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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on October 14, 2002
Fritz Lang's masterpiece "M" is clearly one of the greatest of the early sound features made by him or practically anyone else. Peter Lorre gives his greatest performance as a weasly serial killer of little girls, and we accompany him on a couple of his stalkings, the last of which have him marked by the underworld with the letter 'M' and sought out by the city's criminal element, so the police will take some of the heat off them. The sound is crude, obviously added post filming in many instances, but it doesn't reduce the power of one of the greatest of German imports.
A film this old (1931) is naturally not going to be in spotless condition, but I have to say that I was very disappointed with Criterion's unusually sloppy work on this film. Clearly little effort was put into making the print pristine with scratches, dirt, and missing frames all still marring the viewing experience (compare what Criterion did with THE LADY VANISHES or THE SCARLET EMPRESS which look practically brand new), and the white bar which crisscrosses the screen (similar to the problem with new prints of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) is very annoying. I have seen film prints of "M" without this white bar. I can't understand why it couldn't have been digitally removed.
So, one star gets removed due to the nature of the disappointing transfer. The film should nevertheless not be missed!
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on March 19, 2002
I am a fan of Fritz Lang, but not a fan of murder films. However, the Lang faniship overwhelmed my aversion to these crime films. I think what keeps me back is the gore. I think that depicted gore deadens your higher sensibilities. By the way, I work in a hospital, so it is not squeamishness son my part.
The key to this movie is Fritz Lang's incomparable eye. He has the palace and artistic symmetry that would have made him a great Renaissance and Baroque artist. Each scene is a masterpiece and a work of art. This cinematography is a dying art in the film industry, focusing on computer generated gimmicks and machine gun profanity to carry the film along. His style reminds us of Orson Welles, Gregg Toland, and Alfred Hitchcock. Film is primarily visual, and Lang exploits this primary dimension of filmwork to its utmost.
The black and white aspect to this film is powerful. Admittedly, black and white originally was to due to the poor technology, but it has advantages that color lacks. You feel shadows, and taste the darkness. For example, in Lorre's first scene, you just see his silhouette in shadow whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King." This creates an almost hysterical sense of suspense. You know someone is bad, but you don't see him. He becomes a phantom menace of colossal proportions. This film is almost a moving study of Ansel Adams gone psycho!
This film, however, is not mere eye-candy, but it raises many ethical situations. The plot is that a kiddy murderer is on the loose in Germany, so the cops crack down on all criminals. Realizing that their craft is in danger, the criminal underground unties in a sort of "thief's honor," and tries to take care of the murderer on their own. The film climaxes as the underworld capture the murderer and hold a trial on their own. The entire situation raises so many questions about ethics, morals, honor, and vigilantism.
The only drawback is that this talkie is in German, so your eye is constantly darting down to the dialogue.
I am glad that this DVD is out and this profound film will get more exposure. Yes, there was life before "Titanic," and we have much to learn from these classic filmmakers.
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on October 14, 2001
Fritz Lang hatte bereits eine lange Karriere hinter sich undwar in den 20-ern der erfolgreichste Regisseur Deutschlands und imAusland geehrt. Seine Werke wurden mit "Metropolis" und "Siegfried" sehr bombastisch und z.T. schwerverständlich. Da dreht er einen Film, dem ihm kaum jemand zugetraut hatte, das Publikum und Kritik sahen wie gefesselt die Premiere, der Applaus nach den ersten Aufführungen dauerte manchmal 10 Minuten. Für einen kurzen wunderbaren Augenblick waren 1930 noch die Ästhetik des Stummfilms mit dem neuen Ton vermählt. Fritz Lang setzte den Ton sparsam und expressiv ein, z.B. auf den Straßen ist in der Regel kein Autogeräusch zu hören. Die Zeit war gut gewählt, gerade war der Prozeß um den Massenmörder Kürten in der Presse. Die Ganoven werden mit Theo Lingen sympathisch und volkstümlich dargestellt, Gustyv Gründgens brilliert als autoritärer Unterweltboß, der aber ein Herz für kleine Kinder hat. Parallelen zur damaligen politischen Entwicklung? Peter Lorre gibt ein beeindruckendes Dokument seiner Seelenlandschaft wieder, das Lang genau mit Psychologen studiert hatte. Als surrealer Höhepunkt wird der "Prozeß" gegen den gefangenen Lorre in einer Fabrikruine gezeigt. Der Film ist so spannend, die Zeit vergeht im Nu. Cineasten haben den Film häufiger als bestes deutsches Werk des 20. Jahrhunderts gewählt, mit "Emil und die Detektive" soll er die beste Visitenkarte dieser riesengroßen deutschen Stadt wiedergegeben haben, die später so anders wurde. Meiner Ansicht war Fritz Lang mit Friedrich Murnau der beste Regisseur, den Deutschland bis zum heutigen Tag hatte. Es ist schön, daß sich offenbar mit diesen Reviews viele Zuschauer der USA sich noch für das europäische Kino dieser Zeit interessieren, mehr als in Deutschland, wo M nur 3 Reviews hat. Vielen Dank. MFG Thomas Richter Frankfurt-Riederwald
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on September 30, 2001
Peter Lorre is astounding as HANS the candy-wielding, child serial killer of Fritz Lang's justly reputed expressionist masterwork in horror. This is a wicked head-trip into the psyche of THE BOGEYMAN. There is not a single murder shown; yet watching a little girl victim's mother preparing lunch and waiting for her daughter to NEVER return is terrifying. The frame where a TOY BALLOON the murdered child's soul...into the heavens is archetypal and has to be among the most frightening IMAGES ever filmed. "M" is nightmare scripted at nightmare pace with claustrophobic camera work. It "corners" you in eerie pursuit of a psychotic pervert (yet again: it never explicitly glamorizes perversion in the sick/slick fashion of contemporary SLASHER films; or pretentious, would-be art films like SHADOW of the VAMPIRE).Lang compounds horror of the story with irony of forces of Evil(The criminal demimonde) hunting Lorre as an equally twisted act of self-preservation in face of ineptitude of the forces of Law.
