#388- M

Quick recap: A child murderer is on the loose and everyone wants to see him caught: parents, the police and especially the criminals, whose good name is being ruined.

Fun (?) fact: Several groundbreaking techniques debuted in M, like voice-over narration and a musical theme to signify a character.

Bonus fact: Director Fritz Lang hired real criminals for the criminal court scene and several were later arrested.

Thoughts and Observations:

So, M was not the movie I expected at all. Not that I expected much because all I knew before watching it was that it was German and made in the early 30s. I pictured a mix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Jazz Singer. Boy, was my face red when the very first scene was of a group of children singing a song about a murderer butchering them to bits! I still wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into until a few scenes later when the little girl’s body has been dumped in a clearing and the camera focuses on her balloon, no longer tethered, drifting into wires above.

like most things made for children back then, this balloon is a whole other level of creepy

I would be simplifying things too much by calling M a ‘murder mystery’. Yes, murder takes place but Fritz Lang not only wanted to show how different sides were impacted but to get the audience to empathize with each one:

The parents: the first scene of a mother lovingly making lunch while waiting for her child to arrive home from school (which never happened) was especially heartbreaking to watch.

The citizens: The entire town was in a frenzy and willing to suspect literally anyone talking to a child but at the same time, they were dealing with a serial killer who left zero clues.

The police: It’s always fascinating to learn how police solved crimes before DNA matching. In this case, they had one fingerprint and……that’s about it. And the longer it took to catch the murderer, the greater change the city would lose their collective mind and more children would be killed.

The criminal underworld: Did NOT see this one coming but it makes sense. The police began raiding bars every night and rounding up anyone without papers because they had nothing else to go on. As a result, the criminals weren’t able to do their various illegal activities- plus, they are pickpockets not child killers.

and finally, the murderer himself, a former asylum patient released as cured but very much still sick. Played perfectly by Peter Lorre ( a little too perfectly because he had trouble shaking the role even years later), the murderer is so very creepy as he whistles ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for him as he tried to outrun the mob. His most powerful scene comes during the ‘trial’ with the criminal underworld as he begs for mercy because he couldn’t help himself. And as disgusted as I was by his actions, I believed him. In the final few minutes of the film, the police arrive and arrest him before mob justice is carried out. He gets the treatment he needs but the parents are left asking if justice was really served. It’s a question we still ask to this day without any clear answer.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Gabbeh

#362- Anatomy of a Murder

Quick recap: Lt. ‘Manny’ Manion is accused of murdering his wife’s rapist and it’s up to James Stewart to prove his innocence.

That’s some good lawyering right there

Fun (?) fact: James Stewart’s father HATED this movie so much he took out a full page ad in a newspaper urging people not to go see it.

I wonder why…

My thoughts: Here are a few words I never expected and/or want to hear from James Stewart again:

  • jiggle
  • sexual climax
  • sperm

And the absolute worst:

PANTIES

As you can ascertain, this movie was scandalous for its time (1959). Much of the plot revolves around a woman who has been assaulted and raped, who may or may not be telling the truth. And honestly, I still have no idea what to make of the ending. Lt. Manion was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity but there really is no way to know for certain whether he did it. The bigger point is what the movie is attempting to say. Both scenarios are troubling but also both speak to the times in a way that mirrors what is currently debated in our country.

Scenario #1- Laura was really raped and her husband killed the accuser in a fit of rage

So if this is what ended up happening, then this movie is one of the most fiercely feminist out there. Every single piece of evidence points to Laura coming on to her accuser and this having been a consensual affair. At no time does Manion’s attorney, Biegler, imply anything other than Laura telling the truth. There are several moments of him losing it during the trial when anything else is suggested, which is surprising because the idea about a woman ‘inviting rape’ is still a prevalent one in today’s society. What the verdict says is that it doesn’t matter what a woman wears or how she moves or hips or if she gets into a stranger’s car- she doesn’t deserve rape.

 

Scenario #2- Laura had an affair and her husband is insanely jealous and probably abusive

This is the scenario with the most evidence. And if this is the truth, then James Stewart is actually the villain of the film not the hero he usually is. He is just a lawyer looking to win with tricks rather than finding out the truth. In this perspective, the entire court case is one big circus act. It says a lot about our broken criminal system and how it comes down to who can argue best, not what the actual evidence is.

