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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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M is for Murder...
... and H is for hype. For example, "I sat motionless during most of the film, hardly breathing, and my heart pounding; I was practically in tears at the end. This is one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen."

Terrifying? Deary me. This film has to be one of the most overrated in history. The plot, what there is, is pedestrian, the acting dreadful - lots of mugging to the camera from actors who've forgotten it's a talkie - and Lorre's histrionic speech at the end is so melodramatically bad it's almost funny.

The kangaroo court scene is perfunctory to say the least - a few clichés are duly trotted out about a madman not being responsible for his actions - the mob doesn't agree and prepare to lynch Lorre but then the cavalry arrive in shape of the hitherto flat-footed cops and he's saved. Finally some woman tells us to look after the kids and then, in darkness, that means all of us. The end. Righto, point taken.
Incredible movie
I have heard about M for a long time, but had never gotten around to viewing it. I am glad I finally did. Although the cinematography is very unlike modern cinema it is quite gripping. The sense of paranoia that Lang was able to create was incredible. People turning on strangers in the street, the police performing constant raids to try to find the murderer. This movie will leave its mark on your memory.
no top
In the words of a friend of the most astounding and most memorable criminal films that will strike you up for 117 minutes with fears and fears ... It's a movie made by a German cinema that sparkles the world of its silent cinema With Metropolis, he is undoubtedly one of the best directors ever in the history of cinema ... apart from the unsurpassed play of actors such as killer actress (Peter Laura) ... decoupage, museums, decor, music, and the language and the language of each image. It's a masterpiece, and maybe this is the image of the long-awaited omen of the cinematic cinema that has been made for years for that film.
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.
Masters Of Cinema Cast
Listen here:

A colleague of mine recently asked about 'that film that used to be on with Peter Lore'. I instantly replied 'M'; it wasn't some smug retort to show how film literate I was it, was because of the simple fact M is not shown on television anymore. Why? Well I dare say the answer may have something to do with the fact that despite being made in 1931 it is as shocking today as it was upon its original release. Indeed, M is one of the rare films to never lose its relevancy, to never cease asking the type of questions that society chooses to ignore.

Fritz Lang didn't just make a film about a serial killer and a police investigation designed to thrill audiences, he made a film that probed areas of psychology and the world we live that wasn't just native to the films country Germany; but one that transcends national boundaries and more worryingly time.

In this episode we delve into M share our thoughts on what makes it such an important addition to the Masters of Cinema collection.
Mediocre movie
"M"... what an unusual title (a single one letter). Apparently insignificant, it means something though: "Mörder" ("Murderer" in German).

For a 1931 film, this is far from looking so old. Looks more like a movie of the late 40's than from the early 30's. Most movies from the 30's are hopelessly dated. Also, for a 1931 film, some of the language used is a surprise.

This movie tells the story of a mysterious child murderer and the challenge of catching him, as nobody knows who he is and he leaves no clues whatsoever. He is slowly introduced in a clever way as the movie runs. The weird thing is that this criminal only kills girls (only one boy is killed).

My big complaint about this movie is that it wastes too much time in the police investigation scenes and the society's general concern about these hideous crimes. Also, I must confess, the policemen and the gangsters smoke so much that seeing all that smoke becomes nauseating.

The film becomes more interesting and intense in the 2nd half, as the real hunt against the killer takes place. The "kangaroo court" scene is psychologically strong and the killer, at the same time he begs to spare his life, explains everything about his criminal nature.

The criminal's sentence is unknown. It is almost revealed but just as that is about to happen, the shot cuts to some women saying that «No sentence will bring the children back. One has to keep closer watch over the children....... All of you».

Peter Lorre's acting as the child murderer has a lot of dignity and his eyes are incredibly expressive. This superb performance is worthy of an Oscar for Best Actor.
"L" Before "M"
In an eerie propagandist fashion, the phrase "in the name of the Law" is repeated over the last two scenes of Fritz Lang's "M" as a child killer is brought to justice. If "L" represents the State and the Law, then "M" is meant to represent the Individual (who in this case is a Murderer). Lang boldly asked us way back in 1931, whose rights come first: the State or the Individual? A master of his craft, Lang leaves the question open-ended and let's the audience decide.

