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Crime, Drama, Thriller, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Fritz Lang
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
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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Peter Lorre's Tour de Force in Fritz Lang's Film Classic, M
"M" is just one of Fritz Lang's many film classics and concerns a child molester, played by Peter Lorre. He gives both a very simple yet gut-wrenching performance that made him an international star. He is possessed and evil one minute and childlike the next, changing from vicious to fragile. (His babyface smile is the most sinister, deceptive thing about him.) The film sets the tone with a group of girls chanting a very foreboding and disturbing song, which a mother tells them to stop and the shadow and sight of Peter really gets you stirred up. The tables are turned on him when he is trapped not by the law but by a combination of the town's crooked element (who want him out of their hair, due to the police's tighter rein on them) and the poor tramps who are enlisted in the quest to find him. The film's use of silence was so, so quiet that the viewer feels something's wrong with the audio of the TV, the DVD, or something - only to hear all of a sudden a mother's yell to her children! The silence heightens the viewer's tension and Peter's desperation. The ending may be the eeriest thing of all! If you've never seen "M," this unsettling experience is one to put on your list and is one film you'll remember forever.
Great examination of society and a heart felt issue which many can not agree on.
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.
Awesome. Way ahead of its time.
A group of children are playing an elimination game in the courtyard of an apartment building in Berlin[5] using a chant about a murderer of children. A woman sets the table for dinner, waiting for her daughter to come home from school. A wanted poster warns of a serial killer preying on children, as anxious parents wait outside a school.

Little Elsie Beckmann leaves school, bouncing a ball on her way home. She is approached by Hans Beckert, who is whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg. He offers to buy her a balloon from a blind street-vendor. He walks and talks with her. Elsie's place at the dinner table remains empty, her ball is shown rolling away across a patch of grass, and her balloon is lost in the telephone lines overhead.

In the wake of Elsie's death, Beckert sends an angry letter about his crimes to the newspapers, from which the police extract clues using the new techniques of fingerprinting and handwriting analysis. Under mounting pressure from city leaders, the police work around the clock. Inspector Karl Lohmann instructs his men to intensify their search and to check the records of recently released psychiatric patients to look for those with a history of violence against children. They stage frequent raids to question known criminals, disrupting underworld business so badly that Der Schränker ("The Safecracker") calls a meeting of the city's criminal bosses. They decide to organize their own manhunt, using beggars to watch and guard the children.

The police discover two clues corresponding to the killer's letter in Beckert's rented rooms. They wait there to arrest him.
A Terrifying Masterpiece.
I have no words to describe Fritz Lang's masterpiece M. It is brimmed with suspense that will make you shiver throughout. Peter Lorre's performance in all is mind-boggling, in one particular scene he describes how he cannot help killing children and it is a masterful moment, the actor who went on to feature in Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon makes M, seventy-fourth on the IMDb Top 250. It has immediately jumped into my top ten favourite films of all time, joining Cinema Paridiso in foreign films, which are films I don't usually like, but yet the most firm hater of foreign films must be drawn to a film like M. Fritz Lang is a film genius and I will continue to love this film, I have also been asked to watch another Fritz Lang film, Metropolis, so here I come!
M is for Mediocre
There is a child murderer about, and because the police can't catch him, and because it is hurting their business, organized criminals take it upon themselves to do so instead. The murderer is identified by a signature whistle, before being pursued into the attic of a large building. Once caught, the criminals then hold him to their own "trial" in the basement of an abandoned building, where he attempts to present a case that he himself shouldn't be killed.

It is well shot, and for the first two-thirds, well acted. The editing is without excess, meaning it moves along efficiently. But although the plot has some intrigue, it is quite thin, very predictable, and never manages high tension. At first it is simply an expose of how the investigations are to be carried out, while the chase sequence to capture the criminal is all too simple. We also suffer from lack of identification with characters. In the first half we get scenes from the perspective of many different characters, but no single character or group emerges as the "lead", curtailing any emotional response we might have otherwise had - and noir lighting alone, quality as it may be, is not enough to establish a compelling mood.

The thrill of suspense films usually lies in seeing how the good guys will escape the bad, but as this film gives little screen time to anyone likable, there is no attachment, and very little suspense. The film may attempt to leverage some social/political gravitas at the end by sympathising with the murderer and debating whether he deserves to be killed by the mob (aka capital punishment), or given a reprieve due to mental health issues, but instead of any intended depth, it simply descends into ham-fisted melodrama.

At the end of the day, this film cannot be called entertainment - it amounts to no more than weak fearmongering.
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.
Dark and suspenseful
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
The Ultimate Crime Drama, Years Before The Genre Took Off
A serial killer who favors children (Peter Lorre) is on the loose in Berlin. He is wanted by the police. But, even worse for him, he is wanted by the Berlin underworld, who have been targeted falsely by the police for being involved. Watch out, child killer!

There is nothing bad I can say about this film. The acting, the directing, the sound... all perfect. Many have praised Lang for his use of sound at a time when the practice was just coming into play. And rightfully so. Whereas other films have sound matching what is on the screen, Lang realized he could use the effect to signify what he was not showing, including the murderer (who has a distinctive whistle). Brilliant. Not to mention that one key role is a blind beggar... a man who cannot appreciate visuals, but only sounds... he is appropriately the man who can identify the killer!

