Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
on March 2, 2004
The city of Berlin (during pre-WWII Germany) is wrought with hysteria as a cunning child-killer stalks the streets. To hasten the capture of the murderer, the police clamp down tightly on local criminal activity, making business-as-usual activities nearly impossible for members of the city's organized-crime syndicate. So in an effort to return the city to its previously permissive state of affairs, the local mobsters decide to hunt down the elusive homicidal pedophile themselves.
This compelling study of a pedophilic serial killer and the public reaction to his odious crimes was decades ahead of its time in its treatment of psychological, political, and sociological themes. The first "talkie" from pioneering auteur Fritz Lang--probably better known to fans of classic cinema as the director and artistic force behind 1927's groundbreaking, trendsetting silent SF classic METROPOLIS--1931's M is more than just a crime thriller. It is actually a subtle comment on the sense of security that modern "civilized" people so blithely accept. Lang so effectively blurs the line separating institutions of law from crime syndicates that he leaves viewers questioning whether or not society's leaders are actually capable of keeping its citizens safe and secure. And indeed, Lang had good reason to pose such a question, as the Nazis were already on the rise in Germany at the time he was making M. The film barely veils Lang's disgust for the Germany of that period--a Germany that could birth and foster a philosophy of hatred like Nazism--since the Berlin he depicts is dark with dirt and grime and the people all seem to have bloated, gnarly faces that are twisted into perpetual scowls. That being the case, it is no surprise to learn that Lang employed actual Berlin residents and real-life members of the city's criminal underground to fill several supporting roles.
M is also notable as the film that launched Peter Lorre into the international spotlight. Lorre's gutwrenchingly emotive portrayal of a human monster who is unable to control his evil, deviant sexual impulses is nothing short of stellar. Unfortunately, this performance also resulted in his being typecast, and it was afterwards difficult for him to secure roles outside of the noir or horror genres, even after his emigration to Hollywood.
Released the same year as Tod Browning's classic Lugosi vehicle, DRACULA, M is actually the scarier of the two. Although Lang's intention was for M to reflect the decaying and diseased society that WAS Germany during the years that culminated with World War II, it reflects just as poignantly the anger, violence, and social ambiguity so prevalent in today's world. And that is very frightening indeed.
The Criterion Collection DVD offers a visually stunning restored version of M in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and at its original 111-minute running time. The disc plays the film with the original German-language soundtrack, but optional English subtitles are available. Unlike many Criterion discs, there are no additional bonus features, but the opportunity to watch this remarkable and historic film as its legendary director intended makes amazon.com's less-than-suggested-retail price very reasonable. Definitely a must-see for students of cinema, aficionados of classic films, and fans of the noir or thriller genres.