M - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

M Reviews

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February 10, 2017
Someone is murdering children in a German town. The police are doing all they can to solve the case but, after several months, several murders and exhausting work, still have no clues. Their methods of trying to find the murderer start to adversely affect the local criminal community. Due to this, the local organised crime syndicate takes it upon themselves to find the murderer and mete out punishment...

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.
January 16, 2017
This is one of the best films ever made. period. exclamation point!! This is also a pretty good film if you're not used to sub-titles. It's not dialogue heavy.

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.
½ December 28, 2016
The movie as a whole may be rather simple, but the cinematography is great, the buildup is very intense, and the movie's use of sound is really clever, especially when taking into account that this is one of the earliest sound films in existence.
November 25, 2016
"Espera, espera sólo un ratito, de negro el monstruo vendrá sólo con su cuchillito a ti te rebanará"
October 31, 2016
A rare nail-bitting soul-searcher, "M" still stands as one of the greatest films ever made for cinema. Director Fritz Land and actor Peter Lorre help deliver a timeless Masterpiece.
½ October 22, 2016
M is one of those films you just have to have seen. Peter Lorre is phenomenal, and everyone else is pretty good too, and while the unconventional style of storytelling without a clear protagonist can slow the film down on rare occasions, the visual balance of realism and chilling beauty and the flowing editing create an entire living, breathing city on celluloid. The final 15 minutes are among the best of German cinema, and M's message on how to deal with criminality and the dangers of mob rule hasn't aged a day in terms of relevance.
½ August 13, 2016
It takes a while to get going through its long exposition, but when it finally starts opening up to action and intrigue, the intellectual gears start turning, and it gradually becomes a cleverly crafted and morally complex crime saga.
July 30, 2016
A director's commentary on a fractured and deadly Germany. We gain a better understanding of people with homicidal tendencies and the mob mentalities of war time Germany. We are faced with ethics ethical questions of killing, the death penalty, and self control. Peter Lorre was great. His final speech is haunting and cuts to your core. Roger Ebert's review made me appreciate the film even more.
July 19, 2016
Amazing. Simply an incredible film. Pete Lorre in his best performance is disturbing and somehow tragic. Masterfully made. It says a lot that a movie this old, is still more effective than most movies these days...
Super Reviewer
July 17, 2016
This earlier version of M is downright fantastic. Peter Lorre shows you how tremendous of an actor he was before taking a few silly roles in Hollywood pictures. More engrossing than Lang's other work.
July 17, 2016
A tour-de-force of directing that I really need to rewatch.
July 15, 2016
A nourishing 5-course meal for any film critic/lover.
Movies that dare to make audiences uncomfortable with truth while simultaneously enriching audiences with a satisfying and entertaining story are few and far between. This film is one of the first - and best - to do those things.
Suspenseful, thrilling, and provocative. Initially, the ending disappointed me, until I realized the honesty of what it said about people and society.
Even though it's 85 years old, this movie still stands out today as a completely unique production.
May 25, 2016
A film with an interesting style that seems groundbreaking for the year that it was made. Peter Lorre is rightfully given credit for playing his role well. It was a little boring at times, but it's a unique movie. (First and only viewing - 5/23/2016)
May 19, 2016
In my continued journey of exploration through the films of Fritz Lang, I'm once again shown that he was ridiculously ahead of his time with the story-telling. In this movie, one of Lang's first talkies, the plot revolves around a series of child murders. As children keep getting killed the city goes on high alert, and everyone joins in the fight to track down the man responsible. M has so many things going for it, beyond a truly engaging script. The visuals are marvelous, because Lang plays with light and shadows, and therefore evokes emotion nearly as strong as any line of dialogue could muster. Peter Lorre is pure genius as the killer (it's not really a mystery to us as the audience, so I'm not afraid of spoilers.) His delivery of a speech in the final act is devastatingly good, and makes you actually pity him. Keep in mind he pulled this off for me despite the fact that I had to read subtitles to understand the speech (the film is in German.) The story is crafted very well, and it is truly timeless. You could remake this exact same film changing only minor details and it would still make sense as a movie taking place in 2016. There were some strange parts where the audio cuts out completely. I think this might be a symptom of the fact that the talkie technology was still somewhat new, so they had trouble capturing audio on some of the wider shots, and didn't know how to splice in music. I just wish they could have filled with some kind of score to make those silent moments stand out less. The other disappointment with M was the very end of the film. It kind of closes with a whimper, trying to tack on a moral which didn't need to be there. However, the movie as a whole was wonderful, and deserves to get some recognition for how it pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, and challenged audiences to think introspectively.
Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
May 1, 2016
The first question you might find yourself asking while watching this movie is just where the hell is the 'stranger danger'? Despite the news of a serial killer preying on children in the news for a long time, we still see children on the street alone, and one easily lured in with candy and treats. Peter Lorre is brilliant in the role of the killer, setting the tone early on as director Fritz Lang cuts to him looking in the mirror, and, like a child, distorting his face to look monstrous, while the police are talking about the psychological profile of a killer.

