Posts Tagged ‘M’

Movie Reviews 435 – M (1931)

May 22, 2020

German expressionist director Fritz Lang will forever be remembered as the man who brought us the silent science fiction classic Metropolis. But sometimes lost in the accolades are the many other remarkable films he gave us, one such being the singular letter titled M.

Starring future Film Noir star Peter Lorre (mister Cairo of The Maltese Falcon fame), M captures a city nearly paralyzed by the spree of a child murderer, the repercussions of which not only touches the routines of the common citizen but also the darker side of humanity. With a police force incapable of making any headway in the case, fears escalate and fingers are pointed for any act that seems out of place, even innocent ones that happen to put adults in contact with any child.

The increased vigilance from both the police and everyday civilians have an unintended but beneficial upshot: the sudden decrease in common crime. As the months drag on the hoodlum gangs feel the pinch and find themselves effectively out of business. But what can they do? The solution is to put their own manpower to do what the authorities seem incapable of doing, and that is to find this elusive child killer themselves.

Lorre plays the guilty party in this tale of vigilantism turned on its head. What begins as an intriguing mystery transforms into social commentary as two criminal elements, the child killer and the gangs who take him on, collide. Which is the greater evil? Lorre, the calculating perpetrator becomes the pitiful troubled soul forced to endure a mock trial, but given the judicial tools and exigencies he would have in a real trial. His prosecutors lay out their argument for punishment as would a bona fide judge and jury. However farcical, the proceedings and consequences are undeniably real. At the core is the argument of insanity pleas and the moral dilemma they present to victims. Lorre is sincere as he pleads the agony of his curse, his inability to control it, and how he himself is haunted by the ghosts of mothers. The final argument that “Nothing will bring the children back” is left to his court, and ours, to decide.

As are many films that emerged from post World War I Germany this film has all the innovative, stunning, avant-garde cinematography first developed by Lang and his colleagues. The German soundtrack just adds to the atmosphere. If you were wondering about that title, the letter is indeed relevant at one point in the story, but I will leave that for viewers to savour.

One of the most interesting features on the Criterion DVD set is an interview of the headstrong Lang, eyesight failing and wearing an eyepatch, recorded just before his passing by Exorcist director William Friedkin. There is also a segment that discusses how the film was edited over the years, some scenes reshot for different languages (Lorre speaking fluently French for that language’s release) and supposedly still missing footage.

Befitting the title, this one gets an “A” regardless of whichever version you come across.