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Influential and unforgettable masterpiece.
EThompsonUMD31 March 2006
Fritz Lang's highly influential career as a film director began in post World War I Germany, where he was a leading figure in the German Expressionist film movement, and ended in the United States in 1953 with the production of The Big Heat, a film noir classic. Perhaps his greatest film, M (Germany, 1931) forms an historical bridge between expressionism and film noir. Like the former it uses strange and disturbing compositions of light and dark in order to symbolize the inner workings of the human mind; like the latter it more realistically sets its story in a modern urban setting and blends in sociological issues along with the psychological and moral ones.

Even though M was Lang's (and Germany's) first sound film, many historians cite it as the initial masterpiece of cinema to appear following the introduction of sound into films in the late 1920's. While most early "talkies" return films to their static, visually monotonous, stage- imitative beginnings and thus limit rather than expand the artistic possibilities of the medium, M avoids the failing by skillfully balancing asynchronous, off-screen sounds with the more limiting use of synchronous dialogue. The film's editing, particularly its elaborate use of parallel cutting, also contributes kinetic energy and fluidity to the storytelling. Of course, many of the film's sound effects are also imaginative and memorable, none more so than the compulsive whistling of the film's central character, the stalker and serial killer of little girls Hans Beckert (magnificently played by Peter Lorre).

Sound is also an important contributor to M's rich and influential use of off screen space. One famous example is the scene that introduces Beckert as a shadow against his own Wanted poster, creepily intoning to his next victim, Elsie Beckmann, "You have a very pretty ball." Not only is Beckert's shadow a bow toward Lang's expressionist artistic roots, but it ironically places the murderer in the implied space in front of the image - that is, among us, the human community of viewers of which he is an innocuous-appearing, albeit monstrous, member. Another example of Lang's use of off-screen space is the montage of shots whose common denominator is Elsie's absence from them: an empty chair at the Beckmann dinner table, the vertiginous stairwell down which Elsie's mother searches compulsively and futilely for signs of her daughter's arrival, the attic play area that awaits Elsie's return from school. Most memorable of all - and most often alluded to visually in other films - is the series of shots that indirectly record Beckert's assault and murder of the innocent child, representing these off screen events metonymically via the entry of Elsie's ball from bushes along on the right edge of the frame and the release of her balloon from telephone wires and off the left edge of the frame. Never in the history of cinema has something so terrible been communicated through such powerfully understated images.

Beyond its technical brilliance, the keys to M's lasting impact are its psychologically convincing portrait of Hans Beckert's twisted compulsion and the still relevant ambivalence of his capture and "trial." Unlike contemporary cinematic examples of the serial killer, Beckert is not presented simply as a grotesque psychopath. Nor is the issue of how society should deal with him at all clear-cut. To be sure, the gut-reaction of most film audiences is to root on the underworld mobsters and petty thieves who, beating the established authorities to their mutual quarry, capture Beckert and bring him to a mock- formal trial whose conclusion is foregone. Like many in America today, Beckert's accusers are disinclined to listen to insanity pleas and would just as soon be rid of the "monster" in the surest way possible: a summary death penalty with as little fretting about legal rights as possible.

Considering the heinousness of Beckert's crimes and the imperfections of a legal/medical system that could well turn him loose to kill again, this emotional response is hard to resist. Yet M is by no means an endorsement of vigilantism - quite the contrary. Through the unlikely rhetorical persuasions of Beckert's unkempt "court appointed" defense attorney and Beckert's own impassioned monologue, Lang strongly implies that impatience with democratic judicial procedure and a paranoid eagerness to scapegoat others (guilty or not) in the name of order are symptomatic of the social hysteria breeding Nazism in 1930s Germany. That the ruthless killer who heads the underworld looks, dresses, and gestures like a Gestapo officer is no accident. Moreover, the letter "M" chalked on Beckert's back by one of his pursuers not only stands for "murderer" but also alludes to God's marking of Cain. While the popular misconception holds that the mark of Cain symbolizes his evil, it in fact represents God's warning to Cain's flawed fellow creatures not to mete out wrathful vengeance, but to leave justice in God's hands. Translated into secular terms (and literally entering the shot from the top of the frame), God's hands in M belong to the legitimate authorities that intervene at the last moment to arrest and try Hans Beckert "in the name of the Law."
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A masterpiece of visual drama; brilliantly acted by Peter Lorre. **** out of ****.
Movie-121 June 2000
M / (1931) ****

"M" is a cinematic masterpiece of visual drama. The stunning performances define the careers of exceptional actors such as Peter Lorre and Gustaf Grundgens. Director Fritz Lang gives depth and dimension to his production by distinctly capturing the ecstasy of the film's many characters and focusing accurately on individual situations. This is an intriguing journey into the mind of a psychotic child murderer, blending terror, complexity, and malignity in one amazing motion picture.

Screenwriters Paul Falkenburg and Adlof Jansen construct the characters of "M" with distinctive personalities and three dimensional emotions. Many lesser filmmakers give their characters no creativity outside the confines of the script. In this movie each individual character has a mind of their own; they are free to roam the landscape of a inviting atmosphere.

Fabricating such an impressive atmosphere is some of the best cinematography and lighting effects that I can remember watching. This resplendent component creates the film's terrific moody ambiance. Suspense is one thing "M" contains in full context. The movie's third act is sheer peak-high tension.

Shot in black and white, "M" stars Peter Lorre as Peter-Hans Beckert, an extremely disturbed child murderer in the process of wreaking havoc on a neighborhood. Parents everywhere are living in fear of their children being kidnapped and abruptly annihilated.

