Fritz Lang: Nature of the Beast

Article excerpt

Fritz Lang: Nature of the Beast by Patrick McGilligan St. Martin's Press, 580 pps., hardback. $29.95

Warts-and-all biographies of celebrities who have shuffled off this mortal coil have been much in vogue as of late, and German filmmaker Fritz Lang is the latest subject to be exhumed and dissected in such a fashion. Previous Lang biographies, including large-scale ones by Lotte Eisner and Frederick Ott, emphasize his genius as a filmmaker and reveal much about his moviemaking process, but carefully avoid dishing out much dirt on his life. During four years of research, however, Patrick McGilligan managed to unearth much scandal.

The juiciest episode arises early on in the book: Lang's young first wife died in her bathtub from a bullet in the chest on the same night she caught Lang in congress with his future wife, author Thea von Harbou. The official verdict was suicide - but was it? The author's sleuthing has turned up the name of this unfortunate lady, whose very existence was virtually erased once the scandal abated.

Other incidents are also vividly described: the time Lang almost burned the sublime Brigitte Helm to death during the production of Metropolis (1926); an apparently sadomasochistic relationship with Gerda Maurus, the beautiful Viennese "virgin star" of Spione / The Spy (1928) and Frau im Mond/Woman in the Moon (1929); involvements with the Nazis in Germany and the Communists in America; and combative episodes with a multitude of celebrities, including Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Lilli Palmer and Marlene Dietrich. …