Von Harbou, Thea 1888-1957(?)

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Von Harbou, Thea 1888-1957(?)
(Thea Gabriele von Harbou)


Born December 27, 1888, in Tauperlitz, Germany; died July 1, 1957 (some sources say 1954), in Berlin, Germany; married Rudolf-Klein-Rogge (an actor; divorced); married Fritz Lang, 1924 (a film director; divorced, 1924).


Actor, music composer, director, and author. Worked as an actor in Düsseldorf, Weimar, Chemnitz, and Aachen, Germany, 1906-14. Worked as a scriptwriter and director for Germany's Nazi party.



(With Fritz Lang) Das wanderne Bild (also known asThe Wandering Image), May-Film, 1920.

(With Joe May) Frauen vom Gnadenstein, May-Film, 1920.

Die Legende von der heiligen Simplicia (also known as The Legend of Holy Simplicity), May-Film, 1920.

(With Fritz Lang) Vier um die Frau (also known asFour around a Woman), Decla-Bioscop, 1921.

(With Fritz Lang) Das indische Grabmal: Der Tiger von Eschnapur (also known as Mysteries of India, Part II: Above All Law; based on von Harbou's novel Das indische Grabmal; also see below), May-Film, 1921.

(With Johannes Brandt and Friedrich Feber) Das Haus des Dr. Gaudeamus (based on von Harbou's novelHaus ohne Tür und Fenster; also see below), Vita, 1921.

(With Fritz Lang) Der müde Tod (also known asBetween Two Worlds), Decla-Bioscop, 1921.

(With Fritz Lang) Das indische Grabmal: Die Sendung des Yoghi (also known as Mysteries of India, Part I: Truth; based on von Harbou's novel Das Indische Grabmal; also see below), 1921.

(With Willy Haas and Arthur Rosen) Der brennende Acker (also known as The Burning Soil), Deulig Film, 1922.

(With Fritz Lang) Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler—Ein Bild der Zeit (also known as Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler), Uco-Film der Decla-Bioscop, 1922.

Phantom (also known as The Phantom), Uco-Film, 1922.

(With Fritz Wendhausen) Der steinerne Reiter (also known as The Stone Rider), Decla-Bioscop, 1923.

Die Prizessin Suwarin (also known as The Princess Suwarin), Decla-Bioscop, 1923.

Die Austreibung (also known as The Expulsion), Decla-Bioscop, 1923.

Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs (also known asFinances of the Grand Duke), Universum Film AG, 1924.

Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (also known as Siegfried's Death), Decla-Bioscop, 1924.

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (also known asKriemhild's Revenge), Decla-Bioscop, 1924.

(With Carl Theodor Dreyer) Mikaël (also known asChained: The Story of the Third Sex; based on the novel by Herman Bang), Universum Film, 1924.

Zur Chronik von Grieshuus (also known as The Chronicles of the Grey House), Universum Film, 1925.

(With Fritz Lang) Metropolis (based on the novel of the same name), Universum Film, 1925.

Spione (also known as Spies; based on von Harbou's novel; also see below), Fritz Lang-Film, 1928.

Frau im Mond (also known as Girl in the Moon;based on von Harbou's novel; also see below), Fritz Lang-Film, 1929.

(With Fritz Lang) M, Nero-Film, 1931.

Das erste Recht des Kindes, 1932.

(With Fritz Lang and René Sti) Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse (also known as The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse), Nero-Film, 1933.

Der Läufer von Marathon (also known as The Marathon Runner; based on the novel by Werner Scheff), Matador-Film, 1933.

(With Serge Véber) Turandot, Princesse de Chine(also known as Princess Turandot), Universum Film, 1934.

(And director) Hanneles Himmelfahrt, 1934.

(With Carl Echtermeier) Was bin ich ohne dich? (also known as What Am I without You?), Lloyd-Film, 1934.

Der Mann mit der Pranke (based on the novel by Friedrich Zeckendorf), 1935.

Ein idealer Gatte (also known as An Ideal Husband;based on the play by Oscar Wilde), Casino Film Exchange, 1935.

(With Rolf Lauckner) Der alte und der junge König—Friedrichs des Grossen Jugend (also known asThe Old and the Young King), Deka Film, 1935.

