"M" DVD Movie Review

5/16/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD Movie Review


Directed by Fritz Lang, Written by Lang, Thea von Harbou, Paul Falkenberg and Adolf Jansen, 110 minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Fritz Lang often referred to his first sound film "M" as his masterpiece. Like many of Lang's films, it served as an archetype for its genre--the serial killer thriller, in this case--and most elements in the film have been recycled in most genre films since.

In the film, little girls in Berlin begin going missing, and as the local papers start getting mysterious Zodiac-esque letters threatening more kidnappings and murders, the city goes completely mad, with random men being arrested simply for speaking with young girls and bars getting raided every night. As Berlin becomes a police state, the criminal underworld takes matters into their own hands and employs local beggars to keep an eye out for the mysterious serial killer. And so begins a race between the cops and criminals to find the murderer.

Meanwhile, the killer himself, Hans Beckert (played by Peter Lorre in what is generally considered his breakout role), roams around being creepy like only Peter Lorre can be.

The script is really quite clever, such as when one of the criminals spots Beckert and slaps a proverbial scarlet letter (the "M" of the title) on his back so that the rest of the goons can follow him without knowing his face, or when Beckert is finally captured and he stands trial in front of a room of thieves, mobsters and murderers with the worst of the bunch acting as the judge.

Even better is the direction. Even as early as 1931, there is a lot of "modern" style on display here, especially in Lang's excellent use of shadow, reflections and zooms. One of the film's most thrilling moments comes when Beckert is slapped with the "M" and, as he notices the letter in his reflection and sees someone following him, flees through alleyways, with gorgeous overhead shots combined with claustrophobic and unsettling zooms perfectly conveying his sense of hopelessness and fear. Lang does a good job of making Beckert wholly reprehensible and then forcing the audience to put themselves in his shoes.

Like all older films that served as an inspiration for modern genre films, though, much of the film when viewed by an audience unfamiliar with its context will find it rather tame and predictable by today's standards. The film can be a bit slow in the first act as well, and until its climax, most of the film is hit-or-miss.

But there definitely is enough to like here to make up for the occasional dullness. Of course, the writing and direction is great, as are leads Lorre and Gustaf Grundgens as the criminal "judge." Lorre's performance is so perfect that the poor guy (originally a comedic performer) was typecast as creeps for the rest of his life (you may recall him from "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon").

And as far as Lang goes, he may think this is his masterpiece, but "Metropolis" is a better film.

As a massive inspiration and a quick thrill, "M" definitely works. But it may come off as quite dated to a new audience if they don't give it a chance.

Grade: B-

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  1. Anonymous said...

    "And as far as Lang goes, he may think this is his masterpiece, but personally I find "Nosferatu" to be a far better achievement, both technically and dramatically, and I'm willing to bet "Metropolis" is a better film as well."

    Minor error: "Nosferatu" was directed by F.W. Murnau. Lang had no involvement in its creation.

  2. Anonymous said...

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