[Last Film I Saw] M (1931)

M poster

Title: M
Year: 1931
Country: Germany
Language: German
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers:
Thea von Harbou
Fritz Lang
Cinematography: Fritz Arno Wagner
Cast:
Peter Lorre
Otto Wernicke
Rosa Valetti
Ellen Widmann
Franz Stein
Georg John
Friedrich Gnaß
Fritz Odemar
Paul Kemp
Theo Lingen
Gustaf Gründgens
Theodor Loos
Rudolf Blümmer
Inge Landgut
Rating: 9.0/10

M 1931

My words may be redundant since Fritz Lang’s unanimously accepted classic doesn’t need any more empty plaudits, the fact that in his very first sound film he has already accomplished it with such unparalleled dexterity is utterly astonishing, but still I need to vent my thoughts after watching its restored 109-minutes version for the first time ever.

The scenario is quite gruesome, it is a crime-drama about a serial child (girl specifically) killer Hans Beckert (Lorre), who engenders a city-wide panic in Berlin when he commits another crime and still remains at large with no clear identity. The police department is under severe pressure to dig him out but its productivity is mainly hampered by the paranoia and massive false information from the terror-stricken hoi polloi, meanwhile, local underworld business is also critically undermined by policemen’s all-too-frequent ferreting and investigations, so the criminal bosses are also in line with the fervent intent to unearth the despicable murderer.

Through the paralleled ways, police gleans the key clue from the information of recovered and released mentally impaired patients, whereas the gangsters utilising the large number of beggars on the street to set an all-inclusive dragnet to pin down their object, yet it is the street-smart method has the edge and finally Hans is hunted by the gangsters inside a posh office building, after an engaging cat-and-mouse chase, Hans is caught alive to a kangaroo court in front of an angry mob just before policemen’s raid. It is then, the climax crops up when Hans harrowingly confesses about his abhorrent obsession with his young targets and the losing battle with his demon inside, which doesn’t mitigate the crowd’s rage for sure, however, in a politically correct detour, the policemen arrive right before the lynching.

Lorre munificently showcases his tour-de-force in laying bare his tormenting psyche, his popped eyes is thrilling to behold, more unbelievably he even evokes a palpable sympathy from such a monstrous creature, which unfortunately would end up be the incubus and stereotype haunting all his future career. And in a manifest fashion, Lang judiciously challenges the conundrum of the legit guideline supplying for criminals inflicted with mental illness, and asserts a sharp warning on the sane, watching over your children is the right thing to do.

Technically speaking, the film is way over its time, let alone Lang’s trademark impressionist allure, the cubism structures, and compositions are all over the place, the ingenious usage of a whistle leitmotif which surprisingly triggers Hans’ undoing is groundbreaking then and leaves indelible marks inside one’s mind; DP Fritz Arno Wagner’s fluid tracking lens lithely undulates in the smoking-shrouded space and patiently observes the ongoing developments. Also, it is a patchwork of sound and silent pieces amalgamating together, inducing a quite bizarre transition for the new audience. For me, I prefer M to Lang’s other master class brainchild METROPOLIS (1927) for its narrative intrigue and Lorre’s acting potency (also, Wernicke as inspector Lohmann and Gnaß as the gutless whistleblower Franz come strong in their prowess among a large cast), they are such formidable mammoths with brimful of innovations and genuine fruition out of committed labour of love, which eventually does make me wonder, how come Lang’s later walk-of-life in Hollywood fails to match his pre-WWII superlative domestic masterpieces? I guess one can only find that out in his works, and it seriously piques my interest.

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