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M (1931)

Starring:

Ellen Widmann

Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur

Friedrich Gnaß

Georg John

Inge Landgut

Otto Wernicke

Peter Lorre

Rudolf Blümner

Theodor Loos

Directed by:

Fritz Lang

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 117 minutes

US Certificate: TV-14 UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: Germany

‘M’ is widely known as the first film noir but that does not mean it was a work in progress, rather a masterstroke in storytelling and tension-building that capably holds its own today. Fritz Lang’s classic from 1931 is highly regarded as one of the most important films of the twentieth century. Aside from a bit of dodgy editing – down to the technology of the time – this looks and feels as though could easily have been made in the 1970s or 80s.

Pre-war Berlin is a city gripped by fear as a psychotic child murderer – ‘M’ – stalks the streets leaving every family in a state of terror. After the police find a note from the killer taunting them they start to bombard the city with random searches. Everyone’s lives are affected, including the local hoodlums, who start to get annoyed with the constant police presence. Determined to get the police out of the way they hatch a plan to get to the killer first, which amusingly includes hiring the city’s Association of Beggars. A frantic two cats-and-a-mouse chase ensues as the net closes in on ‘M’. We follow the police’s exhaustive investigation and time is set aside to analyse different techniques on how to catch a killer and also see how the authorities and the Underworld go about it differently.

When ‘M’ is finally cornered and taken to a Kangaroo Court to receive his punishment events do not progress in the desired manner and the thriller tackles the issues of capital punishment, mob justice and the connections of crime to mental health, in a sophisticated and highly interesting manner. As the film was made in the times before paedophilia became widely publicised M is oddly more defensible as a mere child killer, when he breaks down before the locals. This is a perfect mix of social commentary and suspense.

It's Got: Sophisticated analysis of a killer, tension, ideas before its time

It Needs: To get the attention it deserves

DVD Extras Two disk special edition. Fully restored film, short film inspired by M, interview with Fritz Lange and a film commentary by two German academics. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

Se7en, The Night of the Hunter, The Third Man

Summary

This sophisticated thriller is certainly deserving of its title as the pre-cursor to Film Noir

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