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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fritz Lang's second absolute landmark (after the equally brilliant but
completely different 'Metropolis') and also his first opportunity to
work with the wonders of sound. And boy, did he ever deliver a great
piece of work! Like the M (for murderer) is marked on Peter Lorre's
coat, the film M (for masterpiece) is branded on cinema history annals
for all eternity. Lang's film is a triumph in every possible viewpoint
and it covers a lot more genres and elements than just simply the
manhunt for a child-molester.
*** SPOILERS ****
The horrors 'M' handles about is timeless and of all cultures, but yet it'll always remain a taboo subject and for that reason alone Fritz Lang deserves extra praising. In an utterly astonishing way, Peter Lorre portrays Hans Beckert, a child murderer who single-handedly terrorizes four and half million people simply by his uncontrollable urge to kidnap and molest young schoolgirls. The grim and haunting atmosphere is terrifically built up by images of previous Beckert-victims and the disappearance a new unfortunate girl. Her toy rolling of a remote hills...a balloon drifting away on the wind. Really simple but extremely efficient methods to reflect the ominous actions that just took place. Other than to focus on the further actions of the killer, Lang turns to the effect this terror has on the city and how the manhunt for Beckert develops. Our director is obviously fascinated by how a police procedure is organized and he serves the viewer a detailed overview of all the steps taken by the investigators. Meanwhile, he grabs the opportunity to forcefully criticize the media's influence and the German law system with both hands. I'd really like to stress that Lang's subtle mockery was a really risky thing to do with the upcoming Nazi-reign, so you can't admire him enough. Due to the constant (and fruitless) raids the police are holding in the hope to capture the killer, the criminal underworld begins to lose its profits as well and they start their own manhunt for the killer, assisted by whores, beggars and petty thieves. With the carefully observing eyes all over town, it becomes practically impossible for Becker to satisfy his monstrous needs. The almighty Peter Lorre arrives late in the film every moment he's on screen is a moment worth treasuring. His sad appearance and cruel testimony are sequences that leave no human being unmoved. Lorre is a brilliant actor and this is inarguably one of the most impressive performances of all time.
'M' features constant tension, outstanding dialogue and stunning camera-work. As said before, Fritz Lang had the opportunity to work with sound for this film and he immediately makes the most out of this. This was the first 'big' German production that featured sound and it STILL ranks as the title that made best use of it...and that sure means something after more than 70 years. There's the chilling and legendary tune Lorre constantly whistles but also the absence of sound Lang uses to portray the besieged city. As you can tell from the above review, 'M' is absolute must-see and easily one of the most essential productions ever shot. It's light-years ahead of its time and still disturbing after all these years. This film is a mesmerizing portrait about the darkest, most alarming aspects of humanity and yet still it doesn't live up to real-life facts. As you probably know, the plot of 'M' is based on the whereabouts of the serial killer Peter Kürten who brutally murdered many victims in the city of Düsseldorf. I read a biography on Kürten recently and the true details of his crimes and animal-lusts go beyond every filmmaker's wildest imagination.
There is really nothing that can be said about this groundbreaking film that has not already been said, so just a few impressions on watching this after a gap of several years. This film is almost 90 years old and as the Blu-ray release has reinstated, if that is the word, the silent sequences it is well worth a re-watch. Made at the beginning of sound, this was not made with sound throughout, mainly for financial reasons. These silent passages are difficult for present day audiences but strangely effecting too, especially with such startling images. Overhead shots of streets and people scurrying. Peter Lorre lurking, eyes almost bursting. It is an amazing creation that impresses now, goodness knows what affect it had upon audiences of the time. Even without the nazi connotations, this is scary and worrying stuff. Beggars as detectives, criminals as jurors, it is mind boggling. And for a finale as the 'proper' police bumble about we go underground in the most amazing cave like structure packed with those who will decide the child killers fate, looking far too much like the very people that would drag Germany into oblivion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oddly enough, the only reason I watched this movie as fast as I did was
because I found its short title to be eye catching while looking for
different films to watch. I also like crime dramas, so I decided to
watch this movie as I was expecting something Hitchcock-esque. However,
I liked it all of Hitchcock's films that I've seen as it's not just a
well-made crime drama, but a smart one.
