The Movies by Fritz Lang

Rancho Notorius

Seminar Paper, 2007

18 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents


1. Fritz Lang: His roots, his development, his road to America
1.1 Before he was officially into films
1.2 First contact with America

2. Fritz Lang: A straightforward human, a multifaceted director
2.1 Differences throughout Scarlett Street
2.2 Differences throughout Secret Beyond The Door

3. The myth Marlene Dietrich
3.1 Before Sternberg
3.2 Sternberg’s school
3.3 The male within Dietrich
3.4 The price for glamour and success
3.5 Dietrich versus Lang in “Rancho Notorious”

4. A “Langian” innovation: three layers of narration
4.1 Flashbacks
4.1.1 The love triangle
4.2 The ballad of “Chuck-a-Luck”
4.3 The narration on screen
4.3.1 Vern’s progressing character




To start with the most important information right away:

This paper has been written on the basis that the reader has watched the movie Rancho Notorious and is familiar with its plot, its director Fritz Lang, and the actress Marlene Dietrich.

The reader ought to get a brief insight into Lang’s life before he got into film, through which circumstances he got there, and how he finally ended up in Hollywood. In addition to that I am going to explain some an aspect about his character and his work, and especially that he was not every actor’s favorite choice.

The second big part of this paper will deal with the great Marlene Dietrich, and with the collaboration of her and Lang – two impressive German originated names in America – in Rancho Notorious.

The paper will conclude with a closer look into the picture and its unique way of narrating the story and providing information to the spectator on three different layers.

1. Fritz Lang: His roots, his development, his road to America

1.1 Before he was officially into films

Fritz Lang is said to be one of the most brilliant directors of his era. Born and grown in Vienna on December 5th in 1890, Lang started studying civil engineering in 1907 for his father's sake but dedicated his studies towards arts only one year later. From 1910 and 1913/14 he kept traveling until he continued his education in Paris and discovered film as his great passion.

With the First World War Lang returned to Vienna as volunteer and showed great courage. Based on this military state he lived at Dr. Karl Grossmann's mansion, an intellectual lawyer who had made three short films by then. During this time Lang acquired a lot of ideas and suggestions for his later work.

He continued his studies and wrote scripts until 1920, when the producer Erich Pommer discovered him and brought him to Germany, where Lang started his career and shaped the era of silent movie, together with his wife Thea von Harbou.

1.2 First contact with America

Instead of going into further detail about his work in Germany, I will jump 14 years in time to the year 1934, when he emigrated from France to the United States of America. This emigration was not an emigration as such. It was rather the escape from a certain death, since Lang was anti-Nazi and was "asked" to run for chief of the German film industry by the Nazi Goebbels in 1933 during a personal conversation.

The following passage is taken from an edited interview tape-recorded at Lang's home in Beverly Hills from 1965:

>> I first came to America briefly in 1924 and it made a great impression on me. The first evening, when we arrived, we were still enemy aliens so we couldn’t leave the ship. It was docked somewhere on the West Side of New York. […] Having come from Germany – after running out on Goebbels, who had offered me the leadership of the German film industry – I was very, very happy to get a chance to live in and become an American. In those days I refused to speak a word of German. […] I spoke only English. […] I had nothing, because Goebbels talked to me from one o’clock till three (the banks closed at two-thirty) and I left the country the same day without taking anything with me; and I never went back. <<

From this small extract one can imagine in what kind of situation Lang was at that time. On the one hand, due to his immense success in silent movies with films like Dr. Mabuse and Die Nibelungen (the one I will refer to later in chapter 4.2), Lang was enjoying the great popularity of the German audience. On the other hand, he had the offer from Goebbels, which can hardly be seen as such. It is way more likely that Goebbels and the NSDAP needed a platform for their Nazi-propaganda, and film offered a perfect possibility during this time. Therefore Goebbels wanted the best, especially after he had confessed admiring Lang for his skills in filmmaking. Now what would have happened if Lang had dared to deny the honorable offer of the Nazi regime? The answer is too obvious…

Viewing back at Lang’s career, it can be stated that, “his American films make up more than 50 percent of his work” (Bogdanovich, 6). During his career, Lang’s work “has been remarkably consistent […], both in theme and outlook […] (Bogdanovich, 6). Having a closer look at his first real success in Germany – Der Müde Tod – and his last American production – Beyond Reasonable Doubt – it can be concluded that the protagonists’ fights versus fate are a central theme in Lang’s walk of life.

In Rancho Notorious it is Vern Haskell, whose fiancé Beth gets raped and murdered. An event that turns a peaceful man into one driven by “hate, murder and revenge”. This term serves as leitmotif through the entire movie.

2. Fritz Lang: A straightforward human, a multifaceted director

2.1 Differences throughout Scarlett Street

It is reported not only once that working and filmmaking with Fritz Lang – or rather under his care – was anything but pleasure.

Several examples are given in Helmut Asper’s “Filmlexikon im Universal Studio”, describing problems during the making of two Diana Production and Universal International co-productions.

It is said that the two companies did not only split up the drawn profit fastidiously but also the control over the artistic part of the film (Asper, 206).

In the first co-production Scarlett Street (1945), Lang overdrew the original budget of 1.149.000 dollar by 200.000 dollar and the original filming schedule by five days without causing serious disagreements. Problems occurred only when it came to the final cut, when Lang accused Walter Wanger – an independent producer Lang had worked with before – of having allied with the Universal Executives against him.

In fact Wanger was representing Universal’s press people’s and vendor’s concerns who judged the movie too slow and verbose. Lang protested, ineffectively (Asper, 207). Nevertheless, Scarlett Street was a major success.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


The Movies by Fritz Lang
Rancho Notorius
University of Trier
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
700 KB
Movies, Fritz, Lang, Rancho, Notorius
Quote paper
Tolga Güneysel (Author), 2007, The Movies by Fritz Lang, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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