This picture contains a brilliantly crafted setup. The visual setting creates a strongly developed opening. Every scene works to either complicate the initial problem or propels the story through a firm narrative through line.

The film captures the chaos of the town in terror perfectly. "M" is more about the results of a serial killer than an actual serial killer. Never do we directly witness a murder; the violent encounters are implied. This method of film making perhaps makes the movie's impact even greater. With an creative perspective through a third person point of view, the filmmakers repeatedly give us examples of a solid structure through characters and occurrences.

"M" offers a unforgettable, challenging performance by Peter Lorre. This extraordinary actor is tormenting and disturbing without embracing in extreme violent conduct. He perspires with momentum and rapture. This productions closing scenes are so deeply penetrating they entirely captivate the viewer. Isn't this what movies are supposed to do?
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Far Ahead Of Its Time And May Always Will Be
alexkolokotronis30 June 2009
M is a monumental film and seriously should be watched by all. For a film like this to be made in 1931 is just shocking. Even if the film was released today it would still be nothing like we have seen before. In our modern age of film making there has been a considerable rise in the production of films about serial killers, their complexities and particularly about pathological ones. Yet, M is the first movie that comes to my mind when I think of the themes that have been in Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Seven and not to mention countless more.

The film is lead by Peter Lorre in a transcending performance who plays the serial killer and rapist in which the film is centered around. In this performance Lorre is successful in something that at the very least is rare to see in any kind of film, compassion for a child killer and rapist. Lorre makes the viewer see, that he is not a criminal by choice but by a sickness of compulsion. Too often then not is our perception of a psychotic killer having that look that puts fear into his or hers victims' eyes. Lorre doesn't do that but rather displays a frightened man, a scared man. One in which his desperation leads to his hazardous behavior. His portrayal of a killer is not of a fearless one but of one consumed by fear. Something that even today we as a people cannot understand, let alone in 1931.

The direction and writing of Fritz Lang is beyond comprehensible as he taps into the mind of a serial killer and his complexities. He does so in such that we get an empathetic and compassionate illustration of all sides of the story. This in which by then end of the film all points of view are more then well delivered to the audience. Fritz Lang here, has simply created here a timeless masterpiece. One that excels in its technical aspects and enlightens the audience on a topic that other films still have not yet to match M in.

I highly recommend this film for many obvious reasons and conclusions. This film was created by one of the all time great directors in Fritz Lang, Lang's command for the screen is mesmerizing and a joy to witness and so on and so forth. Yet much of this is mostly superficial and a waste of time to continuously state. M, as I mentioned before takes a strong and original stance on an issue that we as a society yet have not fully resolved. This film may not give you THE answer on this issue but it may sway that moral compass of yours that lies inside of all of us.
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Moments of menace..
Nazi_Fighter_David31 January 2002
The economy, austerity and directness of the films of Fritz Lang made him one of the most profound, and precise filmmakers...

Lang, a master of the German expressionist film, shot his first talkie, a crime drama considered a landmark in the story of suspense movies... It was a shocking idea for its time, based on the real-life killer Peter Kurten, headlined as the Vampire of Düsseldorf...

'M' is about a terrorized city, and a plump little man with wide eyes (often chewing candy) who is a pathological child-killer, unable to control his urge for killing...

The film embodies several Lang themes: the duality between justice and revenge, mob hysteria, the menacing anticipation of watching a helplessly trapped individual trying fruitlessly to escape as greater forces move inexorably in, and, for probably the first time in the cinema, it adds a new dimension to suspense: pity... For the killer is clearly mentally sick... He cannot overcome the overwhelming compulsion of his murderous disease, and yet, we see him hunted down and almost lynched as a criminal, rather than treated as a sick man...

Early in the film, the killer is heard whistling the Grieg theme from 'In the Hall of the Mountain King'. This theme inexorably becomes imbued with menace... And when we see no more than a girl looking in a shop window, the melody on the sound-track told us chillingly that the murderer is there, just out of sight...

The Murderer is played by Peter Lorre in a virtuoso performance that has barely been matched in all the thrillers he has made since 'Casablanca,' 'The Maltese Falcon,' and 'The Mask of Dimitrios.' When the photographs of his victims, all little girls, are shown to him, he jumps back and twitches with horror...

With powerful visuals, Lang's motion picture is Lorre's first film... His performance as the corpulent, hunted psychopath is a masterpiece of mime and suggestion... Lorre is the archetypal outsider-outside the law and society because of his compulsive crimes, outside the balancing society of the underworld because he is not a professional criminal... He had only twelve lines of dialog...

In the most famous of all about a pathological killer - Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' - Anthony Perkins lacked not only the threat of the tortured Peter Lorre, but also the dimension of invoking our incredulous sympathy...

'Psycho' reeked with blood and horror, whereas the suspense of 'M' is subtle... A child's balloon without an owner, a rolling ball, are enough to tell us that another murder had been committed... The audience, trapped in its seats, torn by ambivalent feelings towards the killer, watched him trapped as the net is pulled tight...
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Fritz Lang's (sound) masterpiece- a taut and quintessentially suspenseful story, and Lorre
MisterWhiplash29 July 2005
The first time I saw M, by Fritz Lang, I almost didn't know what to make of it. I was overwhelmed by the power of the performances, the staging of the scenes, the locations, and the power that the simple story had with such complex circumstances. Then I saw it again, and a third time, and I know that this is one of the best films ever to come out of Germany- it's a powerful statement about protecting our children (if you're looking at it as a "message" movie), but in reality it is just a piece of cinema heaven. Thrillers today only wish they could draw a viewer into the mystery elements, and have such unconventionality of the times. Boiling down to this, M is about a child Killer - the legendary character actor Peter Lorre in his first major role - who snatches children when their parents don't watch, and continues on until an investigation goes underway. But as the police investigate overly thoroughly into the real criminal underworld, they know something is up, that this is someone far more gone than they could ever be, so they join in the hunt. This all leads to one of the supreme dramatic climaxes in any thriller.