A child murderer named Hans Beckert has just killed his third victim, Elsie Beckmann. With little evidence, the police decide to raid and question psychiatric patients with a history of violence towards children. In fear of the police ruining business, an underground boss named Schranker decided to assemble a group of crime lords to start their own manhunt.
On the surface, this movie seems like a simple, well-made crime drama. However, the movie has a deeper meaning concerning people fighting against a corrupt environment. The police force in the film were flawed as they staged raids with little to no evidence. They were the reason why the gang lords organized their own manhunt. That manhunt came with its own law force. However, that's not to say that what they did was moral, because they also created an unfair kangaroo court to try Hans Beckert. They were more concerned with killing him themselves rather than turning him over to the police. Despite this, however, the fact that the citizens were more successful than the police in catching the child murderer shows how faulty the actual police force was. Essentially, this film is about a corrupt "law force" forming in the midst of another one.
As many other critics have pointed out, Peter Lorre gave a magnificent performance. The reason his performance was so unsettling was how his character turned from a heartless killer to someone terrified by the thought of being killed. The final act where he begged for his life was chilling as we got to see another side of Beckert that we hadn't witnessed before. I don't believe that many other actors would've been able to make that scene work as well as he did. Even though Lorre didn't become truly spectacular until the 2nd half, I wouldn't describe his performance as bland, because he still sent chills down my spine when he would talk to the kids he planned on killing. Also, even his whistling was slightly unsettling. On top of Lorre's great performance, the final act was also powerful as Beckert's monologue for why he kills people is both haunting and thought provoking. The scene also shows the flaws with the court system the criminals established, showing that they aren't any better than the police force in the film.
This movie has one of the best openings I've ever seen in recent years. It does a great job putting us right in the middle of the action. It starts off with several kids chanting about a murderer in a courtyard, a scene which shows us how many of the children are oblivious to how dangerous the killer really is. The scene then shows one of the girls coming home when she comes across a wanted poster for the murderer. Suddenly, we witness one of the most unsettling and remarkable character introductions of all time as Beckert's shadow moves in front of the poster. It's a clever way of introducing us to the killer not just because of its creativity, but also because the film doesn't show Beckert's face right away. There are also a couple unsettling shots in the opening that work due to their subtlety such as Elsie's ball rolling out of the bushes and her balloon getting lost in a set of telephone wires.
The sound in this film was both impressive and revolutionary. Quite a few scenes stuck out due to their use of sound. An example can be found in the opening shot as we heard a girl talking before the film revealed its first shot. The technique of showing dialogue or sound before a film starts off is still used in movies today such as "Hunger", "The Tree of Life", and "Whiplash". However, a truly suspenseful moment was when Beckert pursued a young girl in the streets. The camera was only focused on her, but we heard Beckert's whistling in the background getting louder and louder. There were other instances in the film which made the camera feel alive. An example of this was how we heard the sounds of different objects before they would come into view. This can be seen in the car horns as we heard them before they entered the shot. It felt like the movie was actually taking place in real time. While this may seem like nothing today, it was really innovative back then. The sound design in the film was way ahead of its time.
In conclusion, this movie was a remarkable film. It's both a deep and well-made crime drama which impressed me for a number of reasons. It has a deeper meaning, great acting, a haunting 2nd half, and innovative sound design. A few people criticized the movie for trying to get you to sympathize with a child murderer. However, I don't think the movie is asking for sympathy as much as it is asking for understanding. Regardless, it's one of the best crime films I've ever seen.
Peter Lorre is absolutely unforgettable playing that most despicable of
criminals, the murderer of children. The police of Berlin are having a
very tough time identifying him as the culprit, but ultimately he is
found out. Not by the police, but by the city's criminal underworld.
They determine to mete out their own brand of vigilante justice. Not so
much for altruistic motives, but because the increased police action is
hurting their way of life.
This early sound effort for both Germany and the highly regarded filmmaker Fritz Lang is a classic example of that form of cinema known as "Expressionism". It's stunningly shot and directed, counteracting its police procedural aspects with a matter of fact depiction of the machinations of this underworld. There's no music score, but then the script (by Thea von Harbou and director Lang, based on an article by Egon Jacobson) gets by just fine without one. Director Lang is still able to generate sufficient tension without that kind of assistance.
