M

I think the first time I saw Fritz Lang's 1931 film M was in a film class. We watched some of it and I was obsessed. I rented it immediately after that so I could see the rest and watch it with my boyfriend. It's such an interesting movie. It's an early black and white movie with sound, although the dialogue remains perfectly sparse. It is also the first of a lot of things - the first serial killer movie, the first police procedural movie, and the first film to use a leitmotif (a sound or musical score repeated and associated with a character - think Darth Vader). This makes it important, but the film, even if it wasn't a Big-Important-To-Film-History-Film, it would still be amazing, and I would still love it.



The movie is about, as I said, a serial killer, Hans Becker. He is a bit of a pedophile, it seems, although it's not as though anything happens or you can tell in any overt way. He always whistles "Hall of the Mountain King". He lures children to him and then murders them. The police in the movie try to catch him, and the film shows the various ways they try. The title of the film comes from one such way, where Hans is marked with a chalk letter M, for Murderer. Finally, the police can track him, and they corner him underground area where a sort of faux-trial takes place. The scenes focus on the raging, ugly faces of the crowd, the ugly shadows that play across them, the gross angles of their bodies and profiles.

You feel some sort of sympathy for Hans. Not because of some deep understanding of him that you get. You feel bad for him, you feel sad during his speech at the end, but Lang, I get the sense, doesn't really like anyone. You feel bad for Hans because he is portrayed as ugly and grotesque as everyone else. He is creepy and disgusting (I always get creeped out by "Hall of the Mountain King" now!).  I could feel a vague hatred of Germany in this film, which I might have just invented since I knew that Lang eventually fled Germany. However, Ebert supports of train of thought, writing, "What I sense is that Lang hated the people around him, hated Nazism, and hated Germany for permitting it" (The Great Movies, 276). The film shows disgusting people and Lang shoots them unflattering because he hates them.

It might sound like the film is more brutal than it really is. People look strange and ugly, and he makes a movie about horrible things - but in the end, I find the result to be more haunting than anything else. Hans is forever creepy, and he really does stay with you. All of the images in the film stay with me. Everything is so strange, I find it all so hard to forget. I think this is a really easy film to watch for a movie that is so old, as well. It feels modern because it deals with genres that we expect from movies now. It's easy to watch. Well, for me it is.

I hope that you check this movie out if you haven't seen it. It's really incredible - not just because it does a lot of new film things, but because the story, the bizarre characters, and the grotesque images are honestly amazing. The movie always makes me feel a sense of unrest, even after having seen it before. Fritz Lang just seems like such a genius to me, and I'm always struck by that when I watched it. How could he even think of so many unique and inventive things? If you watch this, let me know - I'd love to hear what you think!

Have any of you seen M? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on M

The Maltese Falcon

Le Samourai