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Mr. Death: The Rise & Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.

4.2 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

92 minute feature film DVD starring Shelly Shapiro and Robe rt Jan Van Pelt.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Fred A. Leuchter Jr., Robert Jan Van Pelt, David Irving, Caroline Leuchter, James Roth
  • Directors: Errol Morris
  • Producers: David Collins, Errol Morris, Caroline Kaplan, David Schisgall, Dorothy Aufiero
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
  • Studio: Lions Gate
  • DVD Release Date: July 22, 2003
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00009MEBK
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,160 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Mr. Death: The Rise & Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr." on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I think it goes without saying that most of the general public don't go wild for documentary films. The masses, that is, generally prefer a fictional cliffhanger/thriller with cleverly prefigured twists and turns.

That said, this is one documentary that would most certainly please those very masses. It plays like the highest rate cliffhanger and while the twists and turns are real, they are as clever as any fictive ones I've seen.

"Mr Death" is the story of Fred Leuchter, a self-taught but obviously intelligent "engineer" of execution equipment that is more humane than that currently in practice. The first part of the film is largely a biography of his rise from working on an electric chair in Tenessee, to redesigning a lethal injection room, a gallows, and even a gas chamber in other states.

If the first half is about his rise, the second half - the title suggests it - pertains to his fall. This happens when Ernst Zundel, a holocaust denier out of Canada, hires Luechter after being brought up on arcane charges by the Canadian government, where it is illegal to deny the holocaust on paper(?). Luechter's job is to go to Auschwitz to determine whether Zundel's claim that there were no gas chambers there is in any way rational. The film chronicles Luecther's travels and ultimate judgement that Zundel is correct.

From there - and Zundel eventually loses the case - Luechter's buzzing career enters a tail spin. No one in the states, that is, wants to work with a holocaust denier, much less on execution equipment. He is blackballed.

Most of the film consists of interviews with Luechter interspersed with scentery pertaining to the events being discussed.
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Format: DVD
Without ever hard-selling the point, this film juxtaposes one system of state-sanctioned murder (U.S. death penalty) with another (Nazi-era Holocaust). This pairing is almost beside the point, though, as the filmmaker brings us down into the life of Fred Leuchter, a man who seems malleable and dim-witted on one level, although perhaps far smarter than he lets on. Leuchter at times seems merely a simple, ultimately compassionate individual (he believes in the death penalty but wants to make it dignified and humane); at other times the glint in his eye hints at a far different character and motivation.
Altogether "Mr. Death" is a fascinating study of a man whose macabre career notwithstanding comes across as more sympathetic than one might expect given the subject matter. Occasionally, I felt as if Leuchter were Chance Gardner in "Being There," or perhaps Zelig from the Woody Allen film of the same name: essentially a guiless person who wants to belong. That may, in fact, be rather too charitable in the case of Leuchter, though one of the movie's charms is that it leaves possible this ambiguity even as the credits roll.
Some wonderful editing and camerawork throughout. Intoxicating and creepy--a film that's hard to turn away from.
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Format: DVD
"The human body is not easy to destroy."
And so Errol Morris introduces us to the latest intriguing character to sit in front of his Interrotron. Fred Leuchter is a slippery guy. He's a self styled engineer in an industry consisting almost solely of himself: consulting prisons on instruments of execution. Leuchter himself is not even sure how he got there. "I built helmets for electric chairs, so now I could build lethal injection machines," he says. "I now build lethal injection machines, so now I'm competent to build a gallows. And since I'm building gallows, I'm also competent to work on gas chambers, because I've done all the other three." He almost laments that he's been shoe horned into an area that few others would be willing to go, but he does so anyway. He clearly enjoys his line of work and comes to see himself as a real expert. This belief in his own propaganda would be his downfall.
He's a proponent of the death penalty but has a strong conviction that it should be handled "humanely." Those awaiting execution, after decades of imprisonment, are "just like you and me" he argues. He would like to see lethal injection performed in molded seats like a dentist's office has. The condemned could watch TV, listen to music or look at pictures on the wall. Furthermore, execution could be a safe and painless process for the executioners as well. "Nobody should have to place his life in jeopardy because an execution is being conducted." And the beguiling thing about Leuchter is that he is absolutely sincere. He is completely without guile. He clearly wants us to like him.
Errol Morris tends toward the fringes in his selection of subject matter, but he rarely goes wrong.
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Format: DVD
'Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.' is a hair-raising documentary about a execution equipment expert and his clumsy survery of concentration camps in Poland that led to the demise of his career. The first thirty minutes of the film discusses Leuchter's career as an expert in "humane" executions of prisoners. It tells of his various viewpoints and his life history. The story takes a sudden turn when the focus of the documentary shifts to Leuchter's discoveries at German concentration camps. His conclusions are stunning; he claims the rooms used for gassing and killing concentration camp workers were not gas chambers at all!!

This is where the film becomes really awesome and hair-raising. Here it discusses the trial that followed after the results and people reacting to Leuchter's odd behavior. Errol Morris does his best to give an objective viewpoint on the whole affair. He does not try to make Leuchter look like a devil or angel. It is surprising that a seemingly innocent and simple man like Leuchter could be caught up in such a gigantic controversy. Morris pretty much lets the viewer decide about this man. Worth the watch if one can find it.
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