M (1931)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Thea von Harbou & Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang is one of cinemas most renowned directors and he comes from an era in film which was arguably dominated by his native Germany and their famous German Experssionism. I am not extremely well versed in cinema history, but I dare say that Lang’s films, while certainly capable of being categorized as expressionism, do not reach the extremes of his contemporary F.W. Murnau, and especially the movement’s most famous film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. However, Lang is still a great director with an interesting story to tell, and an interesting way of telling it. And to help him out is a young Peter Lorre, who would go on to a successful career in Hollywood.

The setting is a German city in the early 30s. It seems like any other town, except there is a terrible murderer on the loose. He has been hunted for weeks but to no avail. What makes this serial killer even more threatening, and terrifying, is his targets: children. But with everyone in the city on the lookout for anything suspicious, this killer will certainly soon be brought to justice. But it also creates mobs of vigilantes, who seek justice of their own without consulting the cops because, well, they are also criminals. So when they believe they have spotted the killer and cornered him in an office building, a tension filled stand off ensues.

Once this film finds its feet it really takes off and becomes the classic film that it is built up as. However, it takes about 45 minutes to find its standing, which is a bit problematic for a two hour classic film. It seems as though endings can redeem slow beginnings, and that is certainly true, but when I think of a film being a classic, I think of it being truly memorable and spactacular from start to finish, and there are many examples of this, but M is not one of them. There is just way too much set up and unexciting exposition which would have been better served being shown visually instead of the grind of having the police spell it out for us. Their mindless searches serve the film plot only on the surface while adding nothing beneath it. Is some of it necessary? Sure, but not to the extent of 45 minutes perhaps. It really is slow going in the beginning.

But like I said, once the search picks up it really gets good and that all comes from the stakes which are much more imminent now whereas before, with the killer not yet established, the stakes are non existent. It is not until we actually get to spend time with Beckert (Lorre) that he actually becomes a threat, and that just doesn’t happen until too far into the film. But the chase is very exciting, and the titular moment in the film is a great touch. Everything that seems to happen after the first act is classic worthy filmmaking, so I absolutely suggest you stick around.

The look of the film was nothing extraordinary, though there were a couple nice shots scattered throughout. I guess I am just looking for a reason as to why this film is so beloved. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film and loved the final two acts, but I really do find it difficult to forgive the slow and boring first act which went on for too long and did too little. I understand it sets up the killer and what is going on, but it could have been more brief. Peter Lorre is interesting here too. He is a small favorite of mine, so I loved watching him, but his performance was a mix of brilliance and ridiculousness with his huge eyes popping out almost the entire time. Just seemed a bit goofy, not that it…bugged…me.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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