From a directorial standpoint this is a triumph for Fritz Lang, who succeeds with singular success in capturing the spirit of the Czech people in the face of the Nazi reign of terror.
UA sunk plenty of coin into the picture. Cameraman James Wong Howe, in particular, turns in a magnificent job.
The cast, topped by Brian Donlevy and Walter Brennan, is uniformly splendid, with the performances of Gene Lockhart, as a cowering Quisling Czech, and Alexander Granach, as a shrewd, calculating and ruthless inspector of the Gestapo, being particularly outstanding. Story continuity is fine and absorbing throughout, but essentially it’s the incisive terms of the message propounded that sets Hangmen apart and points up the fact that propaganda can be art.
Saga of the courageous spirit of the Czechs starts with the assassination of Heydrich, the hangman, by an appointed member of the underground (Donlevy), but the plans for his escape go awry and, due to the stringent curfew laws, he is forced to spend the night at the home of a professor and his daughter. In order to save her father, who is held as hostage along with several hundred others until the assassin will be given up, she goes to the Gestapo to reveal his identity, but realizes that the spirit of the Czech people has made of him a symbol of freedom and that the underground will protect him at all costs.
Both Donlevy and Brennan, as the professor, are excellent, the latter emerging in the film a figure of heroic proportions.
1943: Nomination: Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Sound