M: movie review

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M

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Time Out says

Posted: Tue Mar 12 2013

Who actually was the Murderer Among Us—as Fritz Lang’s thriller was called during its development? Many different serial killers are said to have inspired the script; more provocative is the widely reported story that a Nazi studio head denied the director shooting space because his feelings were hurt. (The guy had to be assured that, no, Nazis weren’t murderers.) Immortally, of course, the murderer is actor Peter Lorre, whose sweaty desperation in the role marked him for his entire career. Yet Lorre himself couldn’t whistle, so when you’re hearing his character’s signature tic—a purse-lipped “In the Hall of the Mountain King”—that’s actually Lang himself off camera. Maybe he’s our real culprit.

Ultimately, and to M’s towering credit, the murderer stares back at us in the mirror: This is a movie that dares to sympathize with a sick person, that risks making the monster real and us (in an era when Germany’s cinema was still shellacked in canted angles and fanciful shadows). When Lorre is thrown to the floor, wailing in a moment of capture, we see him as human, painfully flesh and blood. Lang doesn’t excuse this soul, nor does he turn him into some rarefied supergenius. Can the dozens of films that came from this—M is the first serial-killer movie—say the same? In addressing its crimes, it calls on an audience’s mercy, and for that alone, M demands awe.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

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Release details

US release:

1931

Duration:

111 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

Fritz Lang

Cast:

Gustav Gründgens, Inge Landgut, Ellen Widmann, Otto Wernicke, Peter Lorre, Theodor Loos

Art Director:

Karl Vollbrecht, Emil Hasler

Cinematography:

Fritz Arno Wagner

Screenwriter:

Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang

Producer:

Seymour Nebenzal

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