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.


Movie Project #3: City Lights [1931]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

City Lights [1931]

City Lights [1931]
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Country: USA

I have fond memories of Charlie Chaplin. Even during my close-minded movie watching days of my youth, I always enjoyed watching his work. I couldn’t tell you specifically what movies I saw back then, but when he was on the television I would be there until the very end.

Revisiting Chaplin in the form of 1931’s City Lights was a blast for me. This movie is a wonderful hybrid of comedy, drama and romance. Chaplin, playing his recurring Tramp character, falls in love with a beautiful blind woman (Virginia Cherrill). Her family is going through a bout of financial trouble and they are about to be evicted from their home. Realizing this, the Tramp does everything he can to help out his new love interest.

This scenario leads to some truly hilarious moments. At one point, the Tramp accepts a boxing gig in which his opponent agrees to go easy on him and split the profits 50/50. His opponent, apparently on the lam, runs off before the match. The Tramp’s new opponent has no interest in working out a deal, and therefore he has no choice but to fight legit. What transpires is a classic scene in which the Tramp dances around carefully behind the referee, thereby evading any attacks from his much bigger adversary. It’s equal parts clever and hilarious.

City Lights

The Chaplin slapstick humor I know and love is present from the get go. The opening scene shows a city dedicating a new statue, only to see the Tramp sleeping on it when it is unveiled. As he frantically tries to leave the statue, he gets his pants hooked on the figure’s giant sword. When the National Anthem is played, he continues to slip around aimlessly. It’s a wonderful introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the film.

I would be remiss not to mention the Tramp’s on-and-off friendship with an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers) who only enjoys his company when he is drunk. The scene where the two of them get drunk and then go out for a night on the town is just brilliant.

Really, City Lights is fantastic with memorable scene after memorable scene. It’s amazing to think that this movie is 80 years old, yet it’s still hilarious in this day and age. The way Chaplin interweaves drama and romance into this is a thing of beauty. And, of course, who could ever forget the ending, one of the most iconic in all of cinematic history? I loved City Lights, and I can’t wait to dig into the rest of Mr. Chaplin’s filmography.