Thursday, April 7, 2011

"M" Is For The Many Ways You Kill Me.

"Just you wait, it won't be long
The man in black will soon be here.
With his cleaver blade so true
He'll make mincemeat out of you!"

"You're out!"

This is how Fritz Lang's "M" opens up, with a group of children playing a Counting Out game. Unfortunately, the song is based on events that take place in their town... a man is stalking and killing children. The town is on edge because there have been eight murders already, as we witness another child become the next victim. The adults are ready to lynch the first person they suspect, the police are struggling to find the killer and quell the public before they lynch some poor sap, and the criminal underworld is pissed because the police, in their efforts, are cracking down on their shady activities and the "bosses" are losing money. The bosses decide that since the police can't find their own collective asses with both hands and a flashlight, then they should find the killer and put him out of commission, so that decent criminals can go back to whoring, thieving, gambling and whatever else it is that decent criminals do. They use a network of homeless beggers to keep an eye on children, and watch out for suspicious characters. Ultimately our murderer, Hans Beckert played by Peter Lorre, is discovered by a blind man who recognizes Beckert by a tune he keeps whistling (the great "In The Hall Of The Mountain King") . Beckert is "tagged" with the letter "M" on his shoulder (hence, the name of the movie) to make it easier to be followed.
Beckert eventually finds out that he is marked and, in a panic, hides in an office building. From there, it's only a matter of time as reinforcements arrive and wait until closing time to search the rooms, one by one, until Beckert is found. He is dragged, kicking and screaming, into an old abandoned brewery. There, the decent criminals prove that they are decent by giving Beckert a fair trial before getting ready to kill him. They figure that since they broke the law often enough, they are qualified to pass judgement. They even go so far as to give Beckert a defender, who actually does his best to defend him, not by claiming that he is innocent, but insisting that he needs to be institutionalized rather than be executed.. This is where the movie is at it's most compelling. From the people in the gallery exclaiming what a monster Beckert is, to Beckert breaking down, bemoaning that he can't help himself and that no one can understand the "evil thing" inside of him that makes him do these things, to the defender vigorously explaining how there is no justice in killing a man who is so obviously sick. Finally, the police arrive just in time to save Beckert from being torn apart and eventually take him to the legitimate court of law. This movie is not as much horror, or even a crime drama, as it is a morality play. It is all summed up at the end by one of the grieving mothers, who say : "This will not bring our children back. One has to keep closer watch over the children.".

"M" is a German language film with English subtitles. It came out in 1931, and is Fritz Lang's first talking movie (Lang also co-wrote and directed the legendary silent film, Metropolis). A lot of background sound is ommited from the movie, mostly as a cost cutting measure, but not randomly. Lang used the silence to good effect, making some scenes a litle more eerie. This was Peter Lorre's first starring role, and before "M", he was mostly a comedic actor. Also, Lorre couldn't whistle to save his life, so all the whistling was done by Lang himself.

This is a fantastic movie, especially to those of us who can appreciate a classic, black and white film. I would give it a 4 out of 5 rating. It is available to view on Netflix instant streaming. I would like to thank Mike and Stephen at Cadaver Classics for initially reviewing this movie on their show and piquing my interest in it. For more in-depth information on "M', Fritz Lang and "Metropolis", with a splash of "Ball Talk", go check out the Fritz Lang episode of Cadaver Classics at :