse parla come uno stratega del terrore, e, per ammissione stessa del regista, le sue frasi sono prese dagli slogans di Hitler, allora in procinto di prendere il potere. Mabuse non è un demente, ma un genio senza scrupoli che vuole dominare il mondo.

Il tema contingente è parte di un film centrato sul dominio della mente: Mabuse non solo ipnotizza il suo psichiatra, addirittura trasmigra nella sua mente.

La piccola cella di Mabuse compare sia all'inizio, quando sul pavimento sono sparsi i fogli con i suoi piani criminali, sia alla fine, quando lo psichiatra a sua volta pazzo è stato sconfitto. E' l'inizio di un altro ciclo.

Questo film segna un ritorno alla cinematografia fantastica del primo periodo, ben lontano dalle meditazioni sulla colpa e sulla giustizia e ancora legato ai trucchi stantii dell'ipnotizzazione e della pazzia. In questo film anzi colpa ed espiazione si inseguono all'infinito.

 

8) La colpa e l'innocenza

All'avvento del nazismo Lang (grazie all'ammirazione di Hitler per Metropolis) si vede offrire la carica di direttore artistico dell'UFA#, dopo che la moglie si è già iscritta al partito. Lang preferì invece emigrare in Francia, dove diresse Liliom (1934), e poi a Hollywood. Il suo inserimento fu facilitato dalla possibilità di classificare la sua arte in uno dei generi hollywoodiani di maggior successo, quello nero. Lang cominciò nel 1936 una seconda carriera, partendo dai concetti di colpa e di predestinazione a cui era approdato in Germania, e sviscerandoli nel rispetto delle convenzioni del genere. La caratteristica più sorprendente del suo cinema (adombrare gli eventi contemporanei, sia pure stravolti da una specie di deformazione subconscia, e prevedere il futuro) si trasmette alla società americana, di cui indaga la inquieta e incerta coscienza. Come Mabuse, M, Metropolis rimandano (pur senza allusioni) alla tragedia nazista, così gli eroi positivi e negativi dei suoi processi morali portano alla memoria la turbolenta storia americana, patria della libertà eretta sul sangue dei pellerossa e degli schiavi, e anticipano i cupi giorni del maccartismo.

Al centro della sua opera pose la lotta impossibile dell'uomo contro il suo destino, l'uomo-criminale che tenta di violare le leggi che gli vengono imposte. Svariando sull'ampio fronte di questa tematica Lang ha tracciato la parabola morale dell'individuo moderno, prigioniero di una società che lo controlla rigidamente, privandola della facoltà di giudicare, e facendogli a poco a poco perdere il senso stesso della giustizia. L'individuo appare disorientato nella giungla di leggi che deve rispettare fin dalla nascita, ma un istinto fortissimo lo spinge a violarle. Si innesca allora il dibattito sulla colpa e sull'espiazione, quando non addirittura sulla vendetta.

Lang affronta tematiche di questo tipo in film che via via passeranno attraverso tutti i generi maggiori di Hollywood.

La permanenza americana fu tutt'altro che idilliaca. I produttori se lo sbranarono l'un l'altro, costringendolo spesso a dirigere film scadenti. E nel 1952 i maccartisti ebbero il coraggio di segnarlo nel libro nero dei comunisti per aver finanziato la "Società contro il Nazismo". In pratica l'ambiente americano gli mise molti più pesi al collo di quanti ne avesse mai avuti a Berlino.

 

Tecnicamente:

- economia (coreografia, trama, recitazione, tutto è ridotto all'essenziale)

- distacco dal soggetto (come Hitchcock): narrazione fredda e obiettiva, dal punto di vista del protagonista

 

Soggetti:

- l'underworld: il mondo in cui viene sepolto l'eroe (spesso rappresenta il cuore stesso della città)

- trap movies: fa vedere come la trappola si chiuda a poco a poco sul protagonista, e il finale è il destino ineluttabile della tragedia greca

- identifica destino e psicologia personale

- paranoia

- moralismo

- vendetta.

Il primo film in esilio è Liliom (1934), un melodramma che racconta le sfortune di un brav'uomo, amato dalla moglie, ma incapace di lavorare che, tentata e fallita una rapina, piuttosto che finire in carcere si suicida; Dio lo condanna non per la rapina ma per aver schiaffeggiato la moglie e soltanto la memoria devota di moglie e figlia gli guadagneranno il paradiso.

Fury (1936) è un ritorno al reale, dopo la parentesi fantastica che secondo Mabuse, ma alla realtà non della città tedesca, bensì della provincia americana, immersa in un clima di intolleranza e aggressività.