On the first viewing I just went straight for the story, which is able to suck one in enough to make you feel dizzy. But on the multiple viewings it becomes even more interesting as one can study the intricacy, and indeed full-on artistry, of Lang's camera. He puts it in unusual places at times, and adds for good measure shades of dark and gray in many of the night scene (this is, by the way, a precursor to 'film-noir', which Lang later became an important director in the 40's and 50's). On top of this, there is a very modern sense of style in the editing- I remember a couple of scenes that surprised me editing wise. One is where the cops (I think it was the cops) have an argument about the investigation- two of them get into a shouting match, and we get medium close-ups of them going back and forth. This is done quickly, with a kind of intensity that isn't even captured in today's thrillers. There is also the hunt for Lorre in the digging of the house, where Lang cuts around constantly, heightening the tension between the predators (the criminals) and the prey (Lorre), until it's almost too much to take.

The disturbing aspects of the story, of child abduction and murder, have become benchmarks of a number of today's thrillers, where the cop is usually the subject and the killer left more in the shadows, in cat & mouse style. This doesn't happen here, and because of it by the time we get to the final scene, with Lorre being interrogated and giving his "I can't help it" speech, it becomes something poetic, tragic, frightening. Lang doesn't leave his "message" so simplistically, he makes sure we know Lorre's side too, however twisted it has become, and the antagonist is shown as human as opposed to these present-day thriller where the killers are barely given one dimension let alone two. There were reports that during filming Lang put Lorre through torture, ultimately causing the two to never work together again. But nevertheless, out of this comes a towering performance of a small, wild-eyed criminal in the midst of an extremely well-told and unpredictable mystery story. In short, if you don't know what you're in for when you hear that whistle, those several infamous notes, you may not at all.
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60 years old, and still uber-suspenseful
Caliban-64 January 1999
The opening scene of this movie is the first clue to its near perfection – A mother preparing dinner for her child, waiting anxiously for her to return from school. Her hope, and then distress as she hears people pass outside her door. While down in the streets of Berlin, her daughter is receiving a balloon from a strange man in a long black coat. We know what's going to happen, but it's still horrific to watch.

Fritz Lang, you cinematic god! A simple story of the underworld, the police, and a single man holding an entire city hostage, and done with such precision and pre-noir darkness that is oozes creepy suspense from beginning to end.

But this movie is not so simple as the police inspectors trying to catch a devious murderer – it's about the mob, employing its network of beggars and petty thieves also trying to bring the killer to their own brand of justice. Apparently, the police crackdown caused by the murders is bad for business – so the mob begins to track him down as well.

It's not only a great crime story, and perhaps the first physiological thriller (the murderer is schizophrenic) but there's comments to be made here about the nature of justice, and who should best dispense it.

In all, not only a trail-blazing classic, but THE trail-blazing classic.
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German Expressionism at its cinematic best
FilmOtaku2 May 2003
Being a huge fan of German Expressionist art, I'm naturally drawn to the films of Fritz Lang. I recently was able to see the restored version of "Metropolis" on the big screen, and was delighted to see "M" on the Sundance channel - especially since it was the uncut version. M follows the trail of a child killer (Peter Lorre), sought both by the police and the members of the underworld whose businesses are being effected by the investigation.

This film is ground-breaking for many reasons: It is Fritz Lang's first talking picture, it is one of the first in the serial killer genre and it was overtly anti-Nazi. This film was banned in Germany shortly after it premiered, and Fritz Lang and Peter Lorre, both Jews, soon fled the country. It has superb acting (most notably, Peter Lorre's trial scene in the catacombs) and very stark yet at times gritty cinematography. The story is indeed suspenseful and at times, very creepy (what whistling child killer isn't?). The entire movie, however is extremely thought-provoking and challenging, much like the German Expressionist movement itself.

This is not a movie for everyone; some may find it boring, some may find it too abstract. It also has one of the most bizarre shots I've ever seen in film - essentially it's a 30 second shot of the police inspector talking on the phone, but you're under his desk and looking up his pants leg. It actually kind of baffled me and made me chuckle for a second, but it was avant garde if anything.

To those who appreciate early cinema that truly makes you think, both about the film and the subtext with which it was written and filmed, it is a must-see.

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Ahead of its time
calvinnme16 January 2010
This is a very interesting film on so many levels. It's interesting to see just how far ahead German cinema was of its American counterpart at this point in time. Although there is not that much talking in this early German talking picture - Fritz Lang resisted going to sound in the first place - what conversation that does take place is well done and natural sounding. Compare it with any American film from 1931 and you can't help but see the difference.

The murderer, artfully played by Peter Lorre, has been killing children that have no link to him personally for months. The police, despite all of their efforts, are unable to catch him, mainly because there is no rhyme or reason in his choice of victims. At first there is a focus on the victims and the hole left in their families by their killing. Then, the film shifts to two normally opposed groups - the police and the underworld. After several months of no results by the authorities, the police are unhappy because it reflects badly upon them, and the underworld is unhappy because their activities are being disrupted because of the police doing constant raids in their efforts to capture the killer.