The dizzying implication that Man's LAW cannot protect...nor is constructed to protect...GOOD, but merely exists to enforce ORDER, is presented in the classic Kafkaesque TRIAL where Lorre pleads "innocence" before a Court of Criminals. It is like The Devil being judged by demons in Hell. Fritz Lang's his sci-fi allegory METROPOLIS...remains presciently ahead of its time as cinematic exploration of monstrous Evil. Lorre plays a Monster. He is a premeditated killer living by destroying children...incarnations of whatever innocence and goodness society affects to value...claiming: "it is not my fault!" "M" is the mark of The Beast. It is Fritz Lang's Id nightmare...
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on August 25, 2001
Here in the states, most of us know Peter Lorre as a quasi-comic villain with bulging eyes and a voice and accent that lends itself to mimicry. In his best-known roles he's a character we can't quite take seriously. But once you see him in "M" your view of him will be changed forever. His work here is a revelation. No longer comic in any respect, he becomes terrifying in his blandness because it reminds us that evil doesn't wear the face of monsters or even gods, but that of the man down the street or the woman at the office. Lorre isn't the only reason to watch "M" but he's one of the most compelling. Nothing about "M," except perhaps the physical quality of the film itself, is at all dated. The themes of serial murder, the abduction and murder of children, the fear that will grip a community being victimized by these crimes, and the mob mentality that can grow out of that fear are all issues we deal with daily. The look of the film is actually surprisingly fresh, with its stark angles and play of light and shadow. It's a look that informed film noir in Hollywood a decade or two later. "M" is fascinating and frightening on many levels, recommended highly for students of film, film buffs and anyone who enjoys a good, thought-provoking movie. Not recommended for anyone disturbed by the subject matter or looking for some mind candy.
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on December 28, 2000
When sound was first introduced into film, the natural response from filmmakers was to use it as much as they possibly could. For Fritz Lang, however, it was to be used sparingly, more like punctuation then narrative. The story of 'M' should be familiar to those who have seen Spike Lee's magnificant 'Summer Of Sam'. There's a killer on the streets, kidnapping and slaying young children, and the police and the underworld of criminals have both set their sights on him. The film doesn't really concern itself with the killer, although he does have a few striking scenes (especially at the film's end where he pitifully tries to plead his case before the kangeroo court of criminals before him) but more so with the dividing line between criminals and police. Both want the killer caught for different reasons. The police want him to end the murders, the crooks want him caught so the cops will ease off their nightly patrols. The film makes these comparisons strikingly clear. It is a powerful film about desperation and fear, justice and innocence. Peter Lorre is remarkable in the role of the killer, his bug-eyed face twisting and contorting with considerable creepiness. His ending monologue is one of the greatest moments in the history of film. Fritz Lang's direction is near-perfect and again his use of sound is breathtaking. The shrill whistling of a tune has never been so frightening before. For all those interested in seeing just how great a film can be, this is one of those must-have films in your collection.
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on December 22, 2000
This is probably one of the best films depicting a serial killer that I have ever come across. The movie plot is pretty absurd with the whole of the self-rightous "underground" world of criminals uniting to catch the kindermorder who thretens to blacken their reputation! The Nazi propaganda is typically moronic, but that can safely be ignored to get to the climax where Lorre is being "tried" by the gangsters and gangland killers who think they are so much superior to them and he launched into his tirade. The killer is not an evil man, but one driven by an insane urge to kill, regardless of the consequences. Unlike the rest of the criminals who prosecute him, he does not do what he does for gain, but because his very nature, a drive that is alien even to him, forces him to obey. The sheer power of Lorre's perfromance, especially in the prosecution scene, blasts most other movies out of the water. There are few scenes as intense and revealing as this one. As a member of the progeny of UFA's expressionist classics, the movie is visually quite stunning and of course, highly artifical in its plot and acting, but this in no way takes away from its dramatic power. I wonder how it would have turned out had Lang not been under the Nazi censors wh forced hom to fell for his life a few years later?
