Favorite things about… M (1931)

The Favorite Film:
M, a 1931 German crime drama/thriller directed by the great Fritz Lang

(Image via Kennelco Film Diary)

(Image via Kennelco Film Diary)

The Synopsis:
The city has been facing a horrible string of child murders. When the latest victim, Elsie Beckmann, is found, the city’s search for the killer amps up. The police, of course, are after the criminal, but the crime bosses want him caught, too. They’re tired of running into cops everywhere they go. With these two forces on his tail, the murderer doesn’t have a chance of going free… but how many victims will he target before he’s able to be caught?

The Cast:
Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert
Otto Wernicke as Inspector Lohmann
Inge Landgut as Elsie Beckmann
Ellen Widmann as Mrs. Beckmann
Gustav Grundgens, Theo Lingen, Fritz Gnass, Fritz Odemar, and Paul Kemp as various criminals

Fun Facts:

  • According to TCM, this film was Fritz Lang’s favorite film from his own body of work.
  • Named one of nine “Top Foreign Films” by the National Board of Review in 1933
  • Lang, in addition to directing, co-wrote the film with his then-wife, Thea Von Harbou. Harbou also wrote Metropolis and over 70 other films, adapted novels, and adapted stories.
  • Murderers Among Us and The Murderers Are Among Us have been reported as (translated) earlier titles for the film.
  • This was Fritz Lang’s first sound film.
  • Fritz Lang and Peter Lorre would both flee Germany after the film’s release, fearing Nazi persecution.
  • Peter Lorre couldn’t whistle, so his whistling of “In the Halls of the Mountain King” had to be dubbed by Fritz Lang.

Favorite Things/Quotes*:

*Quotes are English translations from the subtitles on Hulu

(Image via Machine Mean)

(Image via Machine Mean)

  • That eerie opening! Children’s games can be so dark. “He’ll make mincemeat out of you!”
  • The fact that the murderer’s face isn’t shown as he kidnaps Elsie. He’s first shown in shadow, then from the back, so practically all the audience knows about him is that he’s evil.
  • Symbols of murder: Elsie’s ball rolling through the grass, and her balloon floating away. Reminders of innocence lost. The film doesn’t need to be graphic in order to thoroughly disturb the viewer — a couple of props are enough to make a huge impact.
  • Lang’s clever use of total silence during certain scenes
  • The non-violent criminals complaining about the heavy police presence because it stops them from “working”
  • “We must cover the city with a net of informers. Every square mile must be under constant surveillance. No child in this city must take a step without us knowing it.”
  • The underworld’s efforts to canvas the neighborhoods and stop the killer seem every bit as organized as a regular police force. Member numbers, neighborhood assignments, thorough record-keeping. The beggars chosen to carry out the surveillance plan may as well be undercover cops!
  • Peter Lorre’s performance is genuinely chilling. It isn’t just those trademark bugged-out eyes, though they certainly add plenty of expressiveness to the character. All of his mannerisms contribute to the character’s creep factor. And in combination with that whistled tune…
  • The hand-to-coat transfer of the letter “M” through a fake orange peel slip. Some brilliant and fast thinking on part of the young man tracking Beckert.
  • The partially silent chase scene in which Beckert is hunted down (almost unsuccessfully) by the men from the underworld
  • “Are you crazy or something?! The police?! No, we’re gonna get this guy ourselves!”
  • Beckert breaking his knife when he tries to use it break the door lock
  • The montage of all of the destruction caused while trying to find Beckert as he hid in the building, with investigator voice-over saying things like “What could they possibly have been looking for in the coal?” The police are totally clueless to the underground’s attempts to catch the murderer.
  • A huge mob of people gathering for Beckert’s “trial” before the underworld
  • “Kill him!”
    “Kill the rabid dog!”
  • “Everyone sitting here is an expert in the rule of law! From six weeks in Tegel prison… to 15 years in Bradenburg. They’ll make sure you get your rights.”
  • Beckert’s rant about how the pickpockets and safe-breakers choose to be criminals, but he can’t stop himself from his crimes
  • “Don’t want to! Must!”
  • “You turn a sick man over to a doctor, not an executioner.”
  • That heartbreaking ending with the mothers
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