M (1931) * Hidden Gem *

 

hoo yeah
Hoo yeah

Genre: Crime Noir Thriller (Germany)

Starring: Peter Lorre (The Maltese FalconThe Man Who Knew Too Much), Gustaf Gründgens

Directed By: Fritz Lang (Hangmen Also Die!The Woman in the Window)

Overview: As a child-murderer's death-toll grows, the police hit the streets in a fury. In order to stave off their losses from the crippling nightly raids on their turf, the underworld joins in the hunt to capture the man causing such an uproar.

Peter Lorre, a near-staple of Film Noir villainy, especially as it pertains to Lorre, got his first starring film role in Fritz Lang's M. Talk about kicking a career into high gear.

Frankly, I'm a little overwhelmed. I mean, when a cinephile hears the title of this film spoken out loud, most of them get as excited as an 18-year-old at pervert's row. Acclaim and praise abounds for the frequently top-listed M, a thrilling, beautifully-written exploration of the worst kind of criminal predator that exists in society.

"There are more police on the street tonight than whores."

What makes M such a perfect film is not that it was one of the first to use the musical theme known as Leitmotif, where music is associated with a character, in this case the creepily whistled "In the Hall Of The Mountain King", neither is it perfect because it's streaked with German expressionistic visuals, which as we all know is very effective at conveying fear through shadowed darkness. M is so perfect because unlike the cinematographic style, we are made to see the issue not in black-and-white but with care and nuance. The atrocious crime of child murder as seen through each explored perspective leads us to understanding the psychology and the societal impact of the crimes. The greatest surprise is how, even with all this, M manages to stay in the realm of exciting thriller, even streaked with moments of humour.

Classic symbols include a ball rolling solitary out of a bush and a balloon drifting in the sky, caught in wires. Police trawl the streets in waves hoping to find any possible lead to the crime that is quickly growing to hysterical proportions. Old friends turn on each other accusingly.

Criminals suffering from police raid after raid decide to take it upon themselves to solve the city's problem and catch the man in hopes of getting back to business as usual. From this point on, the thrill is in the chase, as they say and as we follow the searchers, the questions of privacy, Justice versus The Greater Good and punishment for the insane are all approached in Lang's script without any sort of preached excuses or spiteful condemnation.

It's an observation into wickedness as told in a dynamic storytelling style. What more could you ask for?

No, actually, it's the BALLOONS that are creepy, ick!
No, actually, it's the BALLOONS that are creepy, ick!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 9 Plot: 9 Mood: 9
Overall Rating: 88% (Mmmmm!)
Aftertaste:

The only problem I have with M is in the occasional definition I run into that it's Film Noir. German expressionism? Check. Anti-Heros? Definitely. Is this one of the cornerstone foundation blocks to create a film genre that would later be called Noir? Without a doubt. But the era screws up the whole works, it's not quite the post-war phenomenon that Noir is really about.

You know, I wouldn't have a problem calling it Noir if it had just one scene where someone got a good bitchslap.

I'm not asking for much.

For a deeper exploration into M's societal surveillance theme, check out Film of the Year's article. And for those of you who aren't interested in going out and renting the Criterion version I saw, it's public domain.

You can stream it right now.

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M is on my must watch list. I can't remember where I heard about it, but I'm saving it for a rainy day.

 


Squish - M is high on my list of unforgettable films (thanks for the link, btw).  Good concise post, by which I mean you get a lot of ideas in with just a few paragraphs.  I also don't consider this to be film noir.  Wrong time period for one thing.  But, it is a beautiful example of the look, feel, atmosphere —the high key and motivated lighting, heavily shadowed misé-en-scene, themes of mystery and relentless pursuit, etc.— that operate in noirish movies.  


I really enjoyed the film, and I would also not put it down as film noir: it really is simply a thriller film. I was at the edge of my seat more times than any film of this era.

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