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on December 15, 2000
I had heard "M" spoken of for many years as a masterpiece of German Expressionism, as an early psychological thriller, as the first portrait of a serial killer. For these & other reasons, I had been interested in seeing it for a long time. Now that I have, I feel it is an important movie, but for reasons totally ignored by most film buffs: it is an amazing document of early Hitler Germany, made in the very first years of his taking power. As a time capsule of German values & beliefs it couldn't be more revealing!
As "M" opens, we see some extremely dispirited looking children playing a singing game. In every scene of the movie that features a child, the children seem sedated, little zombies. Was this typical of German children of the period? Were they so benumbed by the economic disasters their parents endured that they had ceased to show any personality whatsoever? Or is this an example of the grinding propaganda they encountered in all aspects of their daily routine?
The "Who is the Murderer?" posters Fritz Lang depicts posted in the town feature the following text: "It is every mother's highest duty to guard her child at all times." Whew!! Somehow I can't imagine an Wanted poster in the US of 1931 preaching quite so blatantly! The police are shown to be fat & lazy, the criminal underworld organized into unions, & at all turns, the ugly apparatus of a police-state are exhibited. For instance, in one scene, the police decide to raid a "known underworld hang-out". The people drinking there are herded together, run thru the gauntlet individually & anyone who doesn't have full paperwork on them is arrested.
Also on display in 3 scenes are examples of mob behavior, anonymous people gaining strength in numbers to gang up on an individual (whether guilty or innocent).
The most disturbing subtext runs thruout the entire film. A whole city is in an uproar over the murders of 8 children. Yet within a decade these same people would be accomplices in the murders of millions of children.
Yes, Fritz Lang's "M" is a classic, but not for any of the reasons usually given. If you have any knowledge of 20th Century German history, you will find it a fascinating time capsule & a filmic explanation for the rise of the Nazi's. It is chilling & very disturbing to watch.
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on December 5, 2000
Director Fritz Lang's bleak, intense criminal masterpiece "M" is one of the cinema's most important and interesting works...and should be a real "must see" for any fan of foreign cinema.
Peter Lorre in his acting debut plays a sinister, cold blooded child murderer prowling the shadowy and darkened streets of Berlin looking for victims to slake his violent desires. Loosely based around the true tale of German mass murderer, Fritz Haarman, who preyed on young males in the early twenties, before losing his head to the guillotine !! ....Lang's subject matter was very controversial on several levels and Lang's film is a jarring ride through a world of suspense and terror that ultimately finds the predator becoming the prey. Lorre eludes the frustrated Berlin police force, but finds that his criminal peers can no longer tolerate his barbarity and so they set about judging this outcast member of their community in their own fashion.
Lang truly was a magnificent director and this dark, atmospheric cauldron of intense performances is one of Germany's finest films. A movie not easily forgotten and one bound to evoke spirited conversation amongst viewers of this great work.
A genuine masterpiece of the cinema.....10 stars !!
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on December 1, 2000
"M" has everything you could hope in a great film. The acting by Peter Lorre, Gustaf Gründgens, Otto Wernicke, and the rest of the cast all perfectly convey the different personalities in this complex story. The use of black & white and shadows is very moody and haunting. The use of sound is very important since it will tell you things the camera isn't showing. The camera work itself is amazing. I especially love the long shot in the beginning of the scene of the beggars are signing up to watch the streets where the camera moves back and forth, up and into a room through a window without a cut.
"M" offers so much for the viewer -- thrills, suspense, humor, terror! I enjoy it more and more with every repeated viewing. Fritz Lang does more than just give ideas on insane criminals. He compares and contrasts the police and the underworld criminal systems. You learn about the "state-of-the-art " systems of that time. And the last words harken a most important message that unfortunately is still true today. Also, if you look deeper, you can even sense Lang's anti-Nazi sentiments.
It's a Criterion Collection DVD, so I had high expectations. I was disappointed with a lack of extras, but I happily noticed scenes that weren't on my VHS version. The picture was mostly clear with white lines rarely popping up. There were long passages of no sound at times, but it's possible it's supposed to be like that. (I no longer have my VHS version to compare.) The subtitles were clear and easy to read. There's interesting details on the film in the liner notes. And not like this would influence anyone's buying decisions, but I also loved the design on the case and the disc.
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