Movie Project #3: M [1931]

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.

M [1931]

M [1931]
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.

M [1931]

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.


27 thoughts on “Movie Project #3: M [1931]

  1. John says:

    Excellent! I love this movie. I just bought my own copy. The Criterion commentary is really cool. It goes into detail about how it was an inspiration for film noir, German expressionism, etc… Also, I guess the meticulousness of the police works as a sort of sociological snapshot of the meticulousness of the German police right before the dawn of the Nazi party. And the mass hysteria amongst the city’s residents works on the same level.

    • Eric says:

      I really ought to check out the Criterion DVD. I watched this on Hulu+, which has a great set of Criterion movies, but no bonus features, unfortunately. Sounds like the commentary is very insightful.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Dave. Peter Lorre is quickly becoming a favorite of mine as I take a look at these classics. I also really enjoyed him in The Maltese Falcon.

    • Eric says:

      Thank you, sir. That’s a fine pickup — it sounds like there are some great bonus features on there. I ended up taking advantage of Criterion’s sale as well and bought the BBS Story box set. A really interesting collection.

      • le0pard13 says:

        Ah… which means you’ll get Jack Nicholson’s overlooked and one-of-a-kind film, ‘Drive He Said’, with that set. Believe it or not, I saw that picture first-run (I was in high school at the time). Let me know what you think of it, Eric.

        • Eric says:

          Will do! I may end up doing a piece on the set as a whole. I watched Head over the weekend, and that was an enjoyable little movie. Looking forward to checking out the rest (including Easy Rider, which I have already seen).

  2. Scott Lawlor says:

    This is one of those films I really want to watch but need to be home alone again to get it on the big screen, as my wife would have no interest at all.

    I think I saw it on Netflix the other day

  3. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    Very concise and informative review. I couldn’t agree more with what you say. “M” is a wonderful film.
    Peter Lorre is perfectly cast as he is partly responsible for bringing that dark, grungy feel that begins with the very first scene and ends with the last. His jumpy eyes are hard to forget !

    I think the next logical move is to watch “Metropolis”, which I recently touched upon as a part of my Architecture and Film series. Here’s a link if you want to get a preview:


    • Eric says:

      Hi Niels, thank you for the kind words! Good call on Lorre’s eyes — how could I forget them! I included Metropolis in this project, so I will be watching it soon. I can’t wait to see how it compares with M.

      I’ll be sure to check out your link as well. Thanks for sharing!

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