"M" is shockingly contemporary in its psychological complexities. It explores the psychology of individualism vs. group think while showcasing how a state of fear can be inflicted upon a populace when a government fails to protect society from a single individual terrorizing the people. The story is fairly straightforward: An elusive citizen begins killing innocent children in a large nameless German city. The media fuels a paranoid frenzy that incites the public. The clueless police begin to raid "the underworld" after the populace is turned into a raving mob because of the failure to capture the killer. "The underworld" comes to a screeching halt as their business is ruined by the police and starts their own manhunt for the killer.

Unlike a modern period piece that attempts to evoke a certain place and time, "M" WAS a certain place and time. Lang, in an almost prophetic sense, captured the state of mind of the German people in 1931 as the Weimar Republic was on the brink of collapse and the Nazi Regime was preparing to take over. When individuals live in a state of fear, as they do in "M", society collapses and the Individual is crushed. Only the State, it seems, can bring order.

"M" is a also a masterpiece for its technical aspects. The way in which Lang uses his camera to move through windows, capture shadows, reflections, empty spaces, and shift points-of-view is staggering even by today's standards. He also played with the new technology of recorded sound with extensive voice-over narration and dialogue used to overlap and transition between scenes. Didn't critics recently praise "Michael Clayton" for utilizing just such a technique as if it was something revolutionary? One can also see a protean style the would eventually birth the Film Noir movement with the creation of tension and suspense in the use of shadows and camera angles.

Yet "M" is not perfect. It has some major flaws. There are no real "characters" in the film to speak of in the modern sense. The film is virtually all built around mood and plot. The only time Lang invites us to emotionally connect is in the opening and closing scenes with a mother of one of the victims, and in the classic scene of Peter Lorre giving his writhing and primal "I can't help it!" speech in front of the kangaroo court of criminals. The mother's grief and Lorre's madness are presented so sparsely and in such a raw form that it becomes too painful to want to connect with them. Another flaw that is often overstated about films from this time period is the slow pace of the early police procedural scenes. These inherent flaws combined with the inherent brilliance of Lang's vision make "M" one of the most challenging films a modern viewer could ever sit through.

What impressed me most about "M" was the subtlety of the symbolism Lang created with his haunting images. As harrowing as the story is, none of the gruesomeness is shown on screen. It's all transmitted to the viewer through the power of suggestion. Is it any wonder Hitler wanted Fritz Lang for his propaganda machine, which thankfully led to Lang fleeing to America? I'll never forget the wide shots of the kangaroo court (and the looks on those people's faces as the killer is brought down the steps for trial) or the vast expanse of that empty warehouse. The scene of the ball rolling in the grass with no one to catch it, the balloon caught in the telephone wires, and the empty domestic spaces the mother has to inhabit after her child has been murdered are the types of scenes that tape into Jungian archetypes and shared fears. The look on Lorre's face as he confesses, the hand of the Law coming down to save Lorre from being lynched, and the ghastly plea from the mother in the final scene will stick with me for the rest of my life.

"M" is a communal nightmare; one that from which we have yet to awake.
M-1931: Where Fritz Lang bares the soul and psychology of the child-killer.
This is, unequivocally, a psychological thriller that all films buffs must see. I've now seen it three times, but I'm certain to see it again.

The fictional character of Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is based upon a real-life serial killer who stalked the streets of Dusseldorf. Fritz Lang, the director, had read an article about that killer and constructed this thrilling story that relates how Beckert is finally brought to justice.

The film opens with a sequence that establishes the latest disappearance of a small girl, Elsie Beckmann (Inge Landgut), with her mother (Ellen Widmann) waiting and waiting, and finally calling anxiously for Elsie from her apartment window, set high in the lower-class tenement block. The expected hue and cry ensues at yet another ghastly murder; the citizens are again outraged that the murderer is still loose; the police are stumped for clues; and, most importantly, the well-connected criminal bosses in the city are angry – because the police step up raids across the city trying to find the killer and, in that process, prevent them from continuing their criminal activities. So, they decide to find the murderer themselves and get rid of him…

And, to compound the dramatic irony, Lang has the police launch a massive manhunt, across the county, for all men with a history of mental illness. As a result of that search, the file on Beckert turns up, and so the police set up a stake-out at his apartment when clues there substantiate their suspicions.

