Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.
Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Film Noir/Thriller
Starring: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann and Inge Landgut
Runtime: 117 minutes
I will never hear “In the Hall of the Mountain King” the same way again.
For my first Fritz Lang film, I opted to see M. For some reason, I was under the assumption that this was a silent film, so I was mildly surprised when I heard children speaking in the opening scene. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked into the movie.
Set in 1930s Berlin, M tells the story of a child murderer and those who are searching for him. The killer is Hans Beckert (Lorre), a portly man who lures children by buying them balloons and other small gifts. After several children disappear and are thought to be murdered, the police begin frantically searching for clues. Fingerprinting, handwriting analysis, underground raids, vast location searches — they are doing everything they can to put an end to the killings. This is bad news for the criminal underworld, as their frequent raids are putting a major hit on their business. In an effort to get the police off their backs, the big time crime bosses pool their resources and decide to eliminate the murderer on their own.
Much of the movie follows the efforts of both the police and the criminals as they pursue Beckert. In fact, despite being the central figure of the movie, Beckert doesn’t really get that much screen time. We see his shadow and we hear his whistling of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, but we don’t see him that often, at least not in the first half of the movie.
When the killer is shown, however, Peter Lorre makes the most of his screen time. Beckert is played as creepy, a real disgusting shell of a man who claims to have no control over his actions. He really is a disturbing fellow, and Lorre portrays this perfectly.
M feels well ahead of its time. The subject matter is very heavy, and everything about the film just has a dark, grungy feel to it. This isn’t the type of film I would expect to come out in the 1930s, regardless of its location. A haunting film that is constantly engaging, I don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to Fritz Lang. I can’t wait to see more of his work.