M

Fritz Lang, Germany, 1931, 105 minutes

The killer's shadow skims over the poster with a surge of menace, and asks the child whether it would like a balloon. An anxious mother awaits the child’s return, and then we see a field with a lonely balloon, snagged against electric wire. There is only the sound of the wind. Thus begins one of the most influential films of all time. Peter Lorre won international acclaim as murderer Hans, who has the film’s title branded on the back of his jacket. However, the movie focuses more prolifically on the investigation to catch him, and the efforts of a band of vigilantes once the police prove to be unsuccessful. Once caught, in a revelatory monologue, Hans pleads that he is compelled to commit these atrocious acts, and should be granted mercy.

Innovative, exciting and profound, Fritz Lang’s M is perhaps the greatest film of the early sound era. It transcends the boundaries of entertainment, innovation and statement with glorious results. It is foremost a gripping account of serial murder and the quest for justice, yet also a deeply philosophical film that raises questions of punishment, responsibility and authority.

Review by Chay Williamson
Written for EUFS Programme Spring 2004


The first serial killer movie, inspired by the real case of Peter Kurten, M is one of director Lang's many greats. Peter Lorre delivers a powerful performance as Beckert, a compulsive child murderer. By turns he is both horrific and tragic, being, like so many Lang characters, the victim of a fate/destiny he cannot control. The Berlin authorities seem helpless in the face of Beckert's activities, whilst the populace is increasingly turning in on itself. The underworld, led by the Nazi-like figure of Schranker, launches their own search, being spurred to act by the unwanted police interest which the manhunt has brought on their activities. A two sided race against time is underway: Who will find the murderer? How high will the body count be by then?

Stylistically Lang continues to use the German Expressionist techniques of Metropolis (1926) but tempers these with a greater emphasis on everyday details, perhaps showing the influence of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement.

M was also Lang's first sound film. He acquits himself magnificently, displaying a mastedy feel for sound's potential, making it an integral part of his vision.

Review by Keith Brown
Taken from EUFS Programme 1995-96