Directed by: Fritz Lang
Countries & Regions: Germany
Released: 13 September 1999
Cat No: EKA40002
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Fritz Lang’s first sound film is now regarded as an Expressionist classic. The city of Berlin is being terrorised by a notorious child... Read More
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.