While the police are shown at work with some early examples of forensics - fingerprints, handwriting analysis, and sifting through physical evidence in concentric circles around the crime scene - the overall picture of them is unflattering. In a very heavy-handed way they begin putting heat on the street and in pubs, asking for papers and rounding people up for little reason, motivating an organized crime ring to get involved to find the killer themselves and get things back to normal. The police and mob are barely distinguishable as they both discuss the matter over cigars and alcohol in separate meetings as Lang flips back and forth between them, and perhaps that's one of his larger points about Germany at the time. He does do a fantastic job at establishing a dark feel to the film throughout, and is brilliant when he cuts the sound a few times, letting the action speak for itself, which is heightened because of the darkness of it all.

Unfortunately the movie gets a little bogged down in its middle portion, when Lang could have shown us other sinister acts from Lorre or at built some type of backstory in his characters. Instead, he shows us the surveillance network of beggars and focuses too much on procedure. At one point we do see Lorre nearly salivating at the sight of a child's reflection in the window of a shop he's looking into, and at another, him trying to lure in his next victim, but he's simply not on-screen enough. I have to also say that when the mob have found him holed up in a building and don't just call the police instead painstakingly going through the rooms, it seems like a plot hole, since from their perspective all they need is to get the police off the streets.

The ultimate scene showing Lorre confronted by a mob intent on killing him after a mock trial redeems the film, however, and is riveting. The scene of Lorre seeing them all staring at him as Lang has the camera pan slowly from left to right is brilliant, as is his own statement in self-defense shortly afterward. We have an unruly mob confronting a child killer, where both sides are reprehensible. We feel for the mob when they voice their concern that he will simply serve a little time in a mental institution, then be back on the street again and kill again. Perhaps improbably, we even feel for Lorre, as he says he's sick, in what is one of the great scenes in film:

"But I can't help it! I can't ... I really can't ... help it! What would you know? What are you talking about? Who are you anyway? Who are you? All of you. Criminals. Probably proud of it too. Proud you can crack a safe or sneak into houses or cheat at cards. All of which it seems to me you could just as easily give up if you had learned something useful, or if you had jobs, or if you weren't such lazy pigs. But me? Can I do anything about it? Don't I have this cursed thing inside me? This fire, this voice, this agony? I have to roam the streets endlessly, always sensing that someone's following me. It's me! I'm shadowing myself! Silently...but I still hear it! Yes, sometimes I feel like I'm tracking myself down. I want to run - run away from myself! But I can't - I can't escape from myself! I must take the path its driving me down, and run and run down endless streets! I want off! And with me run the ghosts of the mothers and children. They never go away, they're always there! Always! Always! Except ... when I'm doing it .. when I... then I don't remember a thing. Then I'm standing before a poster, reading what I've done. I read and read ... I did that? I don't remember a thing! But who will believe me? Who knows what it's like inside me? How it screams and cries out inside me when I have to do it! Don't want to! Must! Don't want to! Must! And then a voice cries out, and I can't listen anymore. Help! I can't!"

