Germany - 1931

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

"M" is the story of a terrorized city. Though based on a true story, the 1931 film directed by Fritz Lang is about more than law and order. It blurs the definitions of both and, in the end, questions whether the law can keep us truly safe.

Despite Herculean efforts, the police of a large, unnamed city, have been unable to track down a child-killer. The public is getting increasingly hysterical. Can lynchings be far off? Nightly raids and an increased police presence on the streets succeed only in preventing pickpockets and streetwalkers from making a living. This prompts career criminals to organize their own investigation, one unhampered by fixed procedures and bureaucratic mentality. Their hand-on, less-than-ethical approach, does the trick. When the child-killer is threatened with a trial by these, his criminal peers, do you wonder that he asks to be handed over to the police?

Peter Lorre, all popping eyes, baby face and chubby little hands, is repulsively fascinating as the twisted, pathetic psychopath, dropping more than a few hints about the erotic nature of his fixation. He sights a victim, reflected evocatively in a mirror framed with knives, and all but swoons. He describes his compulsion to kill and his doughy face twists into that of a gargoyle, his delivery is contorted by what seems to be the beginnings of an orgasm. Part and actor were a match made in, you'll pardon the expression, heaven.

As for Lang's direction, he uses camera angles to enhance the story's mood of time being out of joint. In fact, it boasts the single oddest shot I've yet seen, a crotch shot like no other and one that made me wonder more about Fritz's state of mind that particular day of filming that the message he was trying to convey. Elsewhere, though, he makes a balloon menacing and a place setting unbearably poignant. He also magically exploits that relatively new phenomenon, sound, in the ways he DOESN'T use it, conveying uneasiness by having the camera linger on images in utter, jittery silence.

The new release of "M" restores some seven minutes of footage, including the last shot so often, and ridiculously deleted. If you've never seen it, now's the time.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 9/3/97

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