Peter Lorre, dir.- Fritz Lang
This is Fritz Lang’s first talking picture and he used some techniques that seem normal to us now, but were unusual at the time. He was an early innovator of the Noir genre because of this film. Film Noir is a style of movie that is usually crime-based, characterized by dark, shadowy cinematography, and often containing narration. In this case the “narration” is actually someone talking to someone else while they show flashback images of what the guy is talking about. The term “film noir” was coined in 1946, years after the style emerged.
Peter Lorre is amazing in this. People talk about underrated actors all the time but I don’t think Lorre was underrated. I think he was under-used and possibly under-loved. The problem with Lorre was that he didn’t have leading-man looks, so he never got leading-man parts. Lorre was actually a comedic song and dance man on the stage before acting in films and his brilliant performance in “M” set him on the road to playing creepy little guys most of his career. It would be nice to go back in time and fix it so his versatility was displayed more, but, as of yet, we have not discovered a way to time travel. If we had, I would have gone back and straightened Buster Keaton out about signing with MGM (a story for another time).
There are many things in the movie that I would love to discuss, but I don’t want to say very much to people who haven’t seen it. I will say that it’s about a maniacal serial killer terrorizing a town in Germany and the efforts to catch him. And now I’m done talking about that.
Maybe I should have said at the beginning, “Warning! Film is in German with English subtitles!” in case that’s something that scares you off. It shouldn’t. Aren’t we used to watching with subtitles by now, even when what we are watching is in our native language? Even if it’s just to understand something that an actor said that you had to rewind 3 times and still couldn’t get it, so you had to turn the captions on? And then you left the captions on in case it happened again? If you’ve never done that, it’s okay, after the initial “Ack, I have to read what they’re saying” thing passes, you get used to it. And Lang uses a lot of silence, so you don’t have to keep your eyes on captions all the time instead of looking at the actual screen. Really not a big deal.
I can’t say Lorre is lovable and cuddly in this, but I can say I felt concern for him, just as Lang intended. Good job, Lang.
I read a lot about this film before and after seeing it. Lang says it’s his best. I agree with him, especially in comparison to “Metropolis”, the film he is most often associated with, which happens to be silent. Metropolis is visually stunning, the story is very good, but there are elements of the ridiculous in it (though I’m sure someone would take issue with me for saying so, I just laughed out loud at some of it). People who write about film like to talk about the symbolism in “M”. I know Lang was into symbolism, but I really think that people imagine symbolism when none is intended. I can’t factually know what symbols Lang was using and what they were representing unless Lang says so himself. One writer pointed out that there were a lot of shapes in this movie, suggesting that the shapes were somewhat representational of different sections of the movie, and that there were segues to transition from one shape to the next. He pointed out the use of circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and straight lines. What? No trapezoids? Maybe the absence of the trapezoid is the key to the whole subplot about shapes! Maybe this was something Lang intended, I don’t know, and maybe I’m just displaying my ignorance, but I don’t like picking things apart to this degree. Wasn’t the overall product good enough?
Anyway, it’s a film that is easily ahead of its time. It’s visually awesome, well written, well-acted and strongly recommended by my favorite person with opinions about movies, so you definitely need to watch it.