In a particularly well-done part of the film the scene shifts back and forth between a conference of police and one of the underworld. They discuss how they are going to catch the killer. The police settle upon the idea of looking for people with a history of past mental problems that were pronounced cured and released. The underworld decides to enlist an invisible group - the beggars - to follow every child at all times and therefore catch the killer. Both groups focus on the right suspect, the question is - who gets there first? M is a fascinating film that raises many topics - the death penalty, a group of criminals that are criminals by choice causing less stress on society than a lone criminal that acts out of an uncontrollable compulsion, and the motivations of the authorities often being their own bureaucratic survival rather than the larger issue of ending a series of horrible acts against humanity.
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Chilling movie
Oliver19845 January 1999
This movie is definitely one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It's about this childlike, pity evoking man (brilliantly played by Peter Lorre), who also happens to be a psychotic child killer. The city in which he lives is, of course, panicked by the mysterious child-killings, and both the criminals and the police starts to haunt the man down. I won't reveal more then this, but I will say this: Just because it's an old movie, don't let your guard down. This movie is one of those rare movies, which are so good that you'll never forget them.
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"L" Before "M" Warning: Spoilers
In an eerie propagandist fashion, the phrase "in the name of the Law" is repeated over the last two scenes of Fritz Lang's "M" as a child killer is brought to justice. If "L" represents the State and the Law, then "M" is meant to represent the Individual (who in this case is a Murderer). Lang boldly asked us way back in 1931, whose rights come first: the State or the Individual? A master of his craft, Lang leaves the question open-ended and let's the audience decide.

"M" is shockingly contemporary in its psychological complexities. It explores the psychology of individualism vs. group think while showcasing how a state of fear can be inflicted upon a populace when a government fails to protect society from a single individual terrorizing the people. The story is fairly straightforward: An elusive citizen begins killing innocent children in a large nameless German city. The media fuels a paranoid frenzy that incites the public. The clueless police begin to raid "the underworld" after the populace is turned into a raving mob because of the failure to capture the killer. "The underworld" comes to a screeching halt as their business is ruined by the police and starts their own manhunt for the killer.

Unlike a modern period piece that attempts to evoke a certain place and time, "M" WAS a certain place and time. Lang, in an almost prophetic sense, captured the state of mind of the German people in 1931 as the Weimar Republic was on the brink of collapse and the Nazi Regime was preparing to take over. When individuals live in a state of fear, as they do in "M", society collapses and the Individual is crushed. Only the State, it seems, can bring order.

"M" is a also a masterpiece for its technical aspects. The way in which Lang uses his camera to move through windows, capture shadows, reflections, empty spaces, and shift points-of-view is staggering even by today's standards. He also played with the new technology of recorded sound with extensive voice-over narration and dialogue used to overlap and transition between scenes. Didn't critics recently praise "Michael Clayton" for utilizing just such a technique as if it was something revolutionary? One can also see a protean style the would eventually birth the Film Noir movement with the creation of tension and suspense in the use of shadows and camera angles.

Yet "M" is not perfect. It has some major flaws. There are no real "characters" in the film to speak of in the modern sense. The film is virtually all built around mood and plot. The only time Lang invites us to emotionally connect is in the opening and closing scenes with a mother of one of the victims, and in the classic scene of Peter Lorre giving his writhing and primal "I can't help it!" speech in front of the kangaroo court of criminals. The mother's grief and Lorre's madness are presented so sparsely and in such a raw form that it becomes too painful to want to connect with them. Another flaw that is often overstated about films from this time period is the slow pace of the early police procedural scenes. These inherent flaws combined with the inherent brilliance of Lang's vision make "M" one of the most challenging films a modern viewer could ever sit through.

What impressed me most about "M" was the subtlety of the symbolism Lang created with his haunting images. As harrowing as the story is, none of the gruesomeness is shown on screen. It's all transmitted to the viewer through the power of suggestion. Is it any wonder Hitler wanted Fritz Lang for his propaganda machine, which thankfully led to Lang fleeing to America? I'll never forget the wide shots of the kangaroo court (and the looks on those people's faces as the killer is brought down the steps for trial) or the vast expanse of that empty warehouse. The scene of the ball rolling in the grass with no one to catch it, the balloon caught in the telephone wires, and the empty domestic spaces the mother has to inhabit after her child has been murdered are the types of scenes that tape into Jungian archetypes and shared fears. The look on Lorre's face as he confesses, the hand of the Law coming down to save Lorre from being lynched, and the ghastly plea from the mother in the final scene will stick with me for the rest of my life.

"M" is a communal nightmare; one that from which we have yet to awake.
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You'll Remember This One Forever
Scott-416 December 1998
This is one of those movies that will stay with you for the rest of your life. The characters are ugly and disturbing, there is nothing "cute" in this movie.

There are constant parallelisms drawn between the police and the underworld and the common way in which they operate.

We also get to journey into the mind of the madman. If you enjoyed "Silence of the Lambs", you should see this also.