Hence, both sides of the law are frantically trying to find Beckert, but for very different reasons. The question is: who will get to him first?

The narrative then moves on to where Beckert is currying favor with his next little victim, when he is spotted by one of the city's criminal low-life, who then follows him around to make sure it's the killer he's found. Satisfied, the man cleverly marks Beckert on his overcoat, with a large, white M, and then runs off to raise the alarm and get help from the rest of the gang.

Thereafter, it's a three-way race: Beckert finds the mark on his back and runs to ground, to hide in a large office block, but not before the criminals see him enter the building; the criminal gangs then assemble a large force that breaks into that block after hours to find him; and the police, alerted by a tripped alarm from the office block, finally rush over to find only one criminal still there, ironically forgotten by his friends.

The sequence in the office block, with Beckert trying to stay hidden, while the searchers get closer with each passing minute, is one of the most suspenseful – and quasi-comedic – actions ever put to film. Years later, Ray Milland appeared in The Big Clock (1948) with a very similar setting which, in turn, was remade with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman in No Way Out (1987) – and both of which I'm sure owe much to Lang's superior effort with M.

It's a great visual story (reason enough to see it, in my opinion), but it's also Germany's first talking film. And, to say anymore about the narrative would spoil it, if you haven't seen it yet.

What's equally great is Lang's filming and direction, using light/dark; high and low angle shots; shot-reverse shot; voice-over narration that matched remote action (a first in cinema); and sequences that tell a story with no words; and all with the consummate originality and skill of a master practitioner. Little wonder that this film constantly ranks within the top 100 of all time.

Special mention must also be given to Peter Lorre, an actor unknown to Hollywood at the time of release. His portrayal of a child-killer is flawless. For the first hour, he hardly says a word, his looks and actions doing more than enough to show his character. Only after he is trapped in the office block does he break his silence, and with devastating effect. Lang then does the unthinkable, almost: he shows Beckert's psychology and vulnerability, with exquisite irony, to the extent that the viewer begins to feel sympathy for the worst of the worst. It's an unforgettable narrative achievement. (In contrast, who has ever felt any real sympathy for Norman Bates, the psychopath from Psycho [1960]?)

Interestingly, when Lorre did get to Hollywood, he appeared in a film called The Stranger on the third floor (1940), in which he again played the part of a psychopathic killer, this time of women. And, of course, who can forget his droll portrayal as Dr Herman Feinstein in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)?

The rest of the cast for M is more than adequate; in fact, I understand that Lang actually used a number of real criminals during shots of the criminal gangs, and especially during the final act. I was particularly taken with the boss of the criminal gangs, Schränker (Gustaf Grundgens) and the two main policemen of this story, Inspectors Lohmann and Groeber (Otto Wernicke and Theodor Loos, respectively).

Some reviewers exhibit frustration with what appears to be an ambiguous end. Considering the times, however, I think there's little doubt about the outcome. You'll have to make your own assessment, obviously.

Highest recommendation for all.
"M" makes you create the violence in your own mind
This masterwork was the joint creation of a husband and wife team, Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou, even though Lang's name is the only one featured up front. "M" is much more than just a film about capturing a pedophile murderer. In fact, you never see a murder. Most reviews overlook the clever structure of the script, which was credited to both Lang and von Harbou. Berlin is famous for its dry humor, which is sprinkled throughout the dialog despite the grim theme. Early on there's a scene in a bar in which a group of regulars discuss the latest murder until one man accuses another of possibly being the culprit. And there is a sequence of wry cuts which switch back and forth between a police conference and a gang conference as both separately discuss how to capture the child killer.

Peter Lorre was a stage actor before accepting this film role, and it shows at times. Actually, the film is almost stolen by the sly Otto Wernicke (Inspector Karl Lohmann), whose performance was so strong that Lang brought him back to play the same character in "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" (1933). Another outstanding performance was given by Gustav Gründgens (Schränker, the crime boss). The large cast was matched to the top talents. The cutting is marvelous, as is the camera work. But be careful to avoid the washed-out copies that were sold before the restored version (2004). The English subtitles were clear without interfering with the images, and the sound was very good (by 1931 standards).
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