‘M’ Retro Review

A Review by G-FUNK

Director: Fritz Lang

Cast: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Grundgens

Plot: When a serial killer who preys on children takes his eighth victim paranoia runs through the city. With the police increasing the number of raids on illegal operations hoping to find a clue, the local crime outfit decides to hunt the murderer their own ways.

Review: M is a historical piece of cinema, and a richly made cinematic production. Lang (who considers this his best work) developed his film-making skills during the era of German Expressionism, as evidenced by his widely known sci-fi epic Metropolis. His experience and skills as an artist shows in every frame of the screen, having worked exclusively with silent film prior to this movie gave Lang the ability to communicate volumes in addition to the dialogue of the sharp script. The use of windows, mirrors and fore-ground objects shows a level of expertise and experimentation that is just as rare today as it was at the time of release.

Even before the infamous Hayes Code tried to ruin everyone’s fun this movie dealt with pretty dark material. The concept of a serial killer who attacks children is disturbing enough, but the method – snatching unobserved kids of the street – makes for even more uncomfortable viewing. Keeping the murderer off screen for the early scenes of the film puts the viewer in the same headspace as the characters of this movie. Using the cue of him whistling ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ as he ‘hunts’ is a stroke of genius, and it’s certain that no-one will hear that song the same again after viewing this film. When he does emerge the suspense pays off with the demented Peter Lorre in his career making role, flitting effortlessly between a tortured man and a cold killer.

Seeing the community crumble and pull itself together to launch the manhunts that take place is mesmerizing viewing. The themes ring true today as the media creates a sense of fear that trickles through society until people start turning on each other. The flip side of the coin is the way people start co-operating when a concentrated effort is made to capture the menace, leading to the penultimate showdown in which homeless people and gangsters corner the murderer in an office building and proceed to tear it apart looking for their quarry. When he is captured and forced into a mock trail before the members of the local community it becomes a genuine heart stopping cinematic moment.

M proved to be ahead of its time in more ways than one. In addition dealing with complex topics and challenging the viewer it laid down conventions that are taken for granted in the genre today. Police using forensic investigation to narrow down their suspects, the killer taunting people through the media – there are many concepts that were used in film for the first time by Lang. Today the film is still a rich and complex viewing experience. If Metropolis was a comic book then M is a literally masterpiece.

Score: TEN outta TEN