Friday, August 8, 2008

M is for Masterpiece



I first saw M in high school and it opened me up to a whole new world of films. I developed an appreciation for black and white, discovered Fritz Lang, foreign films, German expressionism and became hypnotized by the pure haunting power of cinema. M is a film that defies genre definition, noir before the term was coined, horror without bloodshed, a crime film where no crimes are actually witnessed. It was the precursor to Se7en, to Hitchcock, to everything that came after it.


Once again, more than the sum of its parts, M stars Peter Lorre as a killer of children, terrorizing a city. When the police are unable to capture him, they enlist the aid of the criminal underground who wants the killer caught, in order to get the cops off the street and things back to the status quo. Director Fritz Lang weaves the story as a social parable in 1931 Germany against the rise of Hitler and the third Reich. Lang makes an incredible film that turns the viewer completely around. How many movies can make you sympathetic to someone who commits the most heinous of atrocities? This is such a film that over an hour makes you fear Lorre’s character and hope that the police, the gangsters, that anyone can stop him before he murders again. But, once the killer is finally brought to a trial of the common citizens, Lang makes Lorre the victim and the self-appointed judge, jury and community of executioners become the monsters of the movie. To this day, I cannot help feel a chill when I watch a slow pan across the faces of the entire crowd in the cellar, waiting in silent judgment of Lorre, sealing his fate with fear and a nod. Did Lang know how many of these very people would be responsible for the same horrors in ten years time? Was he ahead of the curve in seeing what the political power of National Socialism would do to his homeland? After the film’s release, Lorre, a Jew, fled Germany for America. Two years later, Lang, a Catholic, followed him. One year after that, German officials banned the film, originally titled The Murderers Are Among Us. That name says it all.




Technically speaking, the film can be dissected forever. It was Lang’s first sound film, the movie that made Lorre a star in his own country and had a huge impact on Hollywood that continues to this day. Although people will often cite Metropolis, I contend that M is Lang’s finest film. When I started to turn a friend onto my Janus Box, the first disc I lent out was M. After this, I told her, everything can follow.

12 comments:

Ibetolis said...

I saw M for the first time earlier this year; pre-blog days, in fact in might be the reason why I now write about film. Like you it shocked and thrilled me to the bone.

It's almost as if nothing has changed in modern society, so much can be read from this film that's still relevant to what's going on in our current climate.

I look forward to other your musings on other classics from your neglected Janus Box (how I envy you).

Big Mike Mendez said...

Got more musings coming, rest assured.

M is like the alpha and omega to me. For being Lang's first sound film, it's almost a mini-instructional course onto itself.

Phillip said...

I picked this up back during the 20% off sale but I haven't watched it yet but I'm really looking forward to it, especially after your review. I started working on my criterions last night and hopefully I'll start blogging again soon. Why write though when I can just read yours? lol

Big Mike Mendez said...

I thought they were going to re-issue this one, but maybe they will on Blu-Ray.

Maz said...

*whistles*

Big Mike Mendez said...

I'M A MONSTER!!!

elgringo said...

The opening twenty minutes are incredible. From the use of shadows to the mother's performance. Wow.

Daniel G. said...

One of a number of classics that I really, really, really need to see. Really.

elgringo said...

Big Mike, where are you? BIG MIKE!!!

Maz said...

Just so everyone knows, Big Mike is having some technical problems and will return soon. Don't feel forgotten, just know that he's trying his best to get back online.

CNaomiMooreGo said...

Bud, Georgie and I loved it.. thanks for the loan

CNaomiMooreGo said...

... am I that "friend" you mentioned you lent the movie to? .. Aw, I'm touched..