Monday, 24 December 2012

M [1931]

M, Fritz Lang’s first sound film and made when he was still based in Germany, has come to be recognized as a landmark early talkie. With its dark theme, nocturnal setting and expressionistic photography, it was also an important proto-noir. The film opens with the city of Berlin gripped by the fear of an elusive child killer. As he keeps leaving a trail of young girls in his path, two developments occur one after the other. The hapless police force literally turns the city into a crazy police state in their desperate bid to catch the murderer. The city’s crime syndicate, feeling the relentless heat of the suddenly hyper-active police force, begins a hunt for the man themselves using their vast network of mendicants and vagabonds. The man at the centre of this massive two-pronged attack is Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), the slimy, deranged sociopath. In its iconic climax, Beckert, upon being finally captured by the underworld after a combing operation in a massive office building, is put on trial in a kangaroo court, and is told of their ability to judge by citing the times served by various gang-members. The film made a star out of Lorre who gave a delectably creepy, albeit gleefully over-the-top, performance. However, despite its sterling legacy, the movie hasn’t really aged well. The overtly theatrical set pieces and the histrionics by some of the cast members ended up serving as mood breakers, thus dampening the effects of the ominous atmospheric. The film, therefore, remains significant in today’s context mostly for its historical importance, its pre-Nazi allegory, and Lang’s innovative use of the then infant technology.

Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Proto-Noir/Police Detective Film/Gangster Film
Language: German
Country: Germany


Sam Juliano said...

One of the greatest of films, this is arguably the best film ever made in Germany, and a work much emulated and never equalled. The use of sound makes for haunting effect and Lorre is often electrifying.

Great observations, Shubhajit!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Yeah, this does feature regularly in the various "Greatest Movies of All Time" lists, and its not difficult to understand the reasons for that. Though I found it a tad dated in today's contexts, there's no denying its place in the pantheon.