Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999) - Rotten Tomatoes

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999)



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Throughout his work, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has sought out characters lost in their own eccentric worlds, and he has managed to convey their sense of wonder with their passion, be it a topiary gardener arguing the merits of hand shears in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997) or astrophysicist Stephen Hawking discussing the origin of the universe in A Brief History of Time (1992). In his most provocative work since The Thin Blue Line (1988), Morris details what happens when this interior dreamscape collides with the hard facts of history. As a young man accompanying his father to work at a state prison, Fred A. Leuchter, a bespectacled mouse of a man, learned how inefficient and inhumane most executions were, and he set out to design and build a better electric chair. Soon he began getting offers from state institutions throughout the country to redesign their electric chairs, along with gas chambers, gallows, and lethal injection machines. He quickly became a renowned expert in capital punishment. When the notorious Nazi sympathizer Ernest Zündel was arrested in Canada, he needed an expert witness to corroborate his assertion that the Holocaust was a hoax; and Leuchter soon found himself chiseling chunks from the gas chamber walls in Auschwitz -- on his honeymoon. His illegal samples showed no significant residue of cyanide, so he concluded that the Holocaust did not happen. He soon became a celebrity of the neo-Nazi set: he testified on behalf of Zündel, gave lectures around the world, and published the Holocaust revisionist tract Leuchter Report . Much to his surprise, his death-machine business began to flounder, his marriage collapsed, and he found himself pursued by Jewish organizations and creditors. This film was screened at the 1999 Toronto Film Festival.more
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements)
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jun 6, 2000
Lions Gate Releasing


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Critic Reviews for Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

All Critics (57) | Top Critics (10)

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Morris provides plenty of evidence to refute Leuchter's conclusions, but he is more interested in the character of Leuchter himself, and in the workings of Leuchter's mind - which, when all is said and done, remain as mysterious as they ever were.

Full Review… | December 5, 2015

Morris, com sua habilidade narrativa habitual, conta a interessante mas incômoda história de um homem destruído pela própria ignorância.

January 30, 2007
Cinema em Cena

Fascinating stuff.

October 13, 2003

Despite its morbid subject, this documentary is far funnier than one would expect.

Full Review… | September 24, 2003

As Errol Morris shows us how this strange little man got into the execution business and Holocaust denial, we should ask ourselves: Did we create 'Mr. Death'? Is he us?

Full Review… | April 16, 2003

Audience Reviews for Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.


Interesting study of Fred Leuchter's underwhelming career, poor judgement and antisemitic reasoning.

Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer


[font=Century Gothic][color=red]"Mr. Death" is an Errol Morris documentary about Fred Leuchter. Mr. Leuchter is an engineer by trade who specialized in building and repairing capital punishment devices(gallows, gas chamber, lethal injection, electric chair, etc) for various states. He is a proponent of the death penalty. What he is seeking to do is to create humane and safe executions.(A humane execution being an oxymoron if there ever was one...) I have to admit I learned quite a bit about executions in this documentary and that there is much more involved than just flipping a switch. [/color][/font]
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[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff0000]The second part of the documentary shows off Leuchter's lack of ethical thinking to full effect. He went to Auschwitz on behalf of a Holocaust denier(I'm being polite when I use that term), so that he could find proof that there were no gas chambers there.(It is clearly historical fact that there were gas chambers there.) As testified by an expert on the Holocaust, Leuchter is ill-equipped for the task. [/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff0000][/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff0000]At best, Leuchter never considers what the ramifications his research will have. At worst, he is a full participant in the cause of Holocaust denial which is clearly wrong and hateful. Leuchter goes from something of an eccentric to being a monster in the viewer's eyes.[/color][/font]
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[font=Century Gothic][color=black]"Light Keeps Me Company" is a loving tribute to legendary cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, directed by his son, Carl-Gustav Nykvist. The documentary consists of interviews with many of his collaborators including Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullman, Susan Sarandon, and Woody Allen, along with his fellow cinematographers. I thought this film filled in some of the blanks of his life including personal details.(Although, I would have felt better if they had not mentioned Nykvist's affair with Mia Farrow.) Nykvist retired due to a condition called aphasia which limits his communication skills. I would have liked to have gotten more of his input on the films he helped to make.[/color][/font]

Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Wow! Great early effort by Errol Morris and we can see how his effective documentary tools were developed here. Leuchter probably gets more attention that he deserves as a result but it is a shocking look at the true nut jobs that exist in the broader world.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

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