Of course you must be patient enough to deal with subtitles, and the fact that this is a very old movie - one of the first "talkies". But most viewers will get something out of the dialogue even without knowing the German language.
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Great examination of society and a heart felt issue which many can not agree on.
sduston20 February 2000
Great story with incredible development of ideas and feelings while giving the audience an in-depth perspective for each side to an extremely difficult issue to resolve. Every film lover should take the time to see this film for its ingenious style and execution of ideas. Adds a little comedy in interesting ways to help entertain and engage the audience. Acting is incredibly real and heart felt. Dramatic and tender to fit to any interest.
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Good for its time - but has many flaws
Systematicer24 March 2006
In my opinion this is just an OK film. Except for some little stylistic tricks there is nothing special. The story is OK, how it is told is rather weak, in some parts it's even ridiculous, the acting is mostly very weak except for Lorre who you don't see much of anyway, and the sound quality is horrible (something you can't blame it for, but I had to use HEADPHONES on full volume to even understand the words!) but switching from sound to silent all the time is very distracting and has no dramatic effect at all (even if some say so) - the opposite is the case, it seems very amateurish. The slow pacing is typical for it's time. And suspense? I don't think so.

In my opinion the main reasons why this film is so critically acclaimed are:

A) Lorre's overacting. Whenever overacting has a purpose it's critically acclaimed. And his acting as a madman is very effective.

B) I'd call it "heavy look". The topic seems "heavy" and the plot and style seem all too heavy and important. You almost want the film to be successful so you search for it in Lorre's acting. As a justification so to say.

I'm sure you like the film for many other reasons too. Some more important reasons maybe. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong. It's a film we want to like and where you don't want to look for the flaws. Well, long story short, I don't think the final result is a success. There is too much Average in it and the Great isn't all that great.

Metropolis, Nosferatu, Caligari, Sunrise, I think, have all a more stunning look. All silent and all made before "M". Don't get me wrong, the cinematography is good and also inventive in little parts, but not THAT revolutionary that it deserves the reputation it has.

Probably the flaws are too big for me to fully appreciate the rest. Like every time one said: "He doesn't leave any marks...blah, blah" I had to laugh. He talks with the kids in the middle of the day in the middle of the street, he walks along the streets with them, he goes into shops, buys stuff for them, he makes mad gestures in public. And then he also whistles this damn song all the time so loud you hear it from three streets away while everyone in the audience knows from beginning on that this will be his doom.

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A Lesson in Film History
Eumenides_025 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Watching Fritz Lang's M is watching the history of cinema unfold before one's eyes. Made in the transition period between the silent and sound film, this 1931 masterpiece remains fascinating for several reasons.

First of all, the use of sound is impeccable. Suffice to say the killer in the movie is caught is through identifying his trademark whistling. But the use of voice-over narration was also new at the time and is used here very well: first when a mother calls, in panic, for her missing child, and her name echoes across several empty walls. Next in a scene in which two detectives elaborate on what they've done to apprehend the killer and everything they say is matched by an image.

Secondly, few times has a serial killer been treated with such complexity, compassion and straightforwardness in cinema. Peter Lorre plays a child murder, a man who acts by impulse, possibly a schizophrenic. He simultaneously evokes horror and pity, and he's too distant from the super-cool and erudite serial killers of today. Lorre plays one Hans Beckert, a lonely man with a history of mental illness, an ordinary man without any qualities or amazing traits.

Thirdly, it's a powerful meditation on vigilantism and crime. The police is unable to capture the killer, so Berlin's underground decides to capture the criminal. The police raids are putting them out of business and they resent the fact that a child killer is being sought amidst their ranks. The absurdity of bank robbers and card cheaters with a sense of morals is not lost on the filmmakers. In a mock-trial at the end, these same criminals think they have the authority to sentence the child murder to death. But as he tells them, if they wanted, if they got jobs and worked honestly, they could leave their lives of crime; a man who's ordered by voices to kill can't just turn off him impulses.

But above all, M is a fascinating, exciting thriller. It's an intelligent crime story, that shows police and criminals working on different sides and with different means to achieve the same purpose. If one can laugh at the idea of a criminal union (realism should never be a criterion for judging art), one can't laugh at the policemen in this movie. Inspector Lohmann, played by Otto Wernicke, is one of most intelligent detectives ever to grace cinema. He's fat, he's cranky, he's an unlikely hero, but he's shrewd, he can read a person's personality at a glance, he's patient. Lang must have liked him too because he used the character (and actor) in his following crime epic, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, in which Lohmann shows even greater skills.

I knew (or at least highly expected) that M would be an amazing movie. But I didn't imagine a 80-year-old movie would hold up so well in terms of cinematography, sound, pacing, acting, structure. Few movies achieve such a synthesis of qualities. There is no doubt on my mind that M deserves the recognition it continues to receive from film historians.
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You wont believe its from 1931
il brutto30 December 2012
This movie is so intense and enthralling, it doesn't have to hide from even the most amazing Action-movies. But unlike the most action-movies, it really has a story to tell with a very interesting conclusion at the end.

When people talk about Fritz Lang they always talk about Metropolis, but I think this is his masterpiece. This movie MUST HAVE inspired pretty much every police movie or show ever made.

Rarely have I rated a movie a 10 with more confidence than this one.


....... so I don't have anymore lines, but they make me write "10 lines" apparently, so Im writing this. I know a joke ...ehm, well, its not a good one, so I will quote GEORGE BEST:"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered"
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"M" For Murder, "M" For ...
Lechuguilla9 April 2006
"Masterpiece" is the word most film buffs and historians probably would use to describe this 1931 Fritz Lange film, based loosely on the events of a real-life serial killer a few years prior to the film. In this movie, the killer is Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), who lures children to their deaths.

Though the story is about a child killer, the theme of "M" centers more on society's obsession with the murders. From kids playing games, to adults going about their everyday lives, everyone is on guard, suspicious, combative, and very vindictive. For selfish reasons, even the petty criminal underworld wants the child killer caught. But the police are ineffective, and a self-righteous mob mentality takes over. The whole film is really a study in the terrifying psychology of "group think".