(With Robert A. Stemmle) Ich war Jack Mortimer(based on the novel by Alexander Lernet-Holenia), Carl Froelich-Film, 1935.

Die unmögliche Frau (based on the novel by Mia Fellmann), 1936.

(With Bernd Hoffmann) Eine Frau ohne Bedeutung(also known as A Woman of No Importance; based on the play by Oscar Wilde), Majestic-Film, 1936.

(With Carl Echtermeier, T. Echtermeier, and Rolf Meyer) Eskapade (also known as His Official Wife), Fanal-Filmproduktion, 1936.

Der zerbrochene Krug (also known as The Broken Jug; based on the play by Heinrich von Kleist), Tobis-Magna-Filmproduktion, 1937.

(With Bernd Hofmann and Aldo de Benedetti) Solo per te (also known as Only for Thee), Tobis Film, 1937.

(With Harald Bratt and Curt J. Braun) Der Herrscher(also known as The Ruler), Tobis-Magna-Filmproduktion, 1937.

(With Bernd Hofmann) Versprich mir nichts! (also known as Promise Me Nothing; based on the play by Charlotte Rissmann), Meteor-Film, 1937.

(With Erich Willke) A Varieté csillagai (also known asThe Stars of Variety), Pictura, 1938.

(With Bernd Hofmann) Mutterlied (also known asMother Song), Itala Film, 1938.

Jugend (also known as Youth; based on the play by Max Halbe), Tobis Filmkunst, 1938.

(With Veit Harlan and Felix Lützkendorf) Verwehte Spuren (also known as Covered Tracks), Majestic-Film, 1938.

Asszony a v'laszúton, Pictura-Film, 1938.

(With Attili Orbok and Erich Willke) Menschen vom Varieté, Hunnia Filmagyár, 1939.

Hurra, ich bin Papa! (also known as Hurrah! I'm a Papa), Universum Film, 1939.

Wie könntest du, Veronika! UFA Tonfilm, 1940.

(With Egbert von Putten) Lauter Liebec, 1940.

Am Abend auf der Heidec (based on the novel by F.B. Cortan), Cine-Allianz Tonfilmproduktions, 1941.

Annelie (based on the play by Walter Lieck), Universum Film, 1941.

(With Karl Georg Kulb) Mit den Augen einer Frau(based on the novel by Zsolt Harsanyi), 1942.

(With Franco Riganti and Tomaso Smith) Maria Malibran(also known as The Genius and the Nightingale, based on the novel by Howard Bushnell), Itala Film, 1943.

Gefährtin meines Sommers (based on the novel by Klaus Erich Boerner), 1943.

Die Gattin (based on the plays of Johann von Bokay), Ufa-Film, 1943.

Eine Frau für drei Tage (based on the novel by Elisabeth Gurt), Universum Film, 1944.

Erzieherin gesucht, Universum Film, 1945.

(With Veit Harlan and Alfred Braun) Kolberg (also known as Burning Hearts), Universum Film, 1945.

Via Mala (based on the novel by John Knittel), Universum Film, 1948.

Fahrt ins Glück, 1948.

(With Hans Abich and Rolf Thiele) Es kommt ein Tag(also known as A Day Will Come; based on the novel Korporal Mambour by Ernst Penzoldt), Filmaufbau, 1950.

Dr. Holl (also known as The Affairs of Dr. Holl), Fama-Film, 1951.

Dein Herz ist meine Heimat (based on the novel by Irmgard Wurmbrand), Beta Film, 1953.

(With Fritz Lang and Werner Jórg Lüddecke) Journey to the Lost City (also known as Tiger of Bengal), Criterion Productions, 1959.


Die nach uns kommen, J.G. Cotta (Stuttgart, Germany), 1910.

Von Engeln und Teufelchen, J.G. Cotta (Stuttgart, Germany), 1913.

Der Krieg und die Frauen, J.G. Cotta (Stuttgart, Germany), 1913.

Der unsterbliche Acker, J.G. Cotta (Stuttgart, Germany), 1915.

Aus Abend und Morgen ein neuer Tag, E. Salzer (Heilbronn, Germany), 1916.

Gold im Feuer, Levy & Muller (Stuttgart, Germany), 1916.

Das Mondscheinprinzesschen, Levy & Muller (Stuttgart, Germany), 1916.

Der belagerte Tempel, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1917.

