M (1931)

m poster fritz lang peter lorre
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking, well acted

Abrupt ending

Movie Info

Movie Name:  M

Studio:  Vereinigte Star-Film

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  May 11, 1931

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

m peter lorre shadow serial killer

A killer stalks the streets

A child killer is stalking Berlin, and the police and population are frustrated.  The killer is named Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) who appears normal by public standards, but he hides a deep, dark, deadly secret.  As the crackdowns by the police become more desperate, the criminals of Berlin realize that the killer roaming the streets is also cutting into their business.  Hans is a hunted man, and with the authorities and the underworld after him, his chances for escape grow slimmer and slimmer as his hunger grows stronger.

Written and directed by Fritz Lang, M (M—Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder aka M—A City Searches for a Murderer) is a German crime, police procedural drama.  The film was hailed by critics and seen as an innovative moment in cinema.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #30).

M was a movie I slept on longer than I should have.  A number of years ago now, I finally watched my friend’s copy and found it pretty amazing…but it also wasn’t the movie I was expecting.  While the imagery and visuals of M generally move around Lorre’s character, the movie largely is a criminal investigation type picture.

m peter lorre mirror serial killer

The face of a killer?

A lot has already been written about M, and the film earns the praise it garners.  The movie is like a net slowly closing in, and Lorre’s character is trapped in that net.  It is the format of the movie that helps to make it unusual in that it shows how the police and the criminals are working toward the same cause.  The police enlist homeless men while the criminals send their men out on the streets.  The plans also involve canvassing and analysis of evidence.  It feels very modern and if you had to compare it to something, The Wire has a very similar approach to storytelling.

Peter Lorre creates a memorable and in his own way terrifying killer.  He is introspective and understands that something drives him that he cannot stop and the only relief is to kill.  It feels like a modern take on murderers.  Lorre isn’t necessarily sympathetic as he’s pleading for his life in front of the “jury of criminals”, but he does explain himself in a way that isn’t cut and dry.

m peter lorre serial killer coat


M is also remembered for its visual and audio style.  Lang always gives a good presentation with unique and stylized shots, but the movie excels with unique pans, zooms, and tilts as the story unfolds.  In addition, the film is considered one of the first movies to use the leitmotif which has a tune (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”) be an integral part of the plot (and what gives the killer away…the whistling is actually performed by Lang).

M is a masterpiece and with smart storytelling it holds up better than many other movies at the time.  Lang struggled to make it with the Nazis questioning the story’s content, and as an early “talkie” the audio for the movie is different and you can find Lang playing with it.  The film really turned Lorre into a star, and as a result, the film also may have inadvertently saved Peter Lorre’s daughter Catherine in November 1977 when Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. (the Hillside Strangers) almost abducted Catherine, but decided against it when they learned she was Lorre’s daughter…so in a way, Hans Beckert may have actually saved a life.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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