This is absolutely phenomenal for its time. The fact that it's relevant and great still, shows that this is a true masterpiece.
Oddly enough, the only reason I watched this movie as fast as I did was because I found its short title to be eye catching while looking for different films to watch. I also like crime dramas, so I decided to watch this movie as I was expecting something Hitchcock-esque. However, I liked it all of Hitchcock's films that I've seen as it's not just a well-made crime drama, but a smart one.
A child murderer named Hans Beckert has just killed his third victim, Elsie Beckmann. With little evidence, the police decide to raid and question psychiatric patients with a history of violence towards children. In fear of the police ruining business, an underground boss named Schranker decided to assemble a group of crime lords to start their own manhunt.
On the surface, this movie seems like a simple, well-made crime drama. However, the movie has a deeper meaning concerning people fighting against a corrupt environment. The police force in the film were flawed as they staged raids with little to no evidence. They were the reason why the gang lords organized their own manhunt. That manhunt came with its own law force. However, that's not to say that what they did was moral, because they also created an unfair kangaroo court to try Hans Beckert. They were more concerned with killing him themselves rather than turning him over to the police. Despite this, however, the fact that the citizens were more successful than the police in catching the child murderer shows how faulty the actual police force was. Essentially, this film is about a corrupt "law force" forming in the midst of another one.
As many other critics have pointed out, Peter Lorre gave a magnificent performance. The reason his performance was so unsettling was how his character turned from a heartless killer to someone terrified by the thought of being killed. The final act where he begged for his life was chilling as we got to see another side of Beckert that we hadn't witnessed before. I don't believe that many other actors would've been able to make that scene work as well as he did. Even though Lorre didn't become truly spectacular until the 2nd half, I wouldn't describe his performance as bland, because he still sent chills down my spine when he would talk to the kids he planned on killing. Also, even his whistling was slightly unsettling. On top of Lorre's great performance, the final act was also powerful as Beckert's monologue for why he kills people is both haunting and thought provoking. The scene also shows the flaws with the court system the criminals established, showing that they aren't any better than the police force in the film.
This movie has one of the best openings I've ever seen in recent years. It does a great job putting us right in the middle of the action. It starts off with several kids chanting about a murderer in a courtyard, a scene which shows us how many of the children are oblivious to how dangerous the killer really is. The scene then shows one of the girls coming home when she comes across a wanted poster for the murderer. Suddenly, we witness one of the most unsettling and remarkable character introductions of all time as Beckert's shadow moves in front of the poster. It's a clever way of introducing us to the killer not just because of its creativity, but also because the film doesn't show Beckert's face right away. There are also a couple unsettling shots in the opening that work due to their subtlety such as Elsie's ball rolling out of the bushes and her balloon getting lost in a set of telephone wires.
The sound in this film was both impressive and revolutionary. Quite a few scenes stuck out due to their use of sound. An example can be found in the opening shot as we heard a girl talking before the film revealed its first shot. The technique of showing dialogue or sound before a film starts off is still used in movies today such as "Hunger", "The Tree of Life", and "Whiplash". However, a truly suspenseful moment was when Beckert pursued a young girl in the streets. The camera was only focused on her, but we heard Beckert's whistling in the background getting louder and louder. There were other instances in the film which made the camera feel alive. An example of this was how we heard the sounds of different objects before they would come into view. This can be seen in the car horns as we heard them before they entered the shot. It felt like the movie was actually taking place in real time. While this may seem like nothing today, it was really innovative back then. The sound design in the film was way ahead of its time.
In conclusion, this movie was a remarkable film. It's both a deep and well-made crime drama which impressed me for a number of reasons. It has a deeper meaning, great acting, a haunting 2nd half, and innovative sound design. A few people criticized the movie for trying to get you to sympathize with a child murderer. However, I don't think the movie is asking for sympathy as much as it is asking for understanding. Regardless, it's one of the best crime films I've ever seen.
Powerful, provocative, thought-provoking masterpiece from famed director Fritz Lang. For the most part this is a clever, gritty, tense, film noir-like (as it predates film noir, strictly speaking) crime/mystery drama. Shows how the police go about their work and how often nothing positive happens for months, and then the smallest thing breaks the case wide open. The criminals' methods in finding the murderer are also very interesting, and realistic.
Lang maintains the suspense and mystery well, only revealing the murderer in the last few scenes and even then you're not sure they have the right guy.
The last few scenes add a level of profundity and debate to the proceedings. We are forced to think about justice, especially vigilante justice, and the concept of of an eye for an eye. This can be quite jarring, as you may feel that Lang is steering you down one way of thinking and even wants you to feel sympathy for the murderer. However, ultimately, while justice was served, he does leave the verdict open to a degree, leaving you to fill in your own outcome. Moreover, the ultimate feeling was a balanced, objective discussion was had.
Superb performance by Peter Lorre as the murderer. He only has a few scenes but is fantastic in them. Good work too by Otto Wernicke as the police inspector.
Lorre became an international celebrity with this film, and it's hard to imagine any other actor playing the part. Unfortunately, it also type cast him for a couple of decades, until he was retype-cast as a drunk. Lang, already recognized as a competent director after Metropolis, cemented his reputation world-wide as a great director of "talkies' too. *Note: -until the rise of Naziism in the mid 30's, German cinema was possibly the best in the world - the US merely had a larger potential audience to gain profits by.
Fans of Dexter owe a lot to Lang's M. The movie begins with some mothers, nervous about their children's safety. We are introduced to a nice, quiet neighbor whom no one would suspect of also being a crafty murderer. Enter the intelligent and determined police who have only the flimsiest of leads, and criminals who want to beat the police to the psycho - he's disrupting their normal business by putting all citizens in an uproar! Cinematography and editing are among the best.
*Note: real career criminals were used as extras in this film!
By the time you get to the "Hilfe, HILFE", you'll be seeing parallels in the problems of living in a 21st century modern society. How far have we come since the first cities sprang up hundreds of years ago? Will we ever outgrow a need for police?
*WARNING*: this film may get you thinking about today's social/political problems.
If you get the chance, no..., go out of your way and make sure you watch the extras that come with the 80th anniversary DVD. Unless you've NEVER been interested in any interview or DVD extra of a Spielberg film; or a Capra, Hitchcock, Polanski, Kubrick, Lucas, Scorsese, Barry Levinson, Billy Wilder, Oliver Stone, Ken Burns, Joss Whedon, ...production. (In which case, why did you read this far??) Then watch M again. Yes, THIS film is THAT good.