Tracy's girlfriend has to move to another city for a new job. They part with heavy hearts, and she gives him her mother's ring after sewing a pocket of his coat. They basically live only for the day that they can get reunited. After she moves, they exchange tender letters. Finally, after a year of separation, he has saved enough money to buy a car and go visit her. She is dying to see him. But he takes the wrong road and is stopped by a sheriff deputy who is looking for the people who kidnapped a girl. The peanuts he has in his pocket arouse suspicion because the ransom letter is found to contain traces of peanut salt and husk. He is put in jail while his girlfriend, unaware, is waiting for him, all excited, at the restaurant. Worse: the rumour that someone has been arrested spreads through the "honest" citizens of the town, who assume his guilt and get excited about the idea of lynching him. THe sheriff who has been so eager to arrest Tracy is also eager to have the crowd abide by the law (he even informs the governor that he might need reinforcements). But the crowd has no intention of waiting for a trial. Rumours spread among the "good" people, each person exaggerating what she or he heard, until the guilt of the prisoner is believed to be proven beyond any reasonable doubt. The few voices of reason are quickly silenced by the mob. In the meantime, Tracy's girlfriend is getting anxious at the restaurant. The mob assembles in front of the jail, and people boo the sheriff when he says there is no final evidence that the prisoner is the kidnapper. As the mob attacks the jail, Tracy's girlfriend finally learns that a man has been arrested and that he is her fiance'. In the meantime, the mob has set fire to the jail, and Tracy is condemned to burn alive. His girlfriend arrives just in time to see his face by the window as the flames engulf it. Some people pray, some people lift the children to see the scene, others start throwing stones against the window.
This could be a melodramatic movie in itself, but in Lang's hands it becomes merely the preamble to the real movie.
The politicians are worried, but the public opinion seems delighted that "justice was done", especially since the newspapers seem to buy the story that he was guilty. But soon the newspapers, looking for a new story, endorse the version that the man was innocent. As the rumour spreads around the nation of the barbaric act, the local politicians feel the pressure to set the record straight.
In the meantime, Tracy's brothers are swearing revenge. As they plan to burn the town, Tracy shows up: he survived the fire. He also wants revenge, but his way: he wants to remain legally dead, because this makes the "honest" citizens legally murderers. And he wants to see them killed not by a lynching act, but by capital execution for murder. Tracy is even willing to let his girlfriend believe that he is really dead. His good nature has been destroyed, and a devil has been born out of that lovable fellow.
22 citizens are taken to trial for murder. The entire nation listens to the attorney hired by Tracy's brothers as he indicts the lynchers. The town tries to defend itself (lots of false witnesses are introduced who swear the 22 men were not involved in the riot), and even the sheriff refuses to recognize the lynchers. Tracy listens to the trail from his brothers' home and enjoys the way things are going: the citizens think they are getting away with it, but Tracy has an ace up his sleeve: a movie made by a journalist who was on the scene shows clearly who did what. (Cinema tells the truth).
This could have been another movie in itself (a typical courtroom movie, maybe a little too preachy), but in Lang's hands it becomes merely another preamble to another story.
The defense does not give up. They now admit the 22 good citizens lynched Tracy, but claim that there is no evidence he was actually in the jail: the corpse has never been retrieved, so technically there is no dead body to talk about. Kathryn (Tracy's girlfriend) is called to testify that she saw Joe (Tracy) die in the prison. But, in the meantime, Kathryn has been struck that one of Joe's brothers is wearing Joe's coat (she recognizes it because she sewed its pocket). Tracy is upset that the trial could be dismissed because no corpse was found. So he writes an anonymous letter to the judge and his own half-melted ring, pretending to be a citizen who confesses to finding Joe's ring in the aftermath of the fire. This causes one of the citizens to break down and confess, thus providing the final evidence that the attorney was looking for. But Kathryn recognizes in the letter the typo of the word "memento" that Joe made before. Joe's brothers still deny that he is alive, and she doesn't know what to believe. Back home, Joe's brothers are beginning to feel that they are part of a cruel conspiracy when they see Joe celebrating that 22 people will be killed. Joe threatens to kill his own brothers before he tells the judge that he is alive, because this would save the lives of the 22 lynchers. Right at that moment, Kathryn enters their house: she has reached the logical conclusion. She tries to show him that he has become one of them, a heartless lyncher himself, determined to kill people who did not commit the crime. She cries and begs him to become again the good-natured man he was, and start living again. He leaves all of them and goes out to celebrate by himself, but his conscience is beginning to bother him.
And now Lang ends the movie with a Frank Capra movie...
As Joe walks around town, he is reminded of his dreams of a nice wedding and a loving wife. The following day, as the jury announces the conviction for murder of the lynchers, Joe walks into the courtroom. He walks straight towards the judge and delivers a speech: he just can't become a murderer.
Tracy è un onesto operaio che pensa soltanto al giorno in cui potrà sposare la ragazza che ama, mentre i suoi due fratelli sono un ubriacone e il tirapiedi di un gangster. Quando finalmente i suoi risparmi glielo consentono, si compra un'auto e parte per andare a sposarsi. Ma per strada viene fermato dagli uomini che danno la caccia al rapitore di una bambina. La voce si sparge e i cittadini accorrono festosi alla prigione per linciare il malcapitato, mentre la ragazza, ignara, aspetta sola in un ristorante pregustando la gioia dell'incontro. Grazie alla resistenza dello sceriffo, la folla non riesce a raggiungere la cella, ma appicca il fuoco all'edificio. La gente esulta (una donna alza la bambina affinchè possa vedere la scena) e gli operatori di un cinegiornale riprendono i disordini. La ragazza arriva troppo tardi, giusto in tempo per vedere le fiamme che avvolgono la prigione e Tracy dietro le sbarre con lo guardo terrorizzato e la folla che inveisce e lo prende a sassate.
Dapprima l'opinione pubblica tributa ovazioni all'evento, perche' finalmente e` stata fatta giustizia rapida di un criminale. Ma presto si sparge la voce che l'uomo era innocente e i politici cominciano a preoccuparsi.
Tutti lo credono morto, ma Tracy in realta` si e` miracolosamente salvato e va a trovare i fratelli, che stavano giusto giurando vendetta ai suoi assassini. Il carattere buono di Tracy si e` trasformato in spietata sete di vendetta. Lascia credere di essere morto (persino alla ragazza) e chiede ai due fratelli di aiutarlo a far incriminare i responsabili dell'accaduto.
Su istigazione di Tracy, l'avvocato assoldato dai fratelli cita in giudizio ventidue persone e chiede che vengano condannate alla sedia elettrica. Il processo, trasmesso dalla radio in tutta la nazione, e` uno show di omertà generale da parte della comunita` (persino lo sceriffo rifiuta di riconoscere i colpevoli). Ma l'avvocato accusatore ha pronto il filmato che prova le menzogne di tutti e inchioda gli imputati. La difesa nega allora che Tracy si trovasse nella prigione, e la testimonianza della fidanzata non e` abbastanza: il cadavere di Tracy non e` mai stato ritrovato.
Tracy scrive allora una lettera anonima al gudice per convincere la giuria, ma la fidanzata capisce la verita` da un suo tipico errore di spelling. La donna scopre dove si nasconde ma si trova di fronte un uomo che e` tanto determinato a uccidere quanto lo erano i suoi persecutori quella notte, un uomo insensibile alle sue suppliche. Il suo amore riesce pero` a convincerlo della crudeltà e dell'inutilità della sua impresa. Proprio quando la giuria ha appena pronunciato il verdetto di colpevolezza, Tracy entra in aula e li salva.
Nel film Lang immortala la stupidità e la crudeltà della massa: gli ipocriti membri della giuria, l'isteria della folla davanti alla prigione e il suo giubilo durante l'incendio. Quest'ultima, la scena più morbosa di tutto il film, viene replicata al secondo processo, in cui accusati sono i persecutori: essi, rispettabili cittadini, si rivedono nella parte di bestie assetate di sangue.
Simmetricamente, il film e` anche lo studio di un ennesimo "mostro", che persegue crudelmente il suo piano di distruzione. Sono mostri i giudici che lo vorrebbero giustiziare ed e` mostro lui quando si prende la sua vendetta.

Amara e violenta requisitoria contro le deviazioni della giustizia umana dovute a pregiudizi e ipocrisie, Fury esalta la vittima solitaria, il colpevole innocente braccato da tutti, indifeso e impotente.

Il giallo giudiziario è profondamente segnato dallo stile di Lang, per esempio nel vagabondaggio notturno del protagonista, ossessionato dalle voci malvagie degli imputati e da quella dolce della fidanzata, nello sdoppiamento stesso della personalità del condannato-giudice, nei volti minacciosi dei giurati, degli imputati e del pubblico al processo (il destino implacabile), nelle scene di devastazione (alla Metropolis).

Il matrimonio tra Lang e Hollywood riesce sia all'insegna della caratterizzazione sia all'insegna dello spettacolo.

Un altro errore giudiziario è al centro di You Only Live Once. Fonda è un ex detenuto deciso a rifarsi una vita con la fidanzata, ma che la diffidenza e l'egoismo altrui rende miserabile: non solo gli negano un lavoro, ma lo accusano anche di una rapina che non ha commesso; catturato come un pericoloso criminale, viene condannato a morte. Nonostante l'aiuto morale del cappellano, Fonda non vuole morire: la moglie gli procura un'arma e il disperato, preso un ostaggio, si fa aprire il cancello, proprio quando il vero colpevole è stato identificato: nella fuga Fonda uccide il prete e diventa di nuovo un ricercato. I due sposi fuggono in auto verso il Canada, ma tutti sono contro di loro e presto la polizia viene messa sulle loro tracce. La ragazza viene colpita a pochi metri dalla salvezza, Fonda se la carica moribonda sulle spalle e si avvia a piedi sulla montagna, ma un cecchino uccide anche lui.

A good girl, Joan, who works as a secretary for an attorney and lives with her mother takes two weeks off to go and meet her boyfriend, Eddie, a convict (Henry Fonda), who is being released from jail. This is his third offence, and a fourth one would mean the electric chair. He promises the guards that he will not make any more mistakes. He says goodbye to his friends, and in particular to the chaplain. The couple only wants a chance to start a brand new life, but trouble starts right away: the hotel where they are supposed to spend a romantic night kicks them out as soon as they find out that he is a convict. He finds a job as a driver, but his reputation follows him: he gets fired the first time that he is late. His girlfriend has already found a house for them and moved in, and expects him to send the downpayment. He is desperate.
That day someone robs a bank using tear gas and leaves behind Fonda's hat. He would like to run away, but his girlfriend convinces him to surrender to the police, confident that his innocence will be proved. Instead, he is sentenced to death. The crowd boos him as he is escorted out of court. His girlfriend feels guilty of having trust the system, and tries to smuggle a gun into the jail, and the chaplain have to save her when the guards are about to find out. Nonetheless, an old friend helps Fonda get a gun and escape. At the same time, the police finds out that Fonda did not commmit the bank robbery: it was one of his old cellmates, who planted his hat to frame him. In the prison, Fonda has taken a hostage and demands to be let out. The warden tells him that he has been pardoned, but Fonda does not believe him. The chaplain in person tries to convince Fonda that he has been pardoned, but Fonda doesn't trust anyone anymore and shoots him. The chaplain pretends that he missed and asks the warden to open tha gate. As soon as Fonda walks out, the chaplain collapses dead to the ground: now Fonda is really a murderer.
Fonda learns that he had been truly pardoned and that the chaplain is dead. More desperate than ever, he calls the girl and she rushes to him. They flee on a car towards Canada. Eddie and Joan become a sort of Bonnie & Clyde, hunted by the whole country. Joan gives birth and goes back to eave the baby with her boss. Then the two fugitives resume their journey, but someone recognizes them and alerts the police. The police chases their car and shoots. Joan is hit when they have almost reached the border. Eddie loads her in his arms and starts walking up the hill. She dies in his arms. A second later, a bullet kills him too. And he dies kissing her dead lips.
Il fascino del film (la cui trama e` un po' troppo melodrammatica e in alcuni punti goffa) è dovuto al grande quadro sociale dell' America del New Deal, che dalle carceri si propaga nelle strade, alla timida felicità della coppia nel suo lungo viaggio verso la morte, uniti soli contro tutti, (i biechi egoisti perbene, gli inesorabili robot poliziotti, e soprattutto il destino) ai paesaggi immani in cui le loro anime fluttuano come in un limbo.

