M (1931)

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Genre: Film & Animation

Family friendly? Yes

Wilson score: 0.9463

Rating: 4.8196 / 5

Engagement: 0.57%


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Shared September 14, 2012

Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang
Release Date: August 31, 1931
Genre: Crime Thriller

This thrilling drama of crime, pursuit, and vengeance has got to be on anyone's list of all-time greats. A psychotic murderer of little girls terrorizes, and enrages, a large German city. Although the police conduct a thorough investigation, they remain baffled. But their search so disrupts the city's underworld that the criminals decide to hunt him down themselves. More efficient -- and fascistically brutal --than the establishment, and aided by a network of colorful beggars, they catch the murderer ("M"). During the subsequent mock trial, their fierce thirst for revenge bursts forth, leading to an exciting climax. Aside from being an engrossing manhunt melodrama, the film is a fascinating semi-documentary on scientific deduction methods, and astute study of schizophrenic mind, a thoughtful meditation on justice and capital punishment, and a downright chilling reflection of German society's confusions, anxieties, and violent tendencies on the eve of the Hitler era. Add to these Fritz Lang's customary excellence at expressionistic camerawork, lighting, and symbolism, creating a claustrophobic nightmare from which the killer, his victims, and audience can't escape. Watch for the dizzying high angles and geometric spaces that turn the streets into terrifying mazes; or the shot in which "M," framed by a circle of knives in a cutlery shop's window, suddenly seems trapped by his own weapons of destruction. Peter Lorre manages to make the fat, bug-eyed little psychopath both frightening and pathetic; his half-whimpered, half-screamed plea for mercy turns the character into a tragic victim of uncontrollable instincts. And Lang turns his first attempt at the new sound medium into a tour de force, using dialogue and sound effects to bridge locations and scenes, and orchestrating ingenious sound-picture counterpoints. A mother's desperate cries for her missing daughter reverberate off screen while we see unforgettably poignant images of the child's ball rolling down a hill, and her balloon entangled in telegraph wires -- a violent death made horrifying not by gory special effects buy by our imagination. "M" ultimately gives himself away by haunting Grieg melody he compulsively whistles before killing; just hearing that tune is enough to turn our blood instantly cold. A masterpiece of visual and aural expressiveness -- and an absolutely first-rate suspense drama! In German with English subtitles. 99 minutes.

Peter Lorre ........ Hans Beckert
Ellen Widmann ...... Frau Beckmann
Inge Landgut ....... Elsie Beckmann
Otto Wernicke ...... Inspector Karl Lohmann
Theodor Loos ....... Inspector Groeber

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