M (Masters of Cinema) DVD+Blu-ray
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Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced in 1931
Main Language - German with English subtitles
James Oliver needs no excuse to take another look at Lang's mesmerising film, starring Peter Lorre as a child killer in 1930s Berlin. Now restored, it looks better than ever.
Let's be honest. A lot of supposedly 'classic' movies aren't actually very good. Whatever virtues impressed those earlier generations of critics who beatified them are often invisible to modern viewers. So, what about M? It is most assuredly a 'classic'. But if ever a film defied the ageing process, it's this one. It remains as tough, as insightful and as unnerving as it must have been when it swaggered into Berlin cinemas some 79 years ago.
Ostensibly, it's a thriller: the city is stalked by a demonic child killer and the police – lead by ace detective Lohmann (Wernicke) – are on the case. Beyond this, it is a portrait of the wider community. In his earlier film Metropolis, Fritz Lang demonstrated an interest in anatomising the framework of contemporary society. Here he returns to the theme with greater sophistication and acuity, shooting much of the film with high angles like a curious scientist peering down a microscope.
Because the police are short on clues, they seek the killer amongst the criminal underworld. Such unwanted attention disrupts the black economy; the leading gangsters decide that the only way to return to business as usual is to find the killer themselves. Mobilising the army of beggars, they quarter the city and run their quarry to ground. There's something deeply disturbing about this. The crooks are motivated not by any public spirit but commercial imperatives. The killer must be removed not because of his crimes but because he has upset the balance of the ecosystem. Eventually, the murderer is located. Brilliantly played by Peter Lorre, Hans Beckert is perhaps the most pathetic character in cinema. Lorre's great achievement is to make this unforgivable creature understandable.
Made at a time when the film industry was still struggling to accommodate sound, Lang achieved technical miracles. This beautifully restored print shows off the brilliance of the camera work and Fritz Arno Wagner's luminous photography. Calling M a 'classic' is accurate but not enough. Simply put, it's one of the greatest of all films, a masterpiece that renews its place in the canon with every viewing.
James Oliver on 27th January 2010
Author of 184 reviews
Of all Fritz Lang's creations, none have been more innovative or influential than M, the film that launched German cinema into the sound era with stunning sophistication and mesmerising artistry. A spate of child killings has stricken a terrified Berlin. Peter Lorre gives a legendary performance as the murderer Hans Beckert, who soon finds himself chased by all levels of society.
From cinema's first serial killer hunt, Lang pulls back to encompass social tapestry, police procedural, and underworld conspiracies in a multi-faceted and level-headed look at a deeply incendiary topic. One of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time, M remains as fresh and startling almost 80 years on.
Publisher: Eureka / Masters of Cinema
Length: 110 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.19:1
Format: DVD+Blu-ray B&W
Released: 14th November 2011
Cat No: EKA70065
- 2 discs
- Restored high-definition transfer in the correct 1.19:1 ratio
- Two audio commentaries: one by German film scholars Anton Kaes and Eric Rentschler
- the other featuring film restoration expert Martin Koerber, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, historian Torsten Kaiser and excerpts from Bogdanovich's 1965 audio interviews with Lang
- The original 1932 British release version of M, presented in its entirety, recently rediscovered after 70 years, featuring different actors, alternate takes and Peter Lorre's first performance in English
- Zum Beispiel Fritz Lang, a 1968 documentary with Fritz Lang discussing his career in German cinema
- 48-page illustrated booklet, including writing by Fritz Lang, historian Robert Fischer, details of a missing scene, behind-the-scenes stills and production drawings.