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Film / Hangmen Also Die!

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Hangmen Also Die! is a 1943 American Film Noir directed by Fritz Lang from a screenplay by Bertolt Brecht.

It is a dramatization of the aftermath of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Nazi-occupied part of Czechoslovakia) during World War II.

See also and compare Hitler's Madman (1943), Atentát (1964), Operation Daybreak (1975), Anthropoid (2016) and The Man with the Iron Heart (2017), all about the same historical events.

Provides examples of:

  • Acquitted Too Late: The investigation by the Nazis determines that Czaka did not assassinate Heydrich. By this time, they have already killed him, however. To add insult to injury, they decide to close the case with Czaka as the official culprit in order to save face (having failed to uncover the real assassin despite the harsh reprisals).
  • The Alcoholic: Inspector Gruber is notorious for being a heavy drinker.
  • The Alibi: The hospital provides a fake one for Dr. Svoboda to prove that he couldn't have killed Heydrich: he was at a cholecystectomy all day.
  • Artistic License – History: The movie went into production a mere six months after the real events. Basically, the only things it gets right is that Heydrich wanted to improve the productivity of Czech people for the German war effort and the fact that he died (not the same way either). The rest is completely fictional. Compare Hitler's Madman, which was made at the same time, and is overall more accurate (even though many details of the events weren't known yet, understandably) in that it features a parachuted Czech agent who was trained by the British as protagonist.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The intended Getaway Driver jumps out a window at the Gestapo headquarters rather than be interrogated.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dr. Svoboda gets away with the assassination and Czaka is successfully framed, but a large number of hostages are executed including Professor Novotny. In Real Life, it was even worse; in the film, they talk of hundreds of hostages, whereas the real numbers are estimated to have been thirteen thousand arrested and five thousand killed in reprisals. Moreover, the assassins were killed within a month and the collaborator who sold them out wasn't caught until after the war.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Dr. Pillar throws a knife at Inspector Gruber, but he misses and the knife lands blade-first in the table Gruber's standing behind instead.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Dr. Svoboda and Mascha use the method of writing notes for the sensitive information and saying inconspicuous things. See also Last-Second Word Swap, below.
  • Body in a Breadbox: The body of Inspector Gruber is planted in a pile of coals in Czaka's basement.
  • Cassandra Truth: Czaka tells the Gestapo that he's innocent and that the Resistance is framing him for the assassination of Heydrich. That is precisely what's going on, but the frame-up is successful regardless.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bribe Czaka pays Inspector Gruber for police protection becomes additional circumstantial evidence against him after Gruber is killed by the Resistance.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Says Czaka when questioned by his handler Inspector Gruber why he collaborates with the Nazi occupiers of Czechoslovakia:
    Czaka: Because as a real Czech patriot I realize our entire future depends on unconditional collaboration with Greater Germany.
    Inspector Gruber: And I thought you did it for business reasons, for certain favours, for certain very profitable military contracts.
  • Curtain Camouflage: A critically wounded Dedic hides behind the curtain in Dr. Svoboda's apartment when Inspector Gruber comes by.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The film is about the jackboot, which is by this point already firmly in place, coming down harder on Czechoslovakia following the assassination of Heydrich.
  • Destination Defenestration: The intended getaway driver jumps out of a window to his death after being brought to the Gestapo headquarters rather than be interrogated.
  • Divide and Conquer: The Germans' plan is to sow division among the Czechoslovakian populace by executing hostages until Heydrich's killer is caught, counting on the people to disagree about whether the killer should be sacrificed to save the hostages. They are moderately successful; the people do indeed get into arguments about whether he should turn himself in, but ultimately nobody is willing to collaborate with the Nazis by selling him out.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: One of the hostages writes a poem to this effect regarding the Nazi occupation, called "The Invisible Torch".
    Fellow patriots, the time has come.
    Fellow patriots, there is work to be done.
