Fritz Lang (December 5, 1890-August 2, 1976) was a Viennese film director, and one of the most famous emigrés from Germany's school of expressionism to work in Hollywood. Although many consider his work as often failing to rise above the standards of melodrama, he produced a steady output of entertaining movies that helped to shape the standards of film noir. His most famous films are probably Metropolis and M, made before he came to America.
Lang was an artist and a painter who enlisted in the army and fought in World War I. Wounded and recovering from both injuries and shell-shock, he joined Germany's UFA studio just as the Expressionist movement was waxing. Lang produced a number of crime dramas, and an ambitious two-part adaptation of the Ring of the Nibelung saga (better known from Wagner's opera), before directing his most famous film, Metropolis, in 1927. Legend has it that Metropolis greatly impressed the leaders of the growing Nazi movement, though Lang detested their philosophy and wrote anti-Nazi statements into his 1933 film, The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse. The movie was subsequently banned when the Nazis seized power, but Joseph Goebbels still respected Lang enough to offer him the head position of the German film industry. Rather than accept the position, Lang fled Germany. Thea von Harbou, his wife and long-time collaborator, had joined the Nazi party and remained behind.
In 1931, between Metropolis and Dr. Mabuse, Lang directed what film scholars consider to be his masterpiece: M, a disturbing story of a murderer of little children (Peter Lorre in his first starring role) who is hunted down and brought to trial by Berlin's criminal underworld. M still remains a powerful movie today; it was remade in 1951 and 1956, with both remakes failing to leave a mark on audiences.
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Lang joined the MGM studio and directed the impressive crime drama Fury. He made a number of lurid melodramas over the next twenty years, working especially in film noir but also directing three Westerns and other features. Lang epitomized the stereotype of the tyrannical German director; he was known for being hard to work with. He wore a monocle that added to the stereotype (though film historians say this particular cliche began with Erich von Stroheim), and his image was parodied in a number of films.
During the 1950s, an aging Lang found it harder to find steady work in Hollywood, and he returned to his native Europe to try to ressurect the moribund German film industry. His final films made in German were not well received, however, and Lang retired from directing. He passed way in 1976.