A film of this kind wouldn't quite be to all tastes, as some people might feel that there is more talk (and the script *is* dialogue heavy) than action. But there is also plenty of wonderful black & white imagery on display, and a riveting climax where these gangland bosses give Lorre their own version of a trial.
Although one shouldn't feel pity for such a beast - and Lang doesn't try to make the viewer feel that way - the killer is turned into a vivid, compelling character by Lorre. He desperately tries to make the case that he's not in control of his own actions, and is simply compelled to murder. He may not be pitiable, but he *is* pathetic.
86 years later, the theme is still extremely relevant, and the fact that the story was at the time contemporary and not a traditional Gothic or anything like that gives it real immediacy. The setting may have been Depression era Germany, but much of the dialogue could easily be heard today.
Nine out of 10.
Years before David Fincher was even born and about a decade before the genre of ''film noir'' was officially ''invented'' Fritz Lang made a movie about the manhunt of a child killer. A film that was approached with criticism then and it's discussed even today from people for it's harsh theme.What makes this movie amazing is first of all Lang's amazing directing and especially his sound design. Being his first sound film Lang handles sound so good so he puts you instantly into the feeling of this movie. With a lot of influence from the silent era which he uses it to built thrill and atmosphere he uses music in the form of whistle but also excessive sounds in a time where sound in film was not yet fully accepted by the people. And he wins his bet. Almost 90 years later this movie doesn't feel old at all. Maybe it's the directing, maybe the theme which is dealing with (murder and it's punishment) or maybe even because of the amazing acting from it's actors especially by Peter Lorre a by then well known comical actor. ''M'' is not the cleverest movie ever made. In fact is a little bit goofy in some parts (for example when the killer is marked with the letter ''M'' and he is pursued by the beggars he doesn't get rid off the marked coat. And the fact that he was acknowledged by a blind man near the end of the film is almost funny). But it's an amazing movie if you consider the way and the time that it was created and also the message that it wants to pass. Is it really a movie that glorifies murder or a film that wants to say that even the most hideous ''animals'' can have a second chance in the name of the law. Whatever anyone understands from this doesn't change the fact that Fritz Lang's first speaking film is a masterpiece of film making way better than most of the noir film that followed after it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
M is subtitled. Having to "read" a movie isn't something I generally
like to do. If I happen to see a subtitled movie on TV, the first thing
I will do is reach for the remote. With the remote in hand, ready for
use, I will give the movie a few minutes to prove itself, and when it
doesn't, click to something else. I did not click off of M.
First, the print I saw on TCM was excellent, very pristine. I would assume that it had been restored. The acting was very good, given that the movie was made in 1931 when film acting could get a little over the top. The storyline (an unidentified murderer of children on the loose) seemed very contemporary and it was played out with suspense. Peter Lorre was both scary and pathetic as the killer. Solid film, beginning to end.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Someone is murdering children in a German town. The police are doing
all they can to solve the case but, after several months, several
murders and exhausting work, still have no clues. Their methods of
trying to find the murderer start to adversely affect the local
criminal community. Due to this, the local organised crime syndicate
takes it upon themselves to find the murderer and mete out
Powerful, provocative, thought-provoking masterpiece from famed director Fritz Lang. For the most part this is a clever, gritty, tense, film noir-like (as it predates film noir, strictly speaking) crime/mystery drama. Shows how the police go about their work and how often nothing positive happens for months, and then the smallest thing breaks the case wide open. The criminals' methods in finding the murderer are also very interesting, and realistic.
Lang maintains the suspense and mystery well, only revealing the murderer in the last few scenes and even then you're not sure they have the right guy.
The last few scenes add a level of profundity and debate to the proceedings. We are forced to think about justice, especially vigilante justice, and the concept of of an eye for an eye. This can be quite jarring, as you may feel that Lang is steering you down one way of thinking and even wants you to feel sympathy for the murderer. However, ultimately, while justice was served, he does leave the verdict open to a degree, leaving you to fill in your own outcome. Moreover, the ultimate feeling was a balanced, objective discussion was had.