    Raise the invisible torch and pass it along.
    Keep it burning, keep it burning
    forward on the road that has no turning.
    Die if you must,
    for a cause that is just.
    But shout to the end: "No Surrender".
    Ever onward, no returning,
    till the senseless* butcher will be learning
    that his war isn't won till the last battle's done.
    Carry on when we are gone.
    No surrender!
  • Eagle-Eye Detection: Mascha figures out where to find "Karel Vanek" (i.e. Dr. Svoboda) by first deducing that he's a physician by his bandaging skills, and then locating the correct hospital using something he had mentioned in passing.
  • The End: Defied. The film ends with the following text:
    The End
  • Face Death with Dignity: Several of the hostages who are executed, especially Professor Novotny.
  • Fall Guy: Czaka, The Mole inside La Résistance, becomes their fall guy for the assassination of Heydrich.
  • Fascists' Bed Time: The Nazis enforce a 7 pm curfew after the assassination of Heydrich, which forces Dr. Svoboda to spend the night at the Novotnys'.
  • Frame-Up: La Résistance cook up an elaborate one for The Mole so he would be blamed for the assassination of Heydrich.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Of the "guilty of something else" variety. Czaka is innocent of the assassination of Heydrich, but since he is a collaborator who betrayed the Resistance, they have no qualms about framing him for it anyway.
  • Getaway Driver: The plan for the assassination of Heydrich includes one of these, but he is arrested for wasting gasoline by idling mere minutes before he's needed, so the assassin is forced to improvise.
  • He Went That Way: Right after the assassination of Heydrich, Mascha points Dr. Svoboda's pursuers in the wrong direction. She doesn't know what they want with him, but she figures that if someone is running from the Nazis, she doesn't want that person to be caught.
  • Hope Spot: Czaka is successfully framed for Heydrich's assassination, Dr. Svoboda is thus off the hook, and Ritter tells Mascha that the remaining hostages will be released in the morning. And then we see Professor Novotny be executed—the last in a long line of hostages.
  • Insistent Terminology: The Resistance members note the importance of word choice in public perception, preferring the people see Heydrich's killer as his "executioner", rather than his "assassin".
  • Interrogation Montage: Used when the Gestapo interrogates the members of the Novotny family.
  • In the Back: Schirmer releases Czaka after having him arrested for the murders of Heydrich and Gruber and tells him to run, only to shoot him in the back.
  • Language Fluency Denial: Czaka pretends not to speak German in order to allay suspicions of collaborating with the Nazis. In fact, not speaking German had been his alibi once previously, when the Resistance was betrayed two years ago.
  • Language Fluency Reveal: Czaka doesn't speak in order to allay suspicions of collaborating with the Nazis. In fact, not speaking German had been his alibi once previously, when the Resistance was betrayed two years ago. Czaka laughs at a joke told in German, revealing that he understands the language (not speaking German had cleared him of suspicions of betraying the Resistance previously). He unsuccessfully tries to pass it off as laughing at something else.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: After Mascha is released from the Gestapo headquarters and goes home, Dr. Svoboda shows up. He is savvy enough to know that the apartment is probably bugged, but she doesn't realize it right away, leading the Gestapo to overhear her say the following (and astonishingly, they fall for it):
    "You're the one the Gestapo wants! You killed... any-any feelings I-I ever had for you."
  • Loose Lips: Professor Novotny warns his daughter Mascha about this, noting that sensitive information can travel from one person to the next and quickly reach the ears of the Gestapo. When she replies that telling him shouldn't be a problem, he pulls out a dictionary to really drive the point home:
    "Definition of 'no one': not any, not one, not a single one, none!"
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Invoked. Mascha and Dr. Svoboda make it seem like they're having an affair to hide what they're really up to.
  • The Mole: Czaka is a Nazi collaborator in the Resistance.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Dr. Svoboda's reaction to Mascha locating him.
    • Czaka has this reaction when he realizes that he has blown his cover in the Resistance.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: While fleeing from his pursuers after assassinating Heydrich, Dr. Svoboda swaps one hat for another, changing nothing else about his outfit.
  • Pull the Thread: The Resistance suspect Czaka of only pretending to be unable to speak German in order to allay suspicions of collaboration with the Nazis, so they decide to set up a situation where someone who speaks German would have a Reflexive Response to test their theory. They are correct.