As it turns out, the killer is less monstrous than pathetic and compulsive. Beckert can't help himself. He's a short, squatty, bug-eyed little man who can't control the devil within. Lorre was perfect for the role, and his acting is flawless and mesmerizing. Yes, the killings, all off-screen, are awful. But the militant lynch-mob mentality is just as scary. Beckert is the only individualist in the film.

Part silent film and part talkie, the B&W visual style of "M" is wonderfully expressionistic and baroque. There are lots of overhead camera shots. Background sounds, like honking horns and whistles, are precursors of major plot points.

What strikes me most about this film is its tone. I can think of very few films that are so harsh, so bitter, so malicious, so punitive. "M" contains not an ounce of humanism. Lang's ex-wife, Thea von Harbou, a Nazi sympathizer, wrote the film, just before the rise of Hitler. The film's angry, militant tone thus foreshadows Hitler's Third Reich, from 1933 until 1945. (Lang himself fled Germany, and ended up in the U.S.)

Your own personal preferences in films will determine whether you consider "M" to be a masterpiece, or overrated, or perhaps somewhere in between. But individual preferences aside, there can be no doubt that "M" is an important film, historically. Every person who wishes to be versed in classic films needs to see "M" at least once.
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Maybe I saw the wrong film?
Brandt Sponseller4 July 2005
Yikes. This is the second "classic" I'm reviewing in the same day where my opinion is almost the polar opposite of the consensus (the other was Things to Come, 1936). At least I do not feel that M is a complete disaster. The final third is actually quite good, and there are occasional moments of artistic merit prior to that. Further, you should watch M at least once for the same reason that you should head out to see the Emperor parade by in his new clothes at least once--namely, because everyone is talking about it, a lot of people are being influenced by it, and so on. But M is far from a masterpiece. Comparing M to classic Hitchcock is almost criminal. The hot air that's regularly emitted about this film could fill a million balloons for street vendors. The first two thirds of M are pretty bad--I almost couldn't make it to the ending, which would have been a shame, and I'm someone who is almost _never_ tempted to bail out on a film.

The crux of the story is that there is a serial killer targeting young girls in a large German City. The time period is the film's present. The police are having difficulty catching the killer, who is regularly making the headlines of the local paper, especially as the killer keeps writing taunting notes to be published. After the latest murder, a large vigilante group of panicked citizens, including a fair number of criminals, decides to take action. They organize, dividing up the city into quadrants for different people to patrol, and they try to keep the police uninvolved.

The problem with the majority of the film, in a nutshell, is that the storytelling is extremely sloppy. The script, co-written by director Fritz Lang, is all over the map. There are way too many characters. The audience doesn't get to know any of them, at least in the first hour. Instead, it is scene after scene of people we've never met before, mostly sitting or standing around and fretting about how they're going to catch the killer. Lang's direction is extremely flat, and the editing is even worse. The pacing is horrible. There are superfluous pregnant pauses around every corner. There are a lot of superfluous insert shots. There is a lot of poorly chosen camera placement. The absence of a score, except for the killer whistling a famous bit of Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt, doesn't help. There are no characters to care about. There are no characters to follow into a story. The scenes have all the flow of waiting for two hours in a dentist's office. The dialogue is bland.

And the plot unfolds very linearly--this is even true when the film improves in its final third. There are no surprises or twists to be had here. All of the information that the police and the vigilantes need basically falls right into their laps. They hardly run into a kink. There are a couple small problems, but they're easily resolved.

For a thriller, M has very little tension. The first hour is more in the realm of "police procedural", but it's very slow at that, and the police aren't in it enough, or at least there's not enough procedure shown, to make it work. M is also considered a film noir, but residence in that genre is more superficial here. At any rate, it doesn't help create an engaging film.

But, as I mentioned, there are a few moments of value in the first hour. These mostly come by way of cinematographic symbolism. For example, one shot shows a child's balloon being ensnared in power lines. That and a rolling ball are sufficient to convey that the child has fallen into the killer's trap and is now dead. Some of the interesting symbolism is a bit heavy-handed, but still attractive. For example, a potential child victim who ends up in front of a store's picture window, beneath a large arrow pointing down at her, and next to a hypnotically spinning spiral.

The improvement arrives once the vigilante mob believes it has the killer cornered. This is more than an hour into the film. The sequence where they're "taking the place apart" is well directed and actually becomes suspenseful. We finally get to know a couple characters, later including two members of the police force. The crowning scene features Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert giving an impassioned speech before a huge vigilante mob--he's defending himself before a kangaroo court. Yes, Lorre is excellent here, but he's not in the film enough. 15 minutes of an excellent performance, with scattered moments elsewhere, are surely not enough to put M on "best films of all time" lists.

Lang has interesting things to say about (vigilante) justice and criminal culpability. But the vigilante justice stuff was to be much better handled by Lang elsewhere, such as Fury (1936), which is very nearly a 10. Beckert's culpability speech covers some of the basic issues that one would in an ethics class, but it's not very complete--it doesn't delve into the ontology of choice enough, and of course, it doesn't answer any of the issues. The latter fact is probably for the better. There aren't really easy answers, although my personal view is that choice is not strictly necessary for responsibility or culpability. This scene also at least implies a lot of the ethical issues involved with the formal justice system, vis-à-vis insanity defenses, the possibility of parole, and so on.

