Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Directed by Fritz Lang.
1931. Not Rated, 117 minutes. German.
Peter Lorre
Otto Wernicke
Frau Beckmann
Inge Landgut
Theodor Loos
Rudolf Blümner
Georg John
Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur

A child murderer has been terrorizing the town for quite some time. Everyone is on edge. The police are working day and night on seemingly never-ending shifts to find the killer. Still, children keep disappearing. Honest citizens become suspicious of one another. Dishonest citizens are upset that added attention from the law is hurting their businesses. Our killer taunts the authorities with letters to them and to the press. Yet, he remains undetected.

What follows are multiple and exhausting investigations that come to run simultaneously. We see the police using every available tool to apprehend the murderer and try explaining themselves to an impatient public when they don’t. Criminals have meetings to decide how they will deal with the situation. The task of catching the guilty party saturates every second of every day.

From time to time, we get to see this monster for ourselves. Though those around him know nothing, his identity is no mystery to us. We get to know what triggers his most heinous actions and how he operates. Before it’s all over, we hear his explanation. It’s a plea for sympathy. However, he is not only pleading with those in the movie. He’s also pleading with those watching.

That the killer is caught is not a spoiler. Indeed, it eventually becomes a mere matter of time before he is. The real question becomes who will catch him and what will they do with him. In most films, his capture would serve as our climax. Here, it is the axis that turns our tale. This is what makes M special. Even now, 80 years since its release, it refuses to be strait-jacketed into cliché. It still has the strength to go beyond the point where most pictures quit. Those movies are content to leave us with the tidy, happy ending. M is not. It has questions to ask you. It wants to know what you believe in.

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