dir. fritz lang
For me, M redefines what a crime thriller should be. It’s simple yet provocative; minimal yet sprawling. It has so many things working together that I really don’t know how to begin this.
We’re in Berlin, 1931. Off-screen, the Nazis are gaining traction (and almost prevented Fritz Lang from making the film, believing it initially to be anti-Nazi propaganda based on a few more elaborate titles early in the production). On-screen, a man is terrorizing the town, being hunted by police as he takes the life of yet another young girl. Raids are frequent yet unsuccessful. No clues are left; no leads follow through.
“A man who claims that he’s compelled to destroy the lives of others–such a man must be extinguished like a bonfire.”
Peter Lorre (who’ll show up again many times in the future) gives an unyielding performance. He’s scary and sweet, completely believable in his role, and comes close to popping blood vessels in his ending monologues.
This one’s definitely worth a watch. Fritz Lang was one of the finest filmmakers to come out of Germany, and was incredibly innovative in his time. He makes great use of sound here for the first time, introducing one of the earliest uses of leitmotif (using a specific sound or song to signify the presence of a character, a la Star Wars and Jaws) and off-screen sound effects, which prompted reactions from characters on-screen as well as changes in editing, allowing the use of long-takes rather than cutaways. He also introduced an idea that horror films would later adopt: not showing the grotesque will undoubtedly make it worse in the spectator’s eye.
Criterion Spine #30