L'azione si semplifica di film in film; Lang in compenso è sempre più attento ai caratteri e alle situazioni, a sviscerare stati della mente, a studiare come può reagire l'individuo quando è braccato dal destino (dalla società).

Nei due capolavori americani Lang deve introdurre, per motivi commerciali, anche un motivo sentimentale e badare maggiormente allo spettacolo.

Dopo You Only Live Once Lang girò quattro film minori, in cui sperimentò il western con mediocri risultati The Return of Frank James (1940), versione psicothriller versione della vendetta del fratello di Jesse James, seguito di Jesse James (1939, Henry King). Frank si rimette sulla pista dopo che gli assassini di Jesse sono stati assolti, ma per farlo deve svaligiare una banca, divenendo al tempo stesso inseguitore ed inseguito. aiutato da una bella giornalista e da un giovane, scova il primo degli assassini che muore cercando di fuggire. Poi si consegnano per salvare il servo negro che stanno processando come complice; assolti grazie all'oratoria del giornalista locale, eliminano anche l'altro assassino. Il ruolo di giustiziere e di criminali è capovolto: tutti i buoni sono dalla parte di Frank e disprezzano gli assassini.

Man Hunt (1941) is a propaganda film in which a hero enters Nazi Germany to assassinate Hitler.

Western Union (1941), sull'attraversamento ferroviario del continente

In seguito Lang prese a girare film con cadenza annuale, cimentandosi in almeno quattro generi: nero, poliziesco, western e di guerra: un nobile declino, in cui trapela sempre la classe dei capolavori passati.

La parentesi politica di Hangmen Also Die (1943), film didattico sceneggiato da Bertold Brecht, tratta di una menzogna collettiva mediante la quale un intero paese si prende gioco dei tedeschi, facendo giudicare come spia un capitalista rinnegato e salvando la vita a un partigiano. Il tema resistenziale si amplia nelle mani di Brecht in un più diretto attacco anti-borghese.

Czechoslovakia is occupied by the Germans, and the resistance is trying to sabotage their regime. An innocent girl, Nasha, realizes that, while she was shopping, she saw the man of the resistance who shot the German governor (and then helped him indirectly by sending the German police in the wrong direction). Her father, a professor, begs her to forget the accident. The German police has introduced a curfew, and the girl's fiance` has to leave early. Minutes later, the mysterious stranger, Franticek, rings the bell: he doesn't have any place to hide and begs the girl to help him again. Since it is already past curfew time, the family invites the man to stay for dinner. The father guesses the truth, but the rest of the family believes he is just a friend of the girl. The radio announces that anyone helping the murderer will be executed. Since the population does not cooperate, the Germans decide to round up citizens at random in retaliation, and the girl's father is one of them. Franticek, who is a doctor, is tormented by the fact that hundreds of innocents risk their lives for a crime that he committed, but the leader of the resistance explains to him that the life of a partisan is more important for the cause. Nasha tracks him down and doesn't think that way: she only wants to save her father. She's heading for the Gestapo when she realizes what it means to betray her own country (a crowd surrounds and scorns her). But her behavior arouses suspicion at the Gestapo, that carries out a search at her apartment. When she sees a shopkeeper willing to be tortured rather than testify against that she, Nasha, saw the murderer, she understands what is at stake, and refuses to collaborate. The Germans understand that she's hiding something and learn of the mysterious stranger who slept over. To further scare her, they mention that one out of ten of the hostages will be killed. Her father is not among them... for the time being.
She his arrested and the members of her family are interrogated. She is about to be tortured when the Gestapo intercepts a letter from the mysterious stranger, giving her an appointment at her house. She is released, but microphones are placed in her apartment. Franticek shows up and pretends to be simply in love with her, and thus confounds the Gestapo, who think they were after the wrong person.
In the meantime, the resistance finds out that one of them, Emil, is a traitor. Before they can kill him, he has all of them arrested. The leader, wounded, escapes, and finds shelter at Franticek's house. The Gestapo, tipped by a cab driver, breaks into the apartment but finds only... Nasha. She pretends to be Franticek's lover even as they call her fiance`. Blood is dripping from the body of the wounded man, but the Gespapo does not see it. Again, they are led to believe that this is just a love story between Nasha and Franticek.
Disappointed that they still don't have the murderer of the governor, the Germans decide to speed up the executions of hostages. But the resistance has found a way to save the hostages: Nasha and other witnesses frame Emil, leading the Gestapo to believe he, the traitor, was the man who murdered the governor. One after the other, the friends and the relatives of the patriots who have been betrayed by Emil show up to testify against Emil. But they overdo it, and eventually Emil finds a contradiction: a witness testifies that he was in a certain place at a certain time, when in fact he was talking with the chief Gestapo inspector at that time. At the same time, the chief inspector has just realized that Nasha and Franticek staged the love scene (the lipstick kiss on Franticek's face was not natural), and Nasha's fiance`, who is with him, realizing that Nasha was being a patriot and not a slut, tries in vain to stop him. The inspector goes to the hospital to arrest Franticek but Nasha's fiance` arrives in time to help kill him. Thus Emil's only witness disappears. Not only that: with help from Emil's own servant, the resistance plants the weapon of the murder in Emil's desk, as well as anti-German flyers, and the inspector's own body in the basement of Emil's house.
The Gestapo thus finds enough evidence to incriminate Emil of the inspector's murder. They arrest him and take him into a car. Then they let him go and, as he is running away, they shoot him in the back. He falls dead on the steps of a church.
The plot is not always plausible, and the acting a little too emphatic.

The Ministry of Fear (1944), basato su un romanzo di Graham Greene, è un thriller spionistico in cui un ignaro ex-squilibrato rimane coinvolto in un intrigo di spie naziste a Londra e, dopo un complicato groviglio di eventi, scopre che il capo è il fratello della ragazza che ama, da lei stessa subito giustiziato.

A man is anxiously waiting to be released from an mental asylum. As soon as he parts way with the doctor who has cured him, he attends a charity party run by jovial ladies, and has a clairvoyant read his hand. When he says a few words, the clairvoyant changes topic and tells him the exact weight of a cake that is the subject of a lottery. He wins the cake and walks out of the party, while the women are staring at him. As he is walking out, a sinister man walks into the party and straight into the clairvoyant's tent. The women suddenly change their mind and try to get the cake back, claiming there was a mistake, but he clings onto his prize and keeps walking towards the station. He boards the train, and a blind man soon boards the same car. They chat about the war, then he offers the blind man a slice of cake. While he is cutting it, the blind man actually looks at him: he is obviously not blind at all. Then the blind man eats the cake in a rather weird manner, as if he was looking for something inside the cake. German planes start bombing and the train stops. While he stares out of the window, the blind man hits him, steals the cake and jumps from the train. He chases the blind man while bombs are falling all around them. A bomb eventually blows up the blind man.
(The beginning is prime Fritz Lang, and could be even prime Hitchcock).
Steven doesn't want to talk to the police, because he's afraid of his own past. So he hires a private detective. Then he starts his investigation from the headquarters of the ladies' organization that threw the charity fair. There he meets Carla and her brother Willy, both immigrants who, informed of the events, decides to join the investigation. Steven walks out of the building with Willy and signals to the detective to follow them. Willy takes Steven to visit the lady who gave him the cake. But she is not the one: the real lady is a beautiful, elegant woman. She claims she was at the charity fair and she was the clairvoyant. They are introduced by the lady to a group of people who are about to perform a psychic experiment. Among them is the sinister man who claimed the cake. During the experiment, the lady-medium evokes a ghost, a woman who accuses Steven of having poisoned her. Steven jumps us from the chair, shocked that someone knows his past. At the same time, a short is heard, and the sinister man falls dead to the floor. Everybody things the murderer is Steven. They call the police, but Willy helps Steven escape. Later, Steven finds that the detective is missing and his office has been searched. He calls Carla, who runs to him while sirens are howling and crowds are heading for the bomb shelters. In the shelter, he tells Carla why he was in the mental asylum: when his wife got sick of an incurable exotic disease, she killed herself slowly with poison, and the police accused him of having murdered her. Now he takes it for granted that the police are looking for him and that they would never believe him innocent in the murder of the sinister man.
The following day there is no news of the murder in the newspapers. Carla takes Steven to a friend who is a bookshop owner and who accepts to hide him for a few days. In his office, Steven sees a book written by a psychiatrist who was at the psychic event: he is an important advisor to the government on nazi affairs. Steven is beginning to suspect that the medium and the psychiatrist are spies, and that they are using the charity as a shield. But he still trusts that Carla and Willy are on his side.
Steven visits the attractive lady, who doesn't seem afraid of him at all, but rather more interested in flirting with him. She confesses that she knows who he is (his case was in the newspapers) and so, as a medium, she pretended his wife was talking to him. Steven asks her about the charity fair. The women had been instructed to give the cake to a man who said such and such words, exactly the words that Steven told the clairvoyant, but the lady claims she doesn't know why.
In the meantime, Carla has been checking the members of the charity, and she is now convinced that the people recommended by the psychiatrist are part of a spy ring. Her brother Willy is skeptic, and is worried that she is falling in love with a murderer. In fact, she is.
Carla and Steven volunteer to deliver some books that the psychiatrist has ordered from the book shop. But they are sent to an empty apartment, and, when Steven opens the suitcase, it realizes it is a bomb. He wakes up in a cell. The police wants to question him about the death of the detective, who has been murdered, whereas they know nothing of the murder of the sinister man (clearly, neither the lady nor anyone else ever reported it to the police). Carla has disappeared. The police do not believe his story of spies, especially since he was just released from a mental asylum, but Steven insists that they take him to the site where the blind man died: he wants to find out what was in the cake. They find a tiny microfilm that contains military secrets.
Now the police believe him, but he still denies there was a woman (Carla) involved. They start chasing all the men connected with the psychiatrist. Steven and the police visit a famous tailor, and it turns out it is the sinister man, alive and well. He makes a phone call, clearly to alert someone, before the police try to arrest him, and then commits suicide. Steven has memorized the phone number and dials it: Carla picks up the phone. Now Steven believes that Carla has doublecrossed him all the time. He finds out where she and Willy are (the address where the tailor's last suit was delivered), and visits them: Willy is the ringleader and Carla is now his prisoner (Willy tried to kill them both because they were finding out too much). Willy is ready to shoot Steven, but Carla first saves his life and then kills Willy, her own brother. They escape chased by the psychiatrist and his men, but the police arrives in time to rescue them.
The film appropriates several cliches of the time, although in a very effective manner: the protagonist is a Cary Grant-kind of ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances who needs to prove his innocence; the lady is a Marlene Dietrich-kind of femme fatale. Lang clearly wants to emphasize the theme of psychiatry, although that is the least plausible part of the plot.