But why couldn't Lang have dived right into the material of the last half-hour after, say, a 5 or 10-minute prologue? The film ends abruptly. Extend the ending and cut out all of the fiddling-about garbage that consumes the majority of the screen time. This is just bad screen writing, and it doesn't deserve the praise it has received.
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The Kind Of Movie You Want To See Everyday
redram918 April 2006
This movie has it all! This is one of my all-time favorite movies. Many people have criticized it because it's from 1931 and I say: Who cares when you have such a great movie? Peter Lorre gives a 4 star performance as the child murderer, and may I say he is very very haunting. Fritz Lang's direction is superb; the cinematography is superb! The kangaroo court scene at the end is my favorite part, and it's brilliantly done. The plot is very well crafted. Even more amazing is the plot focuses around catching the murderer, but it is not boring for one second. Each scene flows beautifully into the next with some amazing chases, raids, and facial expressions. This is also a movie ahead of its time. This is definitely one of the all-time best movies!
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A Documentary More Than Anything Else
Theo Robertson6 January 2005
If we're going to talk about hyper realistic film making let's forget about the likes of Peter Watkin's , Mike leigh Ken Loach etc and talk about Frizt lang's M . I kept forgetting this was a feature film and consciously thought I was watching a 1931 German documentary featuring a serial child killer . Seriously I did . All throughout the running time we cut to concerned parents , policemen who have no leads and criminals who are falling over themselves wanting the child killer to be caught . And it should be pointed out that this is where the realism lies - the criminals have ulterior motives because the police search means the gangs can't operate their wares due to the heavy police presence . Something similar happened during the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s when loyalist terror groups found they couldn't operate extortion rackets and robberies and drug dealing because their more extreme death squads carrying out secterian murders attracted too much attention from the RUC , so they eliminated them . Be very wary of criminals who take the moral high ground because there's no honour amongst thieves

Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert doesn't appear in the movie until well after the halfway mark of the running time though his sickening shadow does hang over the film throughout . It's by no bad thing lorre's appearance is held back because after later emigrating to Hollywood the illusion is somewhat shattered when he finally does appear on screen and you only then realise you're watching a feature film and not a fly on the wall documentary , but as I said Lorre's bone chilling performance hangs over the entire film and Hans Beckert is one of the most disgustingly memorable villains from 20th century cinema

If I have a problem watching M today it has nothing to do with the way it was originally made , it's all to do with the modern day presentation where there's no black background to the subtitles which means it's very difficult to read the white letters on the faded film print . I hope to see someone to a fully restored version where someone has taken the time and trouble to make the captions/subtitles easier to read
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Incomprehensibility does not equal art
MeggiesNicky13 December 2001
I'm a fan of Peter Lorre's and I love black & white films. I enjoy foreign films. I even like trying to twist my brain around mind-boggling, symbol-filled, convoluted art flicks. But I was incredibly disappointed in, *M*.

It had a lot of potential, but it kept drowning in itself. It took me a while to understand this. The plot itself wasn't overly complex -- so why did I still have the feeling of unpleasant confusion. What I finally realized is that *M*'s downfall is that it can't decide what it is.

I went into it with a general understanding of what it was going to be about, and knowing Peter Lorre's work I had certain expectations. The parts of the movie that were most satisfying to me were those which fit those expectations: a tense, shadowy atmosphere made all the more eerie and suspenseful by the skillful use of, "In the Hall of Mountain King."

Other parts of the movie felt more like a police procedural. There is certainly a place for the Ed McBain's of our world, but that place is not being mixed in with Robyn Cook. These segments felt out of place, and they jarringly interrupted the mood created by the spookier, more emotionally taut scenes.

The much-applauded ending had the same problem for me: it suddenly introduced yet another mood -- that of introspection and social consciousness. This was too distinct from either of the other two moods to feel as if it were even part of the same picture.

Each mood, each theme, each general strain could have been very good on its own -- but, as a package, the film felt ill-blended. And, as much as I enjoy paradox and even confusion, they are not, in of themselves, sufficient criteria for a good film.
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Maybe I expected too much...
krisrox1 June 2005
Since I loved "Metropolis" and was mesmerized by the great storyline of "M", I happily shelled out 25 euro's to get the deluxe DVD-set of Fritz Lang's first talkie, fully expecting I was going to view it over and over again.

Well, that was 25 euro's I should have spent on a new haircut or something. This is a very boring film, one that is only somewhat redeemed by a great Peter Lorre and an interesting final scene. But the first hour was sooo slooow! Low point was a ten-minute scene in which four boring men were having a round-table about deciding what to do about the child killer. No camera movement whatsoever, just blabbering, and no oneliners either. He's a killer, for heaven's sake - ACTION! DO SOMETHING! STOP HIM!

...Looking back, maybe I was even more mesmerized by the brand "M". The film posters are great, and that single M just makes for a classic, even harrowing logo.

Still, I honestly can't believe that a modern viewer would actually enjoy this.
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Unusual but no suspense.
Vincent8 July 2011
Perhaps this was influential at the time but as entertainment now it has little to offer.

The plot is simple enough, a serial killer is loose and the police can't find, pretty normal. Where it becomes more interesting is that the police, to show the public they are trying, harass the criminal community to the point that the criminals start to look for the killer. This is a nice idea.

Unfortunately the good parts of the plot stop there, the way the killer is identified makes no sense at all, it is hard not to shout "wtf?" at the TV, it is contrived and unbelievable and just plain stupid.

There is also no suspense in the film, the chase scene has an obvious conclusion and although you are kept in doubt as to what the fate of the killer will be you don't care, he has no personality.