Adrian Drost und sein Land, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1918.

Das indische Grabmal, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1918.

Legenden, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1919.

Das Haus ohne Tür und Fenster, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1920.

Das Nibelungenbuch, Drei Masken Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1923.

Mann zwischen Frauen, (Liepzig, Germany), 1927.

Metropolis, A. Scherl (Berlin, Germany), 1928.

Die Insel der Unsterblichen, A. Scherl GmbH (Berlin, Germany), 1928.

Spione, A. Scherl (Berlin, Germany), 1928, translation by Helen J. Stiegler published as Spies, Putnam (London, England), 1930.

Frau im Mond, A. Scherl (Berlin, Germany), 1928, published as The Girl in the Moon, World Wide Publishing Co. (New York, NY), 1930.

By Rocket to the Moon (from the novel The Girl in the Moon), World Wide Publishing (New York, NY) 1930, reprinted, with a new introduction by Ivor A. Rogers and Deborah C. Rogers, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.

Du bist unmöglich, Jo!, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1931.

Aufblühender, Lotos, Deutscher Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1941.

Gartenstrasse 64, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 1952.

Metropolis, illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta, Donning Publishers (Norfolk, VA), 1988.


Deutsche Frauen: Bilder stillen Heldentums, von Thea von Harbou, C.F. Amelang (Liepzig, Germany), 1914.

Die Masken des Todes; sieben Geschichten in einer, von Thea von Harbou (stories), J.G. Cotta (Stuttgart, Germany), 1915.

Die junge Wacht am Rhein, Levy & Muller (Stuttgart, Germany), 1915.

Die deutsche Frau im Weltkrieg, C.F. Amelang (Leipzig, Germany), 1916.

Sonderbare Heilige (ten novellas), A. Scherl (Berlin, Germany), 1919.

Die unheilige Dreifaltigkeit, (Heilbronn, Germany), 1920.

Liebesbriefe aus St. Florin, J.J. Weber (Leipzig, Germany), 1935.

Das Dieb von Bagdad, [Holzminden, Germany], 1949.


Thea von Harbou was a prolific screenwriter and director whose career involved her in several of film's most renowned early works. She was married to pioneering director Fritz Lang, and served as Lang's principal scenarist from 1924 to 1932. During this time, she worked on such seminal masterpieces as Lang's dystopian science fiction filmMetropolis and the prototypical murder-noir thriller M.Von Harbou's career is also notable for her involvement with Germany's Nazi party during World War II, when she made a number of movies in collaboration with infamous propaganda minister Josef Goebbels.

Von Harbou's work as a scenarist for Lang includes her scripts for Metropolis, By Rocket to the Moon, M, Spies, and Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. Metropolis, which premiered in 1927, is widely considered a classic of cinema as well as an early masterpiece of science fictionfilmmaking. A spectacle even in its time, the soundless Metropolis boasted a cast of thousands and cost more than seven million deutschmarks to make, the equivalent of about 1.7 million dollars, which was a phenomenal sum back in the 1920s. A lengthy movie at its Berlin debut, Metropolis had more than ninety minutes cut before it appeared on the American market.

Metropolis is a "dystopian vision of the 21st century" in which "an enslaved underclass, forced to maintain the scientific luxury of the ruling elite, revolt and bring the city to its knees, until a pauper girl and an aristocratic boy's love for each other saves the day," commented Kate Connolly in the London Guardian.The boy is the son of the wealthy magnate who runs Metropolis, while the girl is a member of the lower-class workers who toil to keep the city running. An advocate of positive forces, the girl preaches goodwill to the workers, helping to keep their society in harmony. When an inventor discovers a way to make artificial humans, the city's ruler asks to imbue the automaton with the shape and characteristics of the girl who advocates for the workers. The mechanical girl, however, supports hatred and destruction, urging the workers to destroy. Under her leadership, the workers demolish the machinery that keeps the city running. Realizing their mistake, the workers rebel against the evil robot girl while the boy and real girl seek to save the workers' children from certain death in the lower areas of the city. A contemporary reviewer in Varietyfelt that von Harbou's screenplay was weak, but also stated: "From a photographic and directorial standpoint [the movie] is something entirely original."