The Woman in the Window (1944), un film onirico

Robinson è un compassato criminologo newyorkese di mezza età che trascorre le serate al club con gli amici. Una sera incontra la ragazza il cui manifesto riempie le strade. Invitato a casa sua, accetta. Durante la serata irrompe però l'amante geloso della ragazza e, per difendersi, Robinson deve ucciderlo. Il giorno dopo gli tocca anche partecipare alle indagini del delitto e come se non bastasse un uomo lo ricatta. Tentato invano di farlo avvelenare dalla ragazza, innorridito all'idea dello scandalo, decide di suicidarsi. Nel frattempo la polizia ha ucciso il ricattatore e lo considera colpevole anche dell'omicidio. La ragazza tenta di avvertirlo che non vi è più alcun pericolo, ma è troppo tardi... Il telefono suona. A questo punto Robinson si risveglia e scopre di essersi semplicemente addormentato in una poltrona del club sognando il manifesto pubblicitario, e che il morto e il ricattatore non sono altri che il guardarobiere e il portiere. Il destino si presenta in sogno con le sembianze di una ragazza e prende possesso della mente dell'uomo. Ogni uomo può commettere un crimine in presenza di una seduzione sufficientemente potente.

Scarlet Street (1945) ricalca la trama di LA Chienne (Renoir) con qualche citazione di Blaue Angel (Sternberg).

Un cassiere che da 25 anni svolge con diligenza il proprio mestiere, avvilito da una moglie dispotica, si lascia sedurre da una ragazza che finge di essere affascinata dai suoi quadri dilettanteschi mentre è una prostituta abilmente manovrata dal suo protettore. Robinson paga, di nascosto alla moglie, l'affitto di uno studio, e non si ravvede neppure quando scopre che la ragazza firma e vende i suoi lavori. Grazie a un fortunato evento riesce a divorziare, corre dalla ragazza ma la trova fra le braccia del complice. Sconvolto, si ubriaca e la uccide; dell'omicidio viene accusato il protettore. Robinson perde il posto, lascia condannare a morte l'innocente, si riduce barbone, tenta di impiccarsi, scopre che i suoi quadri sono diventati preziosi, ma attribuiti alla morta. E continua a vagabondare.

Cloak and Dagger (1946) is a spy thriller that came out right after the Hiroshima atomic bomb. It is one of Lang's most amateurish films and stereotyped. and with a ridiculous ending.

Towards the end of World War II in southern France a partisan meets a US agent to send encrypted intelligence to a US base. While they are transmitting, two killers enter the room and shoot them dead. Back in the USA, the colonel in charge of the top-secret Office of Strategic Services (nicknamed the "Cloak and Dagger" office) realizes that the message is about an atomic-bomb project and decides to consult with an old friend, Alvah, who is a nuclear physicist and is working on the "Manhattan Project" to build an atomic bomb. Alvah is angry that the country is spending so much on developing a bomb when it never spent as much to defeat diseases like cancer. The colonel tells him that it is imperative that they prevent Nazi Germany from getting the atomic bomb first and hires him to become a spy. The colonel informs him that a famous Hungarian nuclear physicist, Katerin, who is forced to work on the German atomic project, has been ospitalized in Switzerland. Alvah flies to Switzerland under a false name and, the moment he arrives, he is photographed by a mysterious man. Another mysterious man watches as he checks in at the hotel. They meet at the hospital. Katerin tells Alvah that Germans and Italians are working together on an atomic bomb. Alvah encourages her to return to the project and create obstacles. At the hotel Alvah runs into an attractive woman. At the bar he is approached by a boring old man and prefers to sit next to the attractive woman. A US agent who is keeping an eye on him informs him that she is actually a German spy and that Katrin has been kidnapped. The agent instructs him to befriend the woman while they fake a compromising letter written by her so that he can blackmail her. She confesses where Katerin is being held. The US agents raid the building but and she is killed by her German "nurse". Alvah then travels to Italy to meet with the Italian scientist who was working with Katerin. Since Italy is allied with Nazi Germany, Alvah has to be smuggled in by a submarine with help from the Italian partisans. One of the partisans turns out to be an attractive woman, Gina. She is the one who has acquired all the details to reach the Italian scientist. Alvah, camouflaged as a German doctor, enters the protected building where the scientist works. The Italian is initially scared to learn that Alvah is an infiltrated enemy, but then confesses why he is working for the Germans: they kidnapped his daughter Maria. The Italian scientist tells Alvah that he will cooperate if his daughter is rescued. Alvah relates the request to the partisans who organize a mission to free her while Alvah hides in Gina's house. He sleep on the couch but at night he is awaken by Gina's screams: she is having a nightmare about her messy life. When a janitor sees him in her house, she hides him inside a merry-go-round and then moves him to the apartment of a fascist friend. The proud Gina breaks down in tears admitting the hardship of the partisan life. When two nuns knock at the door asking for charity money, Gina senses that they are not real nuns and takes Alvah to a ruined building. there she reads the cryptic message in the newspaper that the partisans have freed Maria. The partisans summon the Italian scientist to a meeting. The scientist has not noticed that he is being followed by a fascist. Gina and Alvah see the fascist controlling the front door of the building and, after a ridiculous struggle, kill him (The fascist mysteriously doesn't call for help!) It's all in vain because, when Maria arrives, she is not Maria: the woman is a German agent and informs the scientist that Maria has been dead for six months. The building is surrounded by German soldiers. She pulls out a gun and tells them to surrender. They kill her and a shootout erupts. Alvah, Gina and the scientist escape through the cellar and a well. Gina leads the scientists to the airplane that is waiting for them, and then, after kissing Alvah who swears to come back for her, she returns to fight the Germans.

Secret Beyond The Door (1948) was Lang's third psychological thriller, loosely inspired by Hitchcock's Rebecca. It has a good intricate plot, but the direction is a bit superficial making it look like an amateur's imitation of Hitchcock-ian themes. The Freudian scene at the end is a bit ridiculous. Possibly Lang's worst film.