There are few positive role models here, except perhaps the counsel who stands up and says and tries to defend him. This a dark, brooding film showing us some of the worst aspects of mankind. A child killer, sure, but also a mob which draws the wrong conclusions and gets violent without evidence. There is a lot of smoking and drinking. Lang shows one guy drinking out of a giant stein with a plateful of sausages in front of him, and another guy from a camera angle up his crotch practically as he's sitting down. If it was made by someone other than a German, you might think it a caricature, as it's made by Lang, we know he's expressing his frustrations with the state of Germany at the time. The ending that has a mother simply asking the audience to watch out for their children probably refers to watching out against predators, but also watching out for them that they don't get swept up into mob hysteria (history would turn out differently of course). It's this hidden message warning against Nazi Germany, Lorre's performance, and Lang's direction that all make this a very good film.
½ April 21, 2016
Unfortunately, I feel context is everything that works about this film. M failed to come alive for me when Lorre was not onscreen.
Super Reviewer
April 21, 2016
Fritz Lang's 1931 film "M" opens up with kids playing a game and a little girl in the middle of a circle of kids imitating a clock and singing a song about a child murderer underlying the importance of time in the film and the character of Hans Beckert played masterfully by Peter Lorre. Little Elsie Beckmann is returning home as her mother prepares dinner. Elsie stops along the street playing with her ball against a reward poster for any knowledge on the murderer of kids in the city and just as the audience has finished reading the poster, a shadow appears over the poster telling Elsie what a beautiful ball she has and this is our introduction to Hans, he's a figure that has avoided detection for so long that even the audience isn't able to see him at first. Elsie's mother is starting to become frantic as Hans takes Elsie to buy balloons from a street vendor with his back to the audience. The presence of "Jaws" was always introduced by the omnious theme song, Hans is introduced by whistling the song "In the Hall of the Mountain King" allowing the audience to know whereabouts he is. Just as Elsie's mother receives the latest pulp fiction sensationalizing murders, Elsie is killed, her mother yells her name out the window and the film cuts to her ball rolling away and the balloon she had caught in telephone wires. This is how the film opens setting a pace for one of the creepiest films ever made.
The murder of Elsie leads to a police procedral film that looks more like a police training video. The police are bombarded with 1,500 leads where one police officer claims that "80 - 90% of them are false." The police bring in handwriting experts and pyschiatrists to help them track down the murderer causing panic among the criminal underworld with their constant raids on their bars. As Hans was introduced by shadow, so is Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) as he descends down an arched staircase to a room full of criminals he has gotten to know so well over his years in the police force.
The countless police raids leads many heads of illegal business in the underworld to gather in a hotel room and discuss what they should do about the ongoing search for the murderer because it's cutting into their profits. A man known only as "The Safecracker" (Gustaf Grundgens in a role that would propell him to popularity during the Nazi Regime) suggests there will be no peace for them until the murderer is killed. This scene brilliantly transitions into a police meeting with city officials talking about how to catch the murderer. Lang uses this to show how criminals and police can put aside their differences when they have a common enemy. The film jumps back and force as the two meetings happen in tandem. Cigarette and cigar smoke slowly starts to build up in each room to the point where both rooms are consummed by it, indicating the nervousness of the characters in their search for the murderer. "The Safecracker" ultimately comes up with the plan to use beggars to watch children for the murderer.
The criminal organization starts to document where the beggars are located in the city by making sure no section of the city is not under surveillance. The criminals give them serial numbers marking the information in a ledger for their records. It omniously foreshadows actual events that will happen in Nazi Germany with Hitler's Secret Police and SS. Athough Lang never intended the film to be taken as an attack on Nazis, it's always been associated as such. As the beggars post throughout the city, the police are searching through mental institution records on any patient released within the last five years and ultimately that brings an officer to the apartment of Hans Beckert as the police put the crime together a little slower than the criminals and beggars.
