April 17, 1943 [Hangmen Also Die!]

I wasn't paying attention, I suppose: Just wanted to see the movie Hangmen Also Die! because I'd heard it was about last year's killing of Hitler's man, Heydrich, and the Nazi reprisals that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Czechs. What a mess: The urge to cut short the Hangman's evil spills over like a slop-bucket, and the effort to unsteady the Nazis leaves all those innocents lying in bloody gutters--while the horrors go on, and someone has to figure out the difference between wrong and not-wrong--the good knotted up like a kerchief in anxious hands, worried and starting to tatter.

But again: The story was all I wanted--but the names were up there before the picture started: John Wexley, Bertolt Brecht, Fritz Lang; I should've glanced at the poster as I walked into the theater, just to steel myself for all the earnest undercover condemnations and righteous sweat and grime these three usually manage.

Lang in particular seems almost eager to rub our noses in it--not anything explicitly gruesome, just the obscenity of appetite without satiation, the Gestapo hog always guzzling beer and sitting splay-legged, panting and swelling beneath the constraints of his uniform, ready to burst like an untended infection.

The story itself follows the same path, groaning with moral dyspepsia, sickened by the only choices it has: Let it all go on, or collaborate, or sacrifice oneself--or others. And there is the weight of it, the reason for all of Lang's mussed-up rooms and dank torture-cells, nice little old men shot down like scraping a boot--and the quisling's flight, accompanied by Nazi laughter, a bit of fun before returning to the real Czechs--to make them un-real, flattened out like only the dead can manage, at once twisted by pain and finally completely relaxed. My fallen arches kept me from service, but the draft cuts a broad swath, and the Czech dilemma--the lesser evil for the greater: impossible, inescapable decision--is being confronted by just about all of us now. I was glad to see Brian Donlevy and Walter Brennan being put through such paces; they seemed calm enough, despite being trapped in a Brechtian epic.


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