On her wedding day Celia walks towards the altar in her bridal dress and reminisces how she got there. A flashback shows how her brother Rick put her in charge of the family's fortune. When he died, the family's lawyer, Bob, proposed to her. During an exotic vacation with her girlfriend Edith, they witnessed a knife duel between two men over a girl. Celia was mesmerized by the scene. Suddenly she realized that a handsome man was watching her watch the duel. Later, when they met, she coldly asked him how the duel ended. He is an architect, Mark. They immediately fell in love and impulsively she accepted to marry him. That's why now she is hesitant as she walks down the aisle: she realizes she is marrying a stranger.
He behaves like a loving husband, and she loves him to death, but little episodes puzzle her. One day he tells her that he received a telegram and he needs to leave immediately, but later the maid tells her that there was no telegram. Finally, he writers to her that she can move into his mansion. Mark's sister Carey picks her up at the station because Mark is not there yet. When they arrive at the station, Celia notices a boy staring from a window. Carey coldly tells her that it's Mark's son David, but Mark had never mentioned having a son. Celia met Mark's secretary who gives her a tour of the mansion and explains how Mark was unhappy with his first wife. The secretary is basically raising David with firm discipline. Later Carey tells Celia that the secretary saved David when he was a child from a fire, but half of her face was left disfigured and she now wears a scarf all the time around it. Celia picks up Mark at the station, but he behaves like a zombie, not like the loving husband she expected. She is uncomfortable and regrets that Bob is dead and she doesn't have any other place to go to. She confronts Mark about not telling her about his previous marriage and his son, but he avoids the questions. At a party she introduces Bob and Mark. Mark also gives the guests a tour of the rooms that he collects: he painstakingly reconstructs the places in which famous murders were committed by husbands. The weird thing is that Mark had told her that those were rooms where "happy events" took place. Mark refuses to show the last room, although he admits that it is finished. Bob suspects that Mark is broke and married Celia for the money, but Celia retorts that he's just being jealous. Later when she is alone with him, Celia insists on seeing the locked room but he gets angry and leaves. Celia surprises Mark yelling at David because David is snooping around. When Mark leaves the scene, David tells her that Mark killed her mother. Later a servant tells her that his first wife got sick and Mark was personally giving her the medicine she needed. When Mark is out, Celia enters his office and finds the secretary. The secretary is not wearing the scarf and... there is no scar on her face. The secretary explains that she has always been in love with Mark, a fact that might have led him to fire her except that he owed her gratitude for saving his son. She needed the scar to make him feel bad, even though cosmetic surgery had already removed it from her face. Celia believes her and promises not to tell Mark. Celia secretely makes a duplicate of the key to the secret room. Finally she can enter the mysterious room, the last item of Mark's collection of rooms where husbands murdered their wives: it's a perfect replica of her own bedroom. She now suspects that David was right: Mark killed his former wife. Furthermore, he is now going to kill her too. Celia runs to the secretary's room and tells her that she wants to run away. The secretary does not seem shocked. Celia runs outside in the mist hoping to reach the station on foot, but a male figure stands in front of her. She screams and the screen goes black. Mark returns to his room and has a nightmare in which Mark the prosecutor interrogates Mark the criminal, who tries in vain to defend himself claiming childhood traumas and swears he did not kill Celia. The following morning he coldly fires the secretary in front of Carey. Mark simply says that the secretary has been disloyal to him. The secretary thinks that Celia told him how she deceived all those years with the idea that her face was disfigured under the scarf. Carey is about to accompany David to his new school in the big city. Carey is afraid that now, with Celia mysteriously gone, Mark will be lonely. Mark tells her that he wants to be alone. Carey has always been running the household for him. She realizes that it is now time for her to let him live his life.
Celia arrives. She had run into Bob, who was coming to pick up David and Carey. Bob was the male figure in the mist, not Mark. Celia and Mark tell each other how much they love. Mark decides to leave the house but then at the station he changes his mind. The secretary calls. Celia, not knowing what happened, simply tells her that Mark has done out of town. Celia opens the secret room and walks inside, leaving the key visible in the lock. A storm is raging outside. Mark enters the room. Celia forces his to face his inner ghosts. It's stereotypical Freudian therapy. Mark grabs a scarf and approaches her as if to strangle her. Celia stays cool and keeps digging in his subconscious. The dramatic event that caused his madness happened when he was a child and he was locked in his room while his mother went out with a man. He wanted to kill both, and now he wants to kill Celia in which he sees his mother. Celia screams that it was not his mother who locked him in the room: it was his sister Carey (as Carey had recounted). This heals Mark once for all. (This whole scene is incredibly implausible).
Just then Celia notices smoke. Someone has set fire to the mansion. The smoke threatens to kill them. The jealous secretary is staring from a distance, while Mark carries out an unconscious Celia in his arms.

House BY The River (1950) è l'ultimo film psicanalitico della tetralogia. Uno scrittore frustrato uccide la cameriera nel tentativo di violentarla e si fa aiutare dal fratello ad occultare il cadavere. Quando la polizia lo ritrova i sospetti si appuntano sul fratello, anche perché l'omicida non ha scrupoli a peggiorarne la situazione. La moglie, scandalizzata dalla sua crudeltà, si innamora dell'innocente e scatena la gelosia di suo marito, che medita di "suicidare" il sospettato. Ma nella sua follia ha scritto tutto e la moglie scopre il manoscritto. Fuori di sè, cerca di strangolarla, ma il fratello la salva e lui precipita accidentalmente.

Clash by Night (1952), based on a Clifford Odets play, is a psychological study of a female soul, but it is hardly effective or original. It feels amateurish.

After ten years, a young, cynical woman, Mae, returns to her hometown, a fishing village. Her brother Joe works in a boat (Jerry's boat), like almost every other man in town. His girlfriend Peggy (Marilyn Monroe) works in the cannery, like almost every other girl in town. Mae feels that she failed: she came back because she failed in the big city. Jerry romances her, and introduces her to his weird and handsome friend Earl, arrogant but fundamentally as unhappy and bitter as Mae, who dislikes him. Mae accepts Jerry's marriage proposal, but more out of boredom than love. Je is the perfect husband, and she tries to be the perfect wife. But, despite a child, she just can't stand the boring life of the housewife, and eventually gives in to Earl's seduction. One day, Jerry hears rumours and confronts her. Instead of lying, she admits the affair with Earl. Jerry is humiliated, and can't understand why they did that to him. He still begs her to stay, but she has decided to leave with Earl. The only person who sympathyzes with her is Peggy, a young independent character. Mae and Earl are twin souls, but, faced with the fact that she would lose her baby, Mae realizes that they are just hardened and selfish, incapable of living up to their responsibilities. And she goes back to Jerry.

Lang eccelse anche nel western romantico Rancho Notorious (1952), strutturato in maniera innovativa. Un cantante che commenta gli eventi con una ballata folk, che serve a enfatizzare il tema del film: "hate, murder, and revenge." Il protagonista e` il classico loner determinato a vendicare la morte della sua fidanzata, ma il western diventa un noir quando il protagonista s'innamora di una donna perduta.

In Wyoming during the 1870s, cowboy Vern is engaged to a beautiful girl, but a bandit (Kinch) robs the store where she works, steals the brooch Vern gave her and kills her. Kinch and his accomplice head for a hide-out but on the way they argue and Kinch kills his partner. The posse who is chasing them gives up quickly but Vern continues alone. Vern finds the dying man who has time to whisper the name of the hide-out: "Chuck-a-luck". Vern is determined to find the killer no matter what. In a barber shop he learns that "Chuck-a-luck" is a gunslinger's hideout run by a woman named Altar. Arrested after killing a man who attacked him, and released when the dead man turns out to be another wanted bandit, Vern gets another tip from the sheriff and heads for the saloon where Altar used to work as a singer. There Vern learns that Altar won a fortune at the at the chuck-a-luck wheel and retired in a ranch under the protection of her lover and gunslinger Frenchy. The saloon owner tells Vern that Frenchy is currently in a nearby jail. Vern starts a fight so the sheriff will throw him into the same jail. Then he helps Frenchy escape and follows him to the ranch, which is located near the Mexican border. Vern finally meets the legendary Altar (Dietrich), who runs the ranch like a hotel for wanted criminals, charging them a fee proportional to their robberies. Altar is wearing the brooch that Vern gave Beth and so Vern knows that the killer must be one of the guests.
To make Altar talk, Vern has to seduce her. He is even too successful, and causes Frenchy to become jealous (especially since Altar tells him that Vern is the man she has been dreaming of all her life). At the same time, Vern needs to prove to the others that he is indeed a bandit like them: he learns how to shoot from Frenchy and helps the gang rob a bank (Altar in vain opposes the idea, because she doesn't want him to become one of them).
Vern suspects Frenchy is his fiance's killer but instead Altar tells him that the brooch came from Kinch. Once he learns the name of his nemesis, Vern tells Altar how much he despises her and leaves to settle his score with Kinch. But Kinch is a coward and refuses to draw the gun. All Vern can do is let the sheriff arrest Kinch. The other bandits learn of Vern's betrayal, free Kinch and run to the ranch to take revenge. Vern is defended by Frenchy and Altar. During the shootout Frenchy kills Kinch to save Vern's life and Altar saves Frenchy's life intercepting a bullet that was meant for him. Frenchy sends the survivors away, knowing that the posse will soon get them. Nobody realizes that Altar, shot, is dying.

