M (Fritz Lang, 1930)
This article is part of a series of self- imposed movie reviews set in the participation of this film critic to the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Club. It is an attempt at catching up the reviews that I’ve missed in my recent period of inactivity in the blogosphere.
Films from Germany made prior to the Second World War are a bliss for any film lover. So much of the influence and themes of German Expressionism aesthetics has been imported by Hollywood especially its greatest directors : F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. In the case of Lang, he escaped Nazi Germany in an anecdote Lang himself contradicted many times while telling it. However, before he flew to America, Lang made a name of himself by directing some of the most influential films of all-time with his Metropolis, Spione, Dr. Mabuse, Die Nibelungen, and M amongst many others. With M, Lang tells the story of a serial killer pedophile who infuriated the public opinion, the police, and the underground gangsters. It creates a race between the policemen and the gangsters because the police was thinking that it was the underground that was responsible for those horrible crimes.
One of the most striking maneuvers of Lang is presenting the preparation of the police and the gangsters almost the same way for their search of the murderer. With a pre-film noir approach Lang elaborated the textbook of crime stories with is master eye and social behavior observations. While always a strong critic of his contemporaries Lang was a visionary and felt that the rise of Nazism in his country was a menace that he will attack less subtly with is Dr. Mabuse. The general fear and the trial at the end demonstrates how far Lang was ready to show the actual rise of the mass hypnotism that was coming. In the early thirties in Germany there was a sentiment of frustration and an animosity that was unhealthy. This effect is well reflected by M.
The serial killer pedophile portrayed by Peter Lorre couldn’t be more childish and naive but also bad. He knows how he is but he just can’t do anything about it. It is a need for him to be like this. Lang uses him as a scapegoat that deserves his punishmentand tries to let the viewer get into his head while the mass is judging him. I think that the scene in the mirror where he makes a grin on his face and an ugly face was an influence on Martin Scorsese’s famous scene in Taxi Driver and also Raging Bull. Those scenes where the protagonist or anti-hero watches his reflection on the mirror are interesting and give an opportunity to let the character get a portrait of themselves through their own eyes. It opens the viewer’s perception to this dimension.
Sadly with the years that passed since the release of M and Fritz Lang’s other films this Pantheon Director doesn’t get all the recognition he is supposed to receive. With a tremendous variety of Silent films, German films, and Films noir the influence of Lang on Cinema and directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, and Martin Scorsese just to name a few important ones, is countless and I hope that the cinephiles of today would dig more than just Metropolis and M when they’ll get to Fritz Lang’s filmography.