Superb performance by Peter Lorre as the murderer. He only has a few scenes but is fantastic in them. Good work too by Otto Wernicke as the police inspector.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It isn't often a villain immediately invites the vitriol of the
audience than a child murderer, or even more importantly, a sex
offender. Director Fritz Lang intended this film as a stark warning
against child neglect (as the very last few lines underline). The very
lengthy meetings and discussions as to how the murderer be apprehended
are enlivened somewhat by the challenge that characters have of
actually seeing one another amidst the fog of all pervading cigar and
pipe smoke. The acting is solid throughout, if theatrical in a manner
typical of this period of film making. Talking pictures were very much
in their infancy here and so the style of acting is highly visual
this is no complaint: the extravagant gestures enhance the atmosphere
much as they did in the early sound Universal pictures. It has to be
said that the performances here are even slightly restrained (if that
is the right word) compared to others of this era.
And yet Peter Lorre, in his first major role, creates a true presence amongst all this, which is vital to the effectiveness of the story after the weight of expectation placed upon his character Hans Beckert. His reputation is discussed at length, and the first few glimpses we get of him are silent. Wide eyed and unassuming, this little man seems far from the monster we have been lead to believe he is. His mannerisms of jumpy neurosis and excitement upon spying children especially young girls going about their business are bravely portrayed given the subject matter, and in no time, we believe in him thoroughly.
Fritz Lang names this as his favourite of all his films, and it is easy to see why. The direction is inventive and almost surreal in places, inviting us fleetingly in to Beckert's world: a parade of photographs of his victims snatched away from our view to reveal the sea of scowling faces of Beckert's unelected jury; the revelation of the balloon Beckert bought for one of his young victims taking centre stage as he backs fearfully away from the incriminating toy; unusual viewpoints and distant camera work during the chase towards the end. Finally, Beckert's crumbling admission and cries of 'I can't help it!' A broken man guilty of the most heinous crime, viewed by a band of vigilantes impassively observing his meltdown. It is strong stuff of course, and caused the expected controversy at the time and since, but we take a long time to get to this point. A lot of time rather too much for my enjoyment is spent with other, lesser characters and their endless plans to capture the miscreant. At nearly two hours, it is too long hardly surprising that an edited version (running at 98 minutes) was released in 1960. Yet what we have here is nevertheless a ground-breaking film, stunningly directed with a flourish that would prove inspirational for years to come, and a barnstorming central performance so strong that Lorre had cause to resent the subsequent type-casting that resulted.
Watching this movie unfold, specifically the plot, has been a great
learning experience for a burgeoning cinephile. I haven't learned as
much since watching 'Witness For the Prosecution'. Yes, I do understand
that this movie came before the that.
A child murderer is at large. The police cannot find him, the criminals cannot live their lives, and the civilians cannot relax. It has been 8 months since the first murder and there is naught to go on but a few clues. Among those clues, a red pencil and a wooden table. All citizens of Berlin despair as life continues in an unlivable fashion.
The criminals can no longer work in the capacity that regular life affords them. The police intensely pursue all walks of life since they can afford no alternative. And the civilians of Berlin just want balance to be restored.
The criminals recognize what needs to be done, as the police remain frustrated. Working towards the same purpose as the police they begin to piece together a suspect. Setting out to catch the murderer in their own way using talents unique to them.
The police find a clue while the criminals find a hint. As both close in on the same suspect we must ask ourselves, who will catch him first?
'M' is brilliant! This film was so way ahead of its time that it still
holds up today and doesn't feel dated one bit but rather modern. The
only thing that seems a bit odd by today's standards is the complete
lack of incidental music and the fact that many scenes don't include
sound effects and are virtually silent. You have to remember, though,
that this film was made right at the transition from silent film to
sound film, so the concept of sound in films was still rather new and
director Fritz Lang used the technology to its full potential in 'M.'
Lang's direction is magnificent, especially if you take into consideration that this film was made in 1930. The camera angles, tracking shots and zoom shots Lang used here were groundbreaking back then and they are still marvelous today. The three main characters of the film are played by Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke and Gustaf Gründgens and all three of them are fantastic in their respective roles. Lorre's acting is intense, especially in the finale. That performance is something else!
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