Il nuovo poliziesco The Blue Gardenia (1953), girato in sole tre settimane per imposizioni contrattuali.

A reporter, Casey, is excorted through a telephone building while a painter, Harry, draws a sketch of a telephone operator. Harry is a womanizer, and receives a desperate call from a girl whom he seduced and is now avoiding. Three of the operators are housemates, and men are their favorite topic. One of the three girls, Norah, is faithful to a soldier who is in Korea. It is her birthday and she refuses any date to stay home and celebrate with the letter she has just received from hi. But the letter is actually a break-up letter: he fell in love with a nurse. She is heartbroken and, when the painter calls to invite her housemate who is out, she takes the offer to have dinner with him at the "Blue Gardenia". The reporter happens to be at the bar and sees Harry waiting for her. Harry gets her drunk, takes her to his place and almost rapes her. To defend herself, she kills him. Then flees terrified. She wakes up in the morning hardly remembering what happened.
The police investigates the scene and the reporter shows up and recognizes the dead as the painter. All the telephone operators who posed for the painter are interrogated by the police. Nobody knows that Norah saw the painter (the painter meant to see her housemate Crystal) and she never posed for him, so she is not a suspect. Casey runs articles on his newspapers on the case, that become as popular as a daily cartoon. Norah is tormented and, when Casey publishes a "letter to an unknown murderess", she walks into his office and asks for his help: she honestly doesn't remember killing him. In the meantime her housemate Crystal has guessed the truth and Norah confesses to her. When Crystal and Norah meet Casey at the "Blue Gardenia", the police, who has been spying the reporter, arrests Norah, and Norah believes that she fell in a trap, that Casey had been working for the police.
But Casey has been indeed on her side and continues to investigate. He finds out that the record playing when Harry was murdered was not the record that played when Norah was with him, and then finds out the real murderer, who works in a record shop and turns out to be the girl who was madly in love with Harry.

Lo storico Moonfleet (1955) e` un'altra delusione.

Moonfleet (1955) is a costume drama about an orphan boy whose dying mother has instructed him to go to Moonfleet and look for Jeremy. This Jeremy turns out to be a ruthless smuggler who has got extremely rich and powerful, but also terrorizes the people. The orphan soon becomes mesmerized by Jeremy's life and wants to pursue the same career, but Jeremy sends him to the colonies with his lover. Jeremey's lover feels betrayed and denounces him to the police. The orphan is Jeremey's only true friend and even helps him find a gigantic diamond. But Jeremy, indifferent towards the orphan's friendship, is ready to betray him too, after striking a deal with the lords of the land. Only when the stagecoach is taking him away does Jeremy feel bad. He fights with the lord to return to the orphan but is mortally wounded. He manages to return to the orphan and hand him the diamond. The film has gothic and spiritual touches that are unusual for Lang. Lang aggiunge la grande trilogia del film nero che conclude la sua carriera americana: The Big Heat (1953), Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) e While The City Sleeps (1956).

Big Heat e` uno dei capolavori del gangster-film di tutti i tempi. E` anche uno dei film che definirono lo stereotipo del giustiziere solitario immerso in una societa` corrotta e spietata. A differenza di quelli di Hitchcock, pero`, quello di Lang non e` ne' scanzonato ne' donnaiolo, ma un uomo disperato della piccola borghesia.