 

The end of the film finds Biegler visiting Manion and his wife, only to learn they have skipped town. The caretaker observes that Laura was upset and crying and the whole place is a mess. Manion has left a note which makes a joke about his insanity defense. Everyone laughs and happy music plays as the scene fades to black. This is either a happy ending where everything worked out because the criminal justice system works or it’s an incredibly bleak one where everything is broken and a murderer is loose. What a dilemma.

Final review: 4/5. Interesting concept but everything is so muddled, I don’t know what to make of it all.

Up next: The Killing Fields

#355- Jacob’s Ladder

Quick recap: A Vietnam vet’s life starts to get really weird and creepy when he starts having visions of demons and nightmares of torture.

I finally realized that Tim Robbins reminds me of John Green and now I can’t unsee it

Fun(?) fact: Much of the imagery for the film comes from photographs taken by Joel-Peter Witkin. I won’t post on here because it is super creepy and gruesome but you should Google it if that’s your thing. Or just scroll through the Subreddit Creepypasta because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most of his pictures there at some point.

Macaulay Culkin! Tim Robbins! Jason Alexander! This movie is peak 90s

My thoughts: SPOILERS APLENTY!!

I’d heard this movie was terrifying but I tend to take those warnings with a grain of salt. Basically, all I knew was that it had something to do with Vietnam and seeing as how I never fought in the war, I considered myself safe. What I did not realize is that Jacob’s Ladder is about visions and nightmares, of which I have PLENTY (nightmares, not visions).

One of my favorite things about this movie is how minor details seem so creepy and can add up to something terrifying. In the beginning of the movie, Jacob heads to his local VA to talk with a doctor about his flashbacks, only to find out there is no record of him in the system. It’s unnerving but seeing how this was Pre-Computer age, not entirely illogical. But as the movie progresses, more and more of Jacob’s life starts to fade. He realizes something awful happened to him in Vietnam but when he goes to see a lawyer, the lawyer tells him that he never actually fought and was dishonorably discharged. Combine that with the super creepy demons and this movie kept me up for hours after it was over.

And here’s the spoiler: The entire film takes place in the moments before Jacob dies. Turns out, he was mortally wounded in Vietnam after all and all these nightmares and visions are just his mind’s way of coming to terms with his mortality. I was a little annoyed by how hokey the scene was when Jacob is reunited with his dead son Gabe and they walked upstairs to a white light, but then the next scene was the medics crowded around his body and that stark contrast really threw me off. It reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in All that Jazz, when he does that huge musical number about saying good bye and then the very next scene is of him being put into a body bag. It’s such a sobering thought to realize that I just sat through a man’s final, horrifying moments on earth but I’m also grateful that Jacob finally got some peace.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Possibly more Horrorfest?

#351- Irreversible

Quick recap: A tragic night is told in reverse chronological order

just about the only screenshot I can show

Fun (?) fact: As if the film wasn’t gruesome enough, a low frequency sound was added to the first 30 minutes which causes nausea and dizziness. 3 people fainted during the Cannes showing and it’s claimed that 200 others walked out.

My thoughts: My main draw to Irreversible was the reverse chronological order format. Each scene ends at the moment as the one previous to it. For example, one scene starts as a group of friends walks to a party and ends as the two men talk about their sexuality. The previous scene started as the two men discussed their sexuality and ended as the woman left the party. It’s an interesting concept and made me pay attention more because I didn’t know what would be important later on. The beginning of the movie, which is really the end of the night, wraps up what happened but I didn’t realize it while watching because I didn’t know what would be significant.

The rest of the movie is disturbing on SO many levels. Nudity, graphic violence and a 10 minute full rape scene are just some of what I had to endure. Was it a worthwhile film for the list? Maybe? But probably not. I hesitate to throw full support for the movie because it’s just so dark for no good reason. Director Gaspar Noé began Irreversible as a study of married life and as his plan went on, the idea become more dark. So it’s not that he wants us to learn anything from this; he just wants to throw as many disgusting things as he can for the sake of art. The first 20 minutes are of the main character Marcus in a gay club, searching for a man. Noé was afraid he would come across as homophobic in the scene so he played one of the characters participating and enjoying himself, as if that makes it ok. The rape scene is just as horrible as you would imagine (please don’t) but later on we find out that the woman who was raped was also pregnant. What’s the point of adding that detail other than to shock and bum everyone out?

Final review: 2/5

Up next: La Dolce Vita