  • Reflexive Response: Czaka laughs at a joke told in German, revealing that he understands the language (not knowing German had cleared him of suspicions of betraying the Resistance previously). He unsuccessfully tries to pass it off as laughing at something else.
  • La Résistance: The Czech Resistance against the Nazi occupiers is one of the main focal points of the film, being responsible for the assassination of Heydrich in this version of history.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The assassination of Heydrich was carried out on May 27, 1942 (though he didn't die of his injuries until June 4). The film started production in October 1942 and was released on March 27, 1943.
  • Secret-Keeper: Mascha figures out that the man she saw running from the Nazis after the assassination of Heydrich (Dr. Svoboda), and whom she could identify if she saw him again, must have been the killer. Her father, Professor Novotny, insists that she keep the secret all to herself, warning against Loose Lips (see above).
  • Shamed by a Mob: Mascha decides to go to the Gestapo to inform on Dr. Svoboda in order to save her father. On her way there, she is intercepted by Resistance members. When she causes a scene by demanding to be allowed to go to the Gestapo, she attracts the attention of bystanders who do not take kindly to locals collaborating with the occupiers, and proceed to tear into her for it. By the time she gets to the Gestapo, she has changed her mind about turning Dr. Svoboda in.
  • Shot at Dawn: The Germans execute the hostages by firing squad, 40 at a time. It all happens offscreen until the last group of hostages to be executed, which includes Professor Novotny.
  • Signature Item Clue:
    • Czaka's distinctive lighter, with his initials engraved, is used as part of the frame-up against him.
    • Inspector Gruber's tendency to leave lots of empty bottles around after drinking is also used as part of the frame-up against Czaka.
  • Spill Stain Sabotage: Dr. Svoboda intentionally spills wine on some blood stains to cover them up in order to keep the Nazis from discovering that a wounded Resistance member is hiding in the room.
  • Spotting the Thread: Inspector Gruber figures out that Dr. Svoboda and Mascha weren't actually having an affair when he sees lipstick smeared on his own cheek in the mirror, recalling that the lipstick mark on Dr. Svoboda's cheek was immaculate and thus deducing that it must have been placed there intentionally to throw him off their scent by making it seem like what they were up to was having an affair.
  • Talk to the Fist: At the cinema, audience members start applauding when they hear the news of Heydrich's assassination. A Nazi there stops the film and demands to know who started the applause, saying that nobody is allowed to leave until he finds out. They start leaving despite his protests, which are then interrupted by one of the moviegoers punching him out.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Although the film never downplays the Nazis' ruthlessness, its portrayals of especially Heydrich and Ritter rely heavily on Camp Gay stereotypes.
  • Translation Convention: Being that this is Prague during the occupation by the Nazis, characters speak Czech and German. English is used to represent Czech, whereas German is simply represented by German.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: We hear that the Resistance has a plan to save the hostages without surrendering Heydrich's killer, but we don't find out what it is. It turns out that their plan is to frame a collaborator in their midst for the assassination. The plan is only partially successful; the traitor gets blamed for the assassination and is killed by the Nazis (though he is posthumously determined to have been innocent thereof), but the hostages including Professor Novotny are killed regardless.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Since the film was made so shortly after the real events, and WWII was still ongoing, the details were not known to the filmmakers. In reality, the assassination of Heydrich, known as Operation Anthropoid, was carried out by Czechoslovak soldiers trained by the British Special Operations Executive and with the blessing of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, whereas in the film it was carried out by the Czech Resistance. Furthermore, the real assassins were located and killed within a month.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Says Inspector Gruber to Mascha when she says she doesn't have the information he wants during interrogation:
    "Answer properly! You know we have means to make you talk. Maybe you have heard about the vaults below."
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: General Votruba has the following to say when his name is called for execution.
    "My name shouldn't be counted in. That was the arrangement when I spoke for you on the radio."