A man commits suicide. The wife does not seem too distressed: she picks up the phone and calls a man, Mike. Mike in turn calls his right-hand man, Vince (Lee Marvin), who is derided by his girlfriend for the way he jumps when the boss calls. It turns out the dead man was a police sergeant. When the detective in charge of the case, Dave (Glenn Ford), interrogates the wife, she pretends to be devastated.
At home, the detective has a happy life with a loving wife and a cute child. While they are having dinner, he gets a call from a colleague: a chanteuse called Lucy, who was the dead man's lover, does not believe that he committed suicide. The detective visits her at the club where she works. The barman and other men watch them unhappy. The girls tells him that the sergeant was planning to divorce his wife and that he had no reason to kill himself. The detective does not believe her, but the following day he learns that she has been tortured and killed. Dave begins to have suspicions, but his superior tells him that the widow has complained and that he has to stop looking into the case. Nonetheless, Dave goes back to the club and talks to the sleazy barmaid, who derides him. As Dave walks out of the club, the barmaid makes a phone call to inform someone of what happened. Dave has only pretended to leave the club and confronts the barmaid, who in turn tells him that he cannot do anything, as if he knew what his superior told him. Dave begins to sense police corruption behind the case.
Back home, as he is nervously playing with his child, and in vain comforted by his wife, Dave receives a phone call from a man who threatens him. That only makes Dave even more determined to continue his investigation. Guessing who is behind the pressure, Dave drives to the big mansion of Mike and walks, uninvited, straight into a private party. Dave confronts Mike about Lucy's murder. Mike feels insulted that the detective dared enter his house and promises to have him punished. Dave accuses him of being a gangster and hits his bodyguard. The following day Dave is again scolded by his superior, an old man who does not want to compromise his position. That night, as Dave is reading his daughter a story, his wife turns on the engine of the car and blows up with it.
After the funeral, the commissioner (his superior's superior) offers his condolences, but Dave only wants one thing: revenge. Dave insults both politicians and accuses them of being on Mike's payroll. They suspend him. He walks out the office promising to kill his wife's murderers. A police officer offers help, but Dave, full of hate for the department, refuses it.
Mike is having a meeting with Vince and another gangster, Larry, while Vince's silly girl, Debbie, drinks disgusted by their cowardice. Mike reproaches Larry for failing to kill Dave (the wife was not the real target). Mike also says that the widow is blackmailing him, and he has no choice as long as a certain compromising letter (probably by her husband) is in her possession.
Dave finds out who was the mechanic who planted the bomb in his car, but... he just died. The owner of the business, obviously frightened, does not cooperate. His crippled old secretary, though, calls Dave as he is leaving and tells him the name of the man who came to intimidate her boss: Larry. And the name of a club: the same club.
Dave returns to the club and sees Vince beat Debbie. Dave intervenes and humiliates Vince in front of everybody. Debbie, who has long detested Vince's cowardice, is fascinated by the bold detective and follows him to his hotel room. Dave is not interested in sex, only in information: since she offers none, Dave asks her to leave after offending her. When Debbie walks back into Vince's apartment, Vince, who is playing card with the commissioner and other corrupt officials, throws hot coffee on her face. The commissioner is pathetic in his effort to calm him down. Vince calls Mike and tells him that Debbie cannot be trusted anymore, but Mike does not want to take any chances. Debbie, knowing that she might be killed like Lucy, begs Dave for shelter. Dave is cold and cynical with everybody, obsessed with achieving his goal of revenge. He doesn't even show gratitude to the girl who risked her life for him and had her face disfigured. He is only interested in her story. Thanks to her and to the crippled old lady, Dave identifies Larry as the killer of his wife and finds Larry's apartment. Larry, terrified that Dave might kill him, tells him everything he knows about Mike's gang. Then Dave does something worse than killing him: he spreads the rumour that Larry "talked".
Mike and Vince decide that the only way to stop Dave is to kidnap his child. Thus they ask the commissioner to remove the police patrol that has been protecting her.
Dave is busy pressuring the widow to talk too. He wants her to give him the compromising letter that would incriminate Mike. She deals with him like a snake, but Dave knows that one event would bring up those documents: her death. She must have protected herself against Mike by making sure that the documents will be published if she is assassinated. He is about to strangle her when the police, called by Mike, arrive.
Dave's brother in law and some friends offer to replace the police patrol who were guarding his daughter. Dave finally shows some feelings when he accepts a few more volunteers: the same police officers whom he had scorned, including his former superior, now retired, who have heard of the scandalous decision and are willing to risk their career for him. But Dave still behaves like everybody owed him these favors. He sees himself as the hero, the just, the victim, and everybody else is either with him or against him. Their lives do not matter.
Now Debbie has also become a wild hate-filled animal like Dave. In fact, she does what Dave would not have the guts to do: she visits the widow and kills her, precisely to make the documents come out and cause a scandal. Then she surprises Vince by throwing hot coffee to his face and disfiguring him the same way he did to her. Vince kills her seconds before Dave arrives. Dave chases him and captures him, but doesn't have the guts to kill The police raids the mansion. Gangsters and corrupt officials are arrested. Debbie dies in Dave's arms while he is reminiscing about his life.
Now Dave can return to his job.
Ford è un poliziotto integerrimo che, incaricato di investigare sul suicidio di un collega, scopre, nonostante la reticenza della vedova, donna gretta e cinica, che la corruzione dilaga nelle file della polizia. Il suo stesso capo lo invita a lasciar perdere, ma poi Ford apprende che l'amante del suicida, una chanteuse, disposta a collaborare, che non crede alla tesi del suicidio e accusa la moglie di essere una perfida ipocrita bugiarda, è stata torturata e uccisa, al bar dove lei lavorava si scontra contro l'arrogante omertà del proprietario, il quale sa persino che il capo gli ha ordinato di lasciar perdere, e lo deride.
A casa Ford è un papà e marito affettuoso e orgoglioso. Riceve una telefonata minatoria, che gli conferma il sospetto di complotto. Prende l'auto e irrompe nella villa del boss durante un party, e non esita a dargli del gangster e a prendere a pugni il suo gorilla. Il giorno dopo il suo capo lo minaccia di nuovo di licenziamento: è un povero vecchio malato, che non vuole compromettere la sua prossima pensione. Quella sera la bella mogliettina di Ford, mentre lui sta raccontando una fiaba alla bambina, mette in moto l'auto e salta in aria per una bomba.
Davanti alle ipocrite frasi di convenienza del commissario, Ford lo insulta dandogli dello scagnozzo del gangster, finchè questi lo sospende dal corpo. Ford è deciso a continuare la sua guerra personale contro il gangster.
Nell'appartamento dei gangster il crudele Vince (Lee Marvin), la sua ragazza scipita, e l'altro sicario, tutti timorosi del boss. Questi prima rimprovera il biondo, che ha fallito l'attentato a Ford uccidendone la moglie, e poi confida a Marvin che la vedova sta chiedendo soldi in cambio della sua omertà.
Ford, che ha rifiutato sdegnosamente l'aiuto offertogli dai colleghi, indaga nel mondo dei pregiudicati. Fiuta la pista, ma il probabile meccanico del lavoretto è morto tre giorni prima e il suo datore di lavoro rifiuta di rispondergli perché è stato minacciato; ma la sua anziana, timida e zoppa impiegata prende da parte Ford e gli racconta delle visite di uno dei sicari e di appuntamenti dati al bar dei gangster. Fuori dalla casa dove Ford ha nascosto la figlia, vigila una squadra della polizia.
Ford si reca al bar e vede Marvin picchiare la sua ragazza (Betty), e lo umilia davanti a tutti. La ragazza di Marvin segue Ford fuori dal bar e va a fare quattro chiacchiere da lui, ma lui, non ottenendo alcuna informazione, la mette alla porta in malomodo. Quando la ragazza torna da Marvin, che sta giocando a carte con il capo della polizia e altri corrotti, questi la sfigura gettandole del caffè bollente in faccia. Il boss ordina a Marvin di eliminarla, ma lei fugge e chiede asilo a Ford nella sua camera d'albergo.
Ford tratta tutti con freddezza e indifferenza, assorto cinicamente nei suoi piani di vendetta. Non e` neppure grato alla ragazza, semplicemente interessato a cio` che lei gli racconta. Ma grazie a Betty Ford intuisce che il biondo è responsabile della morte di sua moglie. Per esserne certo chiede alla vecchietta zoppa di suonare al suo appartamento: la vecchietta riconosce la canaglia. Ford irrompe e lo picchia finche' Larry parla. Alla fine Larry lo supplica di non ucciderlo: lui gli dice che farà di peggio, metterà in giro la voce che ha parlato.
Ford è spietato. Il boss e Marvin decidono di fermare Ford rapendo la bambina, e per farlo chiedono al capo della polizia di far levare la pattuglia di guardia. Nel frattempo Ford irrompe in casa della vedova per smascherarla e farsi consegnare i documenti che il marito scrisse prima di suicidarsi e che lei sottrasse per poter ricattare il boss. Lei lo tratta con arroganza e ironia, ma lui minaccia di ucciderla, perché sa che certamente lei deve essersi protetta contro i boss disponendo che i documenti vengano resi pubblici se lei venisse assassinata. La polizia non fa più la guardia alla figlia di Ford, ma il cognato raccoglie alcuni amici che si offrono volontari. Poi arrivano anche un collega e il suo ex-capo, che hanno saputo e sono disposti a rischiare la carriera.
Ford si comporta ancora come se tutto gli fosse dovuto: lui è il giusto, la vittima, e non è disposto a concedere attenuanti agli altri, neppure agli alleati. Betty, diventata anche lei una belva assetata di vendetta, fa ciò che Ford non avrebbe mai il coraggio di fare: va dalla vedova e la uccide a sangue freddo, per far scoppiare lo scandalo. Poi va da Marvin e lo sfigura allo stesso modo, ma lui le spara alle spalle e la uccide proprio prima che arrivi Ford. Ford lo insegue e lo cattura, ma non ha la forza di ucciderlo: non può sparare su un uomo disarmato. Arriva la polizia. Per i gangster e i corrotti è la fine. Betty spira fra le braccia di Ford ascoltandolo ricordare la moglie.
Ford torna al lavoro.
Girato in soli trenta giorni, è uno dei film più duri e spietati della storia del cinema, pur non indugiando sulle azioni di violenza. The Big Heat è un'altra trasformazione della vittima in vendicatore. Il vendicatore è una forza della natura a caccia degli assassini, esseri disumani che all'inizio parevano invincibili. La regia secca ed essenziale conferisce al film un ritmo incalzante che, al di là dei temi langhiani (il vendicatore è tentato a sua volta dal crimine), ne fa il capolavoro del genere.

While The City Sleeps assume come pretesto una gara, indetta dall'editore, fra i giornalisti che aspirano al posto di direttore generale della sua catena. Il film è costituito dall'incastro di otto storie parallele, che procedono a turno. E` un film al tempo stesso molto cinico, in quanto trasforma un caso tragico, che ha causato la morte di tante innocenti, in una sorta di commedia grottesca alla Billy Wilder.