There is also a lot of preaching in the final sequence about the death penalty and insanity that becomes very annoying.

The acting is good, pretty much everyone delivers which is especially unusual in films of this vintage.

Dated and lacking in real entertainment.

I don't understand the high rating it has got, maybe people are going easy on it because it is old but new or old it has to entertain and it doesn't.
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The birth of a psychological thriller!
elvircorhodzic25 March 2016
„M" is primarily a bold and controversial piece of work. Lang's first sound film. Directed us to the beginning of the game offers shade and excellent cinematography. The atmosphere is gloomy and tense. The case of child killer is thematically processed. The focus of the story is not a serial killer but on how his murder affect people.

All that is unacceptable and incomprehensible leads to division among the people. The essence of terrible things, such as the murder of children, people understand in different ways. Given the panic that is certainly present in this film, chaos reigned. The killer must locate and catch. In the story dominate two segments. On the one hand we see a strong power law in its infinite analysis of the psychological profile of the killer, organizing raids and executing them, clinging to straws, all under public pressure and an uneasy feeling of general panic. On the other hand, the underground has its problems. Because of frequent raids and increased the number of police officers on the street, suffering job. Then the key decisions are made: the criminals themselves will catch the killer. The way the underworld decided to end the hunt was my genius. How to find and trace the man, and without this it noticed? How can I be invisible in the street? Everybody?

"M" is quite realistic movie and in many situations it can be replicated in our everyday lives shaken the social and economic crisis. Understandably, panic, fear and general mood affect each individual, but it is fascinating how the individual devices judge, jury and executioner. A mass hysteria not to speak.

Peter Lorre is „M" His performance deserves praise and admiration. Lorre before mobs straw, pray, but not for mercy, but to understand. Understanding? The expression on his face leaves the deepest impression.

Acting follows the dark tone of the film. The atmosphere is excellent and followed by darkness, dirt, whores, bums and ugly people ... a lot of bad people.

People are in uncontrolled situations corrupted. Most of us are trying to see the best in people. It is true that a large number of people conceals an eerie hatred that people often degrades in large social activities. Lang is a true master. He made a great movie. I will not have to engage in in-depth analysis.

Below is a simplified message: „Think only for themselves, but never head of the mob and keep an eye on children." Paradoxically. I know. "M" is an excellent thriller and police essay.
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Fritz Lang's Finest Film
CinemaClown9 August 2013
An expertly written & masterfully executed example of genre-filmmaking that was far ahead of its time back when it was released and which even today is counted amongst the greatest & most influential works of world cinema, Fritz Lang's M is an intriguing character study that paints an interesting portrait of a serial killer & is a biting criticism of a negligent society as well.

The story of M concerns a serial killer who preys on children & presents an underworld society whose usual business is disrupted due to the everyday raids carried out by the police to apprehend the killer-on-loose. Driven by police's continued failure & increasing losses in their business, the criminal bosses ultimately decide to take matters in their own hands & try to capture the killer all by themselves.

Directed by Fritz Lang, this is the film that the esteemed director called his finest & it's not really difficult to see why. The screenplay & direction brims with creativity, the suspense is wonderfully created & utilized, black-n-white photography is crisp & inventive, editing never lets the story settle down, score & sound effects work in seamless harmony, and Peter Lorre steals the show with a highly compelling performance.

On an overall scale, M is a cinematic treasure that has innovation written all over it. Whether it's the narrative style, leitmotifs, camera angles, sound mixing, symbolism or expressions, the contribution this German classic has made in the world of filmmaking is groundbreaking. A thought-provoking & well-researched study into the mind of a disturbed character, M is a strong meditation on the morals of right & wrong, that has a lot to say about our very own society.

Thoroughly recommended.
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Dark and suspenseful
Kubris1 December 2012
M is quite the film. It shocks you throughout its runtime: the subject matter is scary and mature, the acting isn't over-the-top like its counterparts from the era, and there's swearing. Extreme swearing for the time. To top this all off, it's suspenseful. The entire last half is edge of your seat.

Despite being indirectly named after Peter Lorre's character, he isn't directly prevalent in the film, but his presence is always in the air. Right from the start a mother yells at kids for "singing that awful song", a little rhyme about the child murderer. The citizens of Berlin are antsy: anyone could be the killer, and accusations fly. The entire police force is worn down, combing the city for one man. It even interrupts the criminals. So they decide to hunt this monster too, but at the same time while remaining separate from the police, who on any other day are their enemies. This is the dynamic of M, and the stubbornness leads to tension.

The first half is informative, organic, but slowly paced. There were many opportunities to advance the plot that weren't taken. But once the ball gets rolling... it stays rolling, and right to the end you're right in the film.

Lang makes interesting artistic choices, like the use of silence in suspenseful scenes. Seeing a man run completely scared but without even the noise of his shoes hitting the ground is harrowing. Mirrors also have interesting applications too.

I was reading about this film before seeing it and people said how they could sympathize with the murderer. Personally, I would see about checking their heads: the murderer is 100% deranged. The only inner demons he faces are those of his previous exploits. This leads to the final conflict, of how justice should be administered, which is an great debate, but the killer is sick, through and through.

M is groundbreaking, going where film had not gone before and doing it supremely anyway. An entertaining 2 hours, though it's not exactly a 'fun' film, and the end, while being powerful, isn't handled to the same standard as the rest of the film. It just... fades to black. Maybe this will grow on me, but after seeing it, it puts the tiniest damper on the end of a genius film. 8.7/10
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