A madman (Peter Lorre) is stalking the streets of Berlin, abducting small children. As public hysteria mounts, both the police and the criminal underworld start to hunt him. Bit by bit, the net tightens…
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'M' is a masterpiece of the highest order. Here, the personal is political and Lang's portrays a Germany leaving behind a law abiding society in exchange for what would be soon clearly defined as fascism only two years after the film's release. 'M' is a film that laments a society deserting its citizens, emerging into an eerily prescient work of art that's also timeless in its insights. One for the ages.
Substituting expressionism for gritty realism, Lang & co. simultaneously predict the grammar of the modern procedural, the film noir & the entire serial killer sub-genre. Placing the emphasis on the community & finding disquieting political parallels in scenes of mob justice, irrationality & civil unrest, the film's slow crawl from docudrama towards a kind of heightened theatre of the absurd is endlessly compelling.
With the exception of a quickly-glanced young victim and her mother at the beginning, the Lorre character is the closest character that we sympathize with, but that's not until the very end and after he gives us the shivers long beforehand. Great film, even if it's an unemotive procedural until the finale that says a lot about our world and despite no one commanding our attention like the child-murdering Lorre.
For the longest time I use to believe that cinema should value image over everything. Watching this and other Lang masterpieces have opened my eyes to the power of sound which I now pay attention for just as much as the visuals. Then there's the way this film constantly strays the line between fiction and documentary. It begins as a fictional slasher film and becomes a documentary about Germany in the early 30s.
What strikes me more about this film is just how far ahead of its time it was in terms of style, with no score at all to emphasize the early sound recording system, the smart cutting and camerawork, not to mention the superb script, this is 100% modernist, sober and intelligent filmmaking.
I am about to watch the original 1932 British released version of M, recently rediscovered, featuring different actors, alternate takes and Peter Lorre's first performance in English. It's going to be one straaaaange evening, yes siree!
For me, the first undisputed masterpiece of talking pictures. Lorre turns in arguably his greatest performance and Fritz Lang shines. He manages to unnerve the audience without ever showing a single act of violence. Just brilliant.
I haven't watched a ton of movies from before the 1950s but I can tell the editing and cinematography of this film was strikingly ahead of its time. I sense a lot of influence on John-Pierre Melville in particular. Largely deserves its reputation