Lorre's Hans toys with the press by writing letters demanding his notes be printed promising to kill again if they are not detailing mass murderers today who seek only recognition for their heinous acts. He's a mentally unstable person, no doubt, and Lorre plays that unstability to perfection. The role of Hans Beckert would unfortunately lead to Lorre's typecasting as villians in many films. It's no coincidence he would be casted in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" before appearing in many classic Hollywood pictures. An unexplored element that is discussed among film scholars states that Hans may have been a World War I soldier whose killing in the war wasn't ultimately shut off in the civilian world as Lang refers to the act of killing in war as "serial murders." This was unexplored and ultimately less convincing as his targets are helpless children.
The newspaper plays an important part of the film, pitting one against another in attempt to locate the murderer with their overall looming presence over the city. Many scenes have the newspaper in the scene setting upon a table or in the hands of one of the characters. Altercations between citizens take place in the street where they accuse one another of being the murderer. What is absolutely amazing is that this film has relatively no location shots and the all scenes were shot on a studio set that impressively created a city in panic. The role of the media in today's society in causing panic and paranoia is shown in this film in a city with over 150 newspaper daily.
Hans becomes distracted as he passes a shop window looking at all the knives in the windows. He is framed by the knives in the display as he notices a small girl, also framed by knives. He starts to experience some intense feelings that he is having trouble controlling. He follows the girl whistling as the camera stalks her as if it were Hans, but immediately afterwards, Hans is stalked by the camera as he feels some omnious level of doom afoot. Perhaps after the girl meets her mother and he stops and realizes how close he was to being caught or the sickness in his ways prompted the feeling. Often times the camera swoons and moves more in this film by Lang than any other film I've seen from the early 1930's. Most films of the time period have the cameras stationary, but in "M," Lang seamlessly moves the camera from across a street through windows and finds his subjects among a crowd.
Sound was relatively a new technology at the time of the film's production. Sound was expensive and only 2/3 of the film has a soundtrack leaving many scenes devoid of sound. Lang experimented with sound and narrative on the film and would have sound coming from off-screen, intense silence disrupted by noise and sounds motivating the actions of the characters. It's ultimately ironic that the whistling that notifies the audience of Hans's presence would alert the suspicion and memory of a blind beggar who sold a balloon to Hans earlier in the film. A contrast that Hans goes unseen by the authorities and underworld but is ultimately caught by a blind beggar through the use of new technology in film, that of sound. As the police try to build evidence through visuals, the new technology of sound in film led the criminals to pursue Hans as if stating to the audience that the "silent film era" has ended and a new breed of film has begun. The beggar finds a young man to follow him and he uses white chalk and makes an "M" on his hand and walks past Hans and marks him as the murderer. This leads to a pursuit by the whole underworld of Hans ultimately leading to a memorable scene in seedy bars of the underworld.
"M" is supposedly based on Peter Kurten, who terrorized children from February to November 1929 and was known as the "Vampire of Dusseldorf," but Lang has always denied this. While researching the film though, Lang had spent time in a mental institution meeting with real child murderers including Kurten. But "M" isn't about the murderer, sure he plays a large part of the film, but the film is essentially about the panic and search for the murderer by all facets of city life. It's a very modern film despite it was made 85 years ago, with beautiful camera work and magnificent sets and lighting. Often times the camera swoons and moves more in this film by Lang than any other film I've seen from the early 1930's. Most films of the time period have the cameras stationary, but in "M," Lang seamlessly moves the camera from across a street through windows and finds his subjects among a crowd. The camera follows characters as they .
If this is considered a part of the canon of German Expressionist filmmaking that dominated German films in the Weimer Republic following the defeat in World War I to the rise of the Nazi Party, it may be the most accessible by today's audiences. But despite that, it may not be the greatest example of that film movement. F.W. Murnau, G.W. Pabst, Paul Leni and Robert Weine all made tremendously wonderful films, whether or not "M" matches these films is inconsequential in that it exceeds on its own merits without directly being an Expressionist film.
January 31, 2016
Perfect proto film noir/mystery/social commentary. Most entertaining game of cat and mouse ever depicted.
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