Basing the story loosely off of child-murderers of the day (Grossman, Haarman and Peter Kürten) this is one of the darkest tales set to film up to this point. There is no blood, and no children are actually seen killed. And the killer is relatively reserved compared to his real-life counterparts, who were also rapists and cannibals. He presents an interesting defense: his crimes are less wrong than the crimes of others because he cannot psychologically control himself. Or, in modern terms, not guilty by reason of mental defect. Is a child killer less evil than a pickpocket? Is he in some way also a victim?

I enjoyed the idea of a unionized underworld. I do not know the reality of this, as it seemed sort of comic and anticipated such villainous team-ups as we might see in comic books. But crime was certainly not unheard of, and even "black market meat" existed... and I am not sure if I really want to know what that means.

Many, including reviewer Stanley Kauffmann, have noticed the similarity between "M" and Bertolt Brecht's "Threepenny Opera". Sadly, I have not seen Brecht's work and cannot comment on the comparison. German philosopher Theodor Lessing, best known for his work on Jewish self-hatred, may even have been an inspiration, due to his work on Haarmann. But regardless of inspiration, Lang is the master here... his work stands the test of time and today, almost a century later, is widely recognized as one of the greatest achievements on film. At the least, many consider it the all-time greatest German film. And rightfully so.

There are so many great shots, including the so-called "inventory" shot of the criminal underworld's wares. Lang also excelled with the camera angles, using knives as frames and getting more than one great mirror shot. (I should also give credit to cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner, who previously worked on "Nosferatu" and many others -- his reputation should be second only to Karl Freund.)

There is nothing that beats the Criterion release with commentary, short films and more. I watched the film this way on DVD. Perhaps a Blu-ray release has even more, but I would not even know what could be added. This disc is packed and a must-own for any film historian or Lang fan.
"This won't bring back our children"
While many of the problems of early sound pictures lampooned in Singin' in the Rain were more or less myths, the early talkies did present a big challenge for filmmakers everywhere. Europe however was at an advantage over Hollywood because even though it took them a few years to gain the same access to sound technology, films from the US would be screened abroad only six months or so after their first domestic release. Thus directors like Fritz Lang were able to witness Hollywood's first faltering steps with sound before giving it a go themselves.

It's funny how sceptics dismissed sound as a gimmick, because the best early uses of sound were those that treated it as exactly that – a gimmick. Lang demonstrates in M that a talkie need not be an entirely new kind of motion picture; sound is merely another layer of technique. Rather than getting bogged down in lengthy dialogue scenes, Lang keeps his storytelling primarily visual, and when he needs lots of expository dialogue he intercuts multiple scenes to keep the pace going. This is not to say Lang is trying to ignore sound – in fact he uses it to enhance the picture, sometimes having dialogue or other noises take place off-screen to focus us on reactions or cause-and-effect. Other times he ironically uses completely silence (something of course you never get with "silent" pictures due to the continuous musical score) giving a dreadful sense of eeriness.

And thankfully, the best elements of Lang's method have survived the talkie revolution. His visual style is particularly effective here in provoking a chilling, disturbing atmosphere. Shot compositions with large blank areas give a sense of surreal starkness. Characters often stare intensely straight at the camera, aggressively drawing the audience into the film's world. Several times we are even dumped straight into the point-of-view of the killer himself. The fragmented narrative with its lack of lead characters and impersonal, point-by-point plotting could easily be boring, but Lang holds our interest by keeping a dynamic sense of rhythm and telling the bulk of the tale through pure wordless imagery.

Lang's German pictures, in common with typical German cinema of the time, feature highly melodramatic acting and exaggerated, almost comical characters. These figures generally suited the fantasies and comic-book stories of Lang's silent days, but I'm not sure they sit so well with the close-to-home setting of M. Still, these characters are somewhat more effective now that they have voices, probably because most German screen actors of the day were from a stage background. Peter Lorre was a shameless ham, but that's what you need to play a psychopath, and in any case he's a lot better here than in many of his Hollywood roles. Otto Wernicke is also incredibly entertaining in the role of Inspector Karl "Fatty" Lohmann; again a stagy exaggeration but with some absolutely wonderful gestures and comic timing.

There isn't a lot else I can say about M – it is one of those pictures that has been analysed to death – although I doubt any comment other than mine mentions Singin' in the Rain in the opening line :). While not quite Lang's best picture, I can think of few directors who made such a smooth transition from silents to talkies, and sadly this was his penultimate German picture before the Nazis took over. There's no denying that Lang was wasted in Hollywood. He did his best to understand it, but by and large it never understood him. I say by and large; the renowned Irving Thalberg was reportedly bowled over by M, and screened it to many of his writers and directors as inspirational material. Had that prestigious and influential producer not died in 1936, the same year Lang began working in Hollywood, would things have turned out differently, I wonder?
Fritz Lang's (sound) masterpiece- a taut and quintessentially suspenseful story, and Lorre
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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