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 focused 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 chance 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- which tended to pickpocketing, not murdering children.
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