M, also written by Lang and von Harbou with Lang's direction, is an early Expressionist work and a progenitor of dozens of subsequent murder-suspense films. When the movie debuted in 1931, the general population of moviegoers had not been inured to a long succession of slasher films and serial killer movies, and the movie was considered visceral and powerful. In a 1933 review, a New York Times critic commented that "as a strong cinematic work with remarkably fine acting, it is extraordinarily effective, but its narrative, which is concerned with a vague conception of the activities of a demented slayer and his final capture, is shocking and morbid." Based in part on the crimes of Peter Kürten, who viciously attacked forty-one people in the Düsseldorf area, nine of whom died, Mchronicles the search for a chillingly effective serial killer who preys on young girls. Famed actor Peter Lorre "portrays the Murderer in a most convincing manner," commented the New York Times reviewer. "The Murderer is a repellent spectacle, a pudgy-faced, pop-eyed individual, who slouches along the pavements and has a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature." The identity of the killer is never a secret to the audience, and as the number of victims increase the police strain their resources to the limit to capture him.

Lang and von Harbou explore the chaos that the presence of such a murderous force would bring to society. Anyone helping a child is automatically suspected of being the killer, for example; innocent people are menaced by vengeful mobs; and people go about armed, in case the killer should appear. In this atmosphere, the murderer boasts of his deeds in handwritten letters sent to the newspapers. Even other criminals and lowlifes are intent on seeing this particular killer face justice, a fact that astonishes the city's police commissioner. In the end, a blind balloon vendor provides the key to the murderer's identity and capture, leading to the classic scene in which a chalk letter "M" is left on the murderer's coat when a pursuer slaps him on the back. Transformed into the object of pursuit, the murderer panics and declares himself to be a victim who kills against his will. Lang and von Harbou close the film with a poignant rumination on the futility of revenge and the intangibility of justice when the mother of one of the victims muses that the death of the killer will not bring back her dead child.

After writing the screenplay of Lang's most anti-Nazi film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (in which Hitler's words are put in the mouth of Dr. Mabuse, a criminal madman), von Harbou made a fateful decision, choosing the nihilistic vision of the Nazis over the humanistic, if sometimes brooding, realism of the best of Lang's works. Her decision to join the Nazi party forced Lang to divorce her, with him leaving Germany in 1933 and von Harbou staying behind to work on films supporting the Third Reich. She wrote a number of movies and directed two films under the Nazis, with the assistance of infamous propaganda minister Josef Goebbels: Elisabeth und der Narr and Hanneles Himmelfahrt.It is notable that in his later years, Lang stated he believed that it was von Harbou herself who had turned him in to Goebbels and the Nazi authorities, causing considerable hardship for the director before he left Germany.

After her association with the Nazis, von Harbou was briefly incarcerated. Between 1945 and 1951 she was prevented from working in the German cinema by order of the Nuremberg Tribunal, but clearly her major work, for better or worse, was long behind her. She began writing scripts synchronizing foreign films and writing undistinguished novels. She worked continually up until her death, but none of her later film work ever matched the early triumphs she forged during her alliance with Fritz Lang. She ended her career with the screenplay for Dein Herz ist meine Heimat.



Keiner, Reinhold, Thea von Harbou und der deutsche Film bis 1933, [Hildesheim, Germany], 1984.


Christian Century, September 25, 2002, Steve Vineberg, "Heartbreak City," review ofMetropolis, p. 48.

Guardian (London, England), February 10, 2001, Kate Connolly, "Murder and Metropolis."

New York Times, February 7, 1931, "A Rocket Flight Romance; New German Silent Film Offers Thrilling Photographic Effects," review of By Rocket to the Moon; April 3, 1933, "The Düsseldorf Murders," review of M; June 11, 1933, review ofLe Testament du Dr. Mabuse; June 1, 1940, "At the 48th Street Theatre," review of Jugend;September 25, 1954, "Angelika Arrives at 68th St. Playhouse"; December 8, 1960, Eugene Archer, "Two Films in One," review of Journey to the Lost City.


Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/(July 22, 2006), biography and list of credits for Thea von Harbou.

Variety Online,http://www.variety.com/(January 1, 1922), review of Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler; (January 1, 1924), review of Die Nibelungen: Siegfried;(January 1, 1924), review of Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge; (January 1, 1927), review ofMetropolis; (January 1, 1931), review of M.

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