Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea Von Harbou, Fritz Lang
Actors: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut
This is the first film I review on this site which is this old. Partly because I have watched most of the classics of this time period. However I haven't seen all of them. Which is why, for the past 9 days I have managed to watch a classic film every day. M was one of them and I really wanted to review it in order to talk about some ideas. First of all, I want to say that I know that through my reviews I may seem like a huge film snob that thinks so highly of the classics and what they offered. That statement is partially true. I am a film snob, but I don't blindly love a classic just because it is one. Certain classics are considered as such because of the influence they had on later films, whether it be in certain technical aspects or even their story structures. However, there are some classics that personally do not feel enjoyable when viewing them now. Which is a given for some of them since not everything can age like wine. However, there are some classics that are timeless and I believe can be enjoyed whenever and wherever. Films such as Psycho, 12 Angry Men, Modern Times, and many more. To me, Fritz Lang's M is very close to that list but just not quite there.
M is a film about a child murderer in Germany that leaves behind no clues. The police officers are totally unable to figure who this person is. Due to this fact, the police have been patrolling the streets more and keeping a close eye out. The city criminals cant freely do their dirty work so they band together in order to find this mystery murderer. The film has an interesting premise to it. Because it keeps the viewer between two plot points moving parallel to one another that finally end up in the same place. We get glimpses at how the police force think is the best way possible to catch the killer is, and we also see how low rate criminals approach the situation. The film does a good job overall at keeping the viewer interested, however I should say that the first half of the film is much more slower and duller than the second. It sort of starts off with a very slow burn then very quickly gets faster paced once the criminals start their hunt.
Now I wanted to talk about this in a separate paragraph because this aspect of the film is the best and the one that carries it. That aspect is of course the murderer. Everything about the way this film approached showcasing the antagonist was great. From the very first glimpse of him which you can see above. It is such a great shot that tells so much without saying anything. It gives off this ominous feel that really helped build up the tone of the film. Other than that, we never get an instant or surprise reveal of the killer, rather we get a gradual reveal. We get a narrow side profile to begin with, then we hear his voice, then we see him in the streets, and it just builds up until he is fully revealed. This technique is very innovative at the time, and not many films do it nowadays. Especially in horror films, I always feel like showing us the "scary thing" from the get-go brings down a lot of the tension. Rather, having the audience fear and guess what this thing is makes it much more scary. That's exactly what Lang did with the murderer. I'm not saying he was trying to make him scary or anything. But I do feel like it was a great method for building up tension, especially for the 1930s. Other than that, obviously I have to talk about the last 20 minutes of the film. The acting by Peter Lorre was just incredible. The entire scene of the mock trial done by the public was brilliant. I think without that last 20 minutes this film wouldn't be rated as highly as I currently give it. But that whole sequence was just mesmerizing to watch. Everything about it was why I love films so much.
M is a film that is considered a classic for all the right reasons. To me, it still does not get into that list of films that I consider to be "timeless". However, it is still very close due to its innovative way of creating tensions and establishing tone, as well as the interesting premise. Let's also not forget about the trial scene, which obviously goes down as one of the greatest scenes in film history. Everything about it was executed flawlessly and I feel like it is worth watching the film just for that scene. All in all, I was surprised by what M had to offer. I usually review classics more harshly than modern films because they have this huge reputation. I'm glad to say that M deserves the reputation it gets and I'm sure it changed cinema with its innovative techniques.