Doomed Down 

Lang in the USA

The cinema of Fritz Lang is shadowy and doom-laden, filled with fatalism and revenge. Lang's films are typically set in underworld haunts on the outskirts of society, where spies, pimps, mad scientists, wrongly accused murderers, outlaw lovers, and other fringe-dwellers pace the floor, trying in vain to escape the trammels of fate.

It isn't fate that brings the splendid nineteen-film "Lang in the USA" to the Pacific Film Archive, now through August 25. PFA Director and Film Curator Edith Kramer and Ian Birnie of the LA County Museum of Art assembled the series, keying on the recent complete Lang retrospective in Berlin.

Kramer is understandably a bit reluctant to name her favorite Langs, but she confesses a special fondness for House by the River, a 1950 melodrama about a conceited writer who involves his wife and his brother in the murder of a housemaid. "I love being able to show that film," says Kramer. "It's so dark -- black tones, sort of a gothic noir. I always felt like I came out of a dark swamp after seeing it. It has all the things I've ever been afraid of."

And then there's The Big Heat (1953), with hood Lee Marvin, party girl Gloria Grahame, and the pot of boiling coffee. "I've always been partial to The Big Heat," Kramer admits. "Every time I see it, I can't believe he actually pulled it off. I want to applaud afterwards."

The Lang summer series is eminently applause-worthy, with screenings of Rancho Notorious (a Marlene Dietrich noir Western); the anti-Nazi Hangmen Also Die; a double feature of Lang's old fool-young woman bookends, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street (both starring Edward G. Robinson); and Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 Contempt, in which Lang essentially played himself as a director. In the fall, the PFA continues its Lang retrospective with his early European films, made before he emigrated to Hollywood. "We're working backward out of necessity, because of print availability," says Kramer.

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