Un uomo vestito di nero s'insinua nell'appartamento di una donna sola e la strangola. E` l'ennesimo caso. La citta` e` terrorizzata dal maniaco che strangola giovani indifese. Sulla parete ha scritto con il rossetto "ask mother".
Negli uffici di un giornale l'affabile reporter Ed fa la corte alla segretaria, mentre tutti gli uomini dell'ufficio si voltano al passaggio della collega sexy e spregiudicata. Ed viene chiamato nell'ufficio dell'editore, che e` malato e permanentemente a letto. L'editore fa in tempo a ordinare di mettere in prima pagina l'omicidio della giovane e di affibbiare il soprannome "lipstick killer" al pericoloso maniaco. Poi confessa a Ed di essere deluso che suo figlio sia un perdigiorno e che lui, Ed, non voglia prendere il posto di comando (Ed proprio non e` interessato alla carriera) e subito dopo spira. Il figlio, Walter, convoca i tre direttori, John (capo del giornale), Mark (capo del telegiornale) e Harry (fotografia), per comunicare loro che non ha intenzione di licenziare nessuno. Poi convoca Ed (che lavora per Mark) e gli rivela i suoi piani: vuole conferire l'incarico di direttore a uno dei tre ambiziosi direttori, quello che vincera` una gara: risolvere il mistero del "lipstick killer". Ed e` disgustato dal cinismo del nuovo editore, ma i tre si mettono subito in corsa.
Il film segue le speranze e i fallimenti dei tre contendenti. John e` un fumatore accanito, un uomo un po' patetico, giornalista da una vita, padre di famiglia, troppo leale per sfruttare le occasioni che gli capitano. Mark e` un cinico, che stringe un patto con la giornalista spregiudicata, Mildred. Harry e` un playboy, spesso invitato a cena dall'erede, ed e` persino, a sua insaputa, l'amante di sua moglie Dorothy, e conta su questa potente alleata.
Ed passa gran parte del tempo ad amoreggiare (ricambiato) con la segretaria, Nancy, ma e` anche quello piu` acuto nelle indagini e si schiera dalla parte del patetico John. Ed, consigliato da un criminologo, usa il proprio show televisivo per provocare l'assassino. L'assassino sta infatti ascoltando e inorridisce nel sentire Ed individuare cosi` tanti tratti del suo carattere, persino il fatto che e` un avido lettore di fumetti, e in particolare il suo rapporto di odio-amore nei confronti della madre. La madre bussa alla porta e il criminale deve spegnere la televisione e pretendere come sempre di essere un bravo figliolo che studia di giorno e lavora di notte. In realta` nutre rancore per la madre che lo ha adottato. Nelle giovani il maniaco trasla il suo astio verso la madre.
Il piano di Ed e del criminologo e` di usare Nancy come esca. Il giornale pubblica la notizia del loro fidanzamento e l'assassino abbocca.
Nel frattempo Harry usa l'amante Dorothy (che vuole piu` che altro vendicarsi di un marito che non ha mai amato) per esercitare pressioni a suo favore sull'editore, Walter.
Mark, a sua volta, intuendo la pericolosita` di Ed, chiede alla sua spregiudicata amica, Mildred, di sedurlo.
Il maniaco e` gia` all'opera. Ha identificato l'appartamento di Nancy, che, per pura coincidenza, e` quello di fianco a Nancy. E` al bar mentre Ed ubriaco cade fra le braccia della seduttrice Mildred.
Il giorno dopo la segretaria, che ha saputo della serata folle, toglie il saluto a Ed. Grazie alla trasmissione di Ed, Mark firma un importante contratto che probabilmente gli varrebbe il posto. John si sente perduto e Harry cede al panico.
Il maniaco colpisce: tenta di entrare nell'appartamento di Nancy, ma non ci riesce. In quel momento Dorothy esce dal suo e allora il maniaco attacca lei. Dorothy riesce a fuggire e a rifugiarsi da Nancy. Ed sta arrivando con la polizia e fa in tempo a vedere il maniaco e corrergli dietro. L'inseguimento termina nei tunnel nella metropolitana: quando il maniaco tenta di scappare da un manhole, viene arrestato dai poliziotti.
Ed passa la notizia all'amico John che puo` così sorprendere tutti con un'edizione speciale del suo giornale e conquistare meritatamente il posto che ha ambito tutta la vita.
Nel frattempo la giornalista Mildred passa dalla parte di John e accetta di andare a intervistare la sventurata che ha scampato la morte, senza sapere che si tratta della moglie del padrone e sorprende cosi` gli amanti in flagrante. Harry, sconfitto, si toglie la soddisfazione di vuotare il sacco con l'inetto Walter. Mildred si toglie la soddisfazione di mandare all'inferno l'altezzoso Mark, che pensava ancora di essere il vincitore grazie al suo contratto.
Ed sposa la segretaria e in tal modo la commedia sentimentale a lieto fine ha la meglio sul giallo morboso.
La cattura del "mostro" (il maniaco è un surrogato di M) passa in secondo piano rispetto al duello a distanza fra Ed e il maniaco, al ritratto di un uomo inetto (il figlio dell'editore) che nessuno ama, e alla descrizione di un ambiente privo di moralita`.

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt è un altro film perfetto in ogni accorgimento, un gioco ad incastro a cui partecipano tutti gli elementi della regia e della sceneggiatura, un puzzle degno di Alfred Hitchcock.

Un giornalista contrario alla pena di morte convince il futuro genero a prestarsi per un esperimento: fabbricheranno insieme prove che accuseranno il giovane di un omicidio, lasceranno che il tribunale lo condanni alla sedia elettrica e poi tireranno fuori la documentazione dell'inganno. Il processo, seguito dalla televisione, si protrae con una serie di testimonianze che incriminano il giovane senza pieta`. La mattina in cui si attende il verdetto il giornalista si mette in moto con i documenti cruciali, ma muore in un incidente automobilistico. Il giovane, che soggiorna pacifico in prigione senza temere nulla, apprende la tragica notizia e si rende conto che adesso rischia di essere davvero giustiziato. Il giovane supplica il giudice di pazientare mentre la sua fidanzata cerca di documenti nella cassaforte, ma il giornalista aveva i documenti con se` nell'auto. La giuria lo condanna a morte. Avendo ereditato il giornale, la fidanzata si mette all'opera per dimostrare che il giovane dice la verita`, e, se non altro, convince il pubblico. Ma ancora non ci sono prove. Le indagini rivelano che la ragazza prima si chiamava Emma, ma l'unico possibile sospetto e` morto da anni. Quando ormai tutti stanno perdendo le speranze, viene ritrovata la lettera in cui il giornalista rivela tutto e scagiona il giovane. Liberato, il giovane pero` si tradisce mentre sta festeggiando con la fidanzata: pronuncia il nome Emma, ma nessun giornale ha mai dato la notizia delle indagini recenti. La fidanzata capisce che e` davvero lui l'assassino, e lui le confessa. Adesso la situazione si e` capovolta: tutti credono il giovane innocente, la fidanzata sa che lui e` colpevole ma non ha prove... o, meglio, e` lei l'unica prova. Trova il coraggio di telefonare al governatore che sta per concedere la grazia al giovane e il giovane ritorna in prigione. I due colpi di scena sono i tocchi di classe che comportano la fredda dimostrazione di una tesi: che la giustizia è un'opinione. Il primo colpo di scena raddoppia il messaggio che la pena di morte rischia di uccidere innocenti: adesso non c'e` davvero piu` nulla a salvare l'uomo che noi sappiamo essere innocente. Ma il secondo colpo di scena esprime invece il pessimismo di Lang nei confronti dell'umanita`: anche quando sembrano innocenti, gli esseri umani sono sempre colpevoli di qualcosa. Tanto più cinico quanto più essenziale, il film è un giallo perfetto. In questo genere Lang non ha più nulla da imparare.

Nel 1957 Lang tornò in patria a realizzare due film giallo-avventurosi scritti trent'anni prima, The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959) e The Indian Tomb (1959), e concluse la carriera tre anni dopo con la terza parte delle avventure di Mabuse, Das tausend Augen des Dr Mabuse/ The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960). Chiude così il ciclo dei suoi film con un esplicito richiamo alla tradizione dei serial, del cinema d'appendice.

Mabuse è morto ma un nuovo criminale ne emula le terribili imprese servendosi di strumenti tecnologicamente all'avanguardia. Nel suo mirino c'è ora un milionario americano, sedotto da una donna per la quale crede di uccidere un uomo; la donna, pentita, gli rivela che in realtà si è trattato di un complotto per spingerlo a sposarla e poi ucciderlo. Il criminale li rinchiude entrambi nei sotterranei dell'albergo, ma Mabuse viene tradito dallo scodinzolio di un cane che ne rivela l'identità alla polizia in agguato. Lui e i sicari scompaiono nel fiume. Dal 1961 alla morte (1976) si limita a raccogliere onorificenze.

Lang conclude con un po' di nostalgia una carriera di quarant'anni di cinema che non ha avuto un attimo di sosta e che ha prodotto una decina di capolavori. Dall'espressionismo al kolossal storico, al thriller, balzando avanti e indietro nel tempo e nello spazio, Lang è stato interprete del suo tempo, sia nel presagire la tragedia nazista e nel captare gli istinti che governano la cruenta vita sociale americana, sia nel porsi l'autentico dilemma della colpa e dell'innocenza, emblema morale della società moderna.

La caratteristica narrazione dura e asciutta, l'economia della messa in scena, il culto del dettaglio, il classismo distaccato della macchina da presa, ne hanno fatto uno dei più grandi maestri di stile. Le trame paranoiche (il personaggio è sempre "in trappola"), con l'accento sullo spirito di vendetta (cioè rivincita sul destino), pongono il cinema di Lang fra moralità e fatalismo: da un lato ogni colpa, ogni errore, deve essere pagato, dall'altro ogni uomo è vittima inerme di questo meccanismo automatico di espiazione. La forza oscura che regola questo crudele gioco è qualcosa a metà fra un dio espressionista sordido e crudele e una coscienza universale della lotta fra bene e male che si svolge in ogni uomo. In ogni caso prima o poi scatta la "trappola", e da quel momento la tensione è tutta fra la forza di volontà della vittima che vuole uscirne e la giustizia, irrazionale e ambigua, che deve compiersi.

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