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Crime, Drama, Thriller, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Fritz Lang


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Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert
Ellen Widmann as Frau Beckmann
Inge Landgut as Elsie Beckmann
Otto Wernicke as Inspector Karl Lohmann
Theodor Loos as Inspector Groeber
Gustaf Gründgens as Schränker
Friedrich Gnaß as Franz, the burglar
Fritz Odemar as The cheater
Paul Kemp as Pickpocket with six watches
Theo Lingen as Bauernfänger
Rudolf Blümner as Beckert's defender
Georg John as Blind panhandler
Franz Stein as Minister
Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur as Police chief
M Storyline: In Germany, Hans Beckert is an unknown killer of girls. He whistles Edvard Grieg's 'In The Hall of the Mountain King', from the 'Peer Gynt' Suite I Op. 46 while attracting the little girls for death. The police force pressed by the Minister give its best effort trying unsuccessfully to arrest the serial killer. The organized crime has great losses due to the intense search and siege of the police and decides to chase the murderer, with the support of the beggars association. They catch Hans and briefly judge him.
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Ahead of its time
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.
A timeless masterpiece
A masterpiece in the truest, fullest sense of the word. M is not just a thriller, but a study of human behaviour and the diseased mind and how the eternal battle of mind and soul forever troubles us or as it happens in this case, destroys us, after the main character has destroyed the lives of others. It also very successfully shows how society, even its most unjust members, craves for justice and how unprepared, or unwilling it is to tolerate child murder. Furthermore, the tendency of human psyche to take law in its own hands above and beyond its appointed instruments, in the event of the most horrific crimes involving children, is also very clearly demonstrated in M. Though released in 1931 its story and underlying principles remain timeless. Perhaps a lesson for today's filmmakers: Fritz Lang undoubtedly did not have access to advanced computer technology nor a budget in the multi million range and yet he delivers a film that is much more successful in both thrilling, respecting and entertaining its audience than many of today's ultra-expensive productions that desperately try to hide their lack of substance by filling the screen with gory, blood-filled imagery.
Influential and unforgettable masterpiece.
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."
Good for its time - but has many flaws
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.

The first sound masterpiece
Probably the first sound masterpiece. Though it's one of the first to use the new technology, it doesn't feel like it, as the camera is fluid and expressive and the sound effects are utilized perfectly and are even essential to the story. Lang's direction is superb, amping up the suspense and terror by using the cinematography, lighting, and sound together to create a very tense and distinctive atmosphere. Peter Lorre is fantastic in what is really the lead role of the film, making us feel sympathy and pity for a horrific child-murderer. The combination of German expressionism, film-noir tendencies, and social commentary that Lang injects into the film makes for a brilliant and gripping work. Simply a terrific film all-around.
You'll Remember This One Forever
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.
An amazing crime drama
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.
M for "modern"
Extremely well-crafted and powerful drama that could spring from the pages of today's newspapers.

Fritz Lang poignantly captures the vulnerability of the sweets-loving child victim and the mother pathetically waiting for her daughter to return home from school.

We see cops feeling the heat from a horrified public and the bumbling incompetence within their ranks. We also see the well-organized thugs who beat the police at their own game -- not because they like kids but because the murders are costing them profits.

Speaking of poignancy, we don't feel any when the predator is finally cornered like a trapped rat. He can't help himself...he must suffer from his inexorable compulsion. Awwww...

The Peter Lorre character's judges aren't moved, either. And while the stony, moralistic justice of the cons' court comes as a refreshing surprise, one recoils with the realization that this was filmed within years of the rise of the ultimate rogue tribunal -- the Nazis, who also appointed themselves executioner.

Lorre excels here but has surprisingly little screen time. I haven't seen much of his work elsewhere but it's hard to imagine his surpassing this performance.

Truly memorable.
A Documentary More Than Anything Else
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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