is a 1931 German Drama film-Thriller (genre) film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. It was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and the director's first sound film.</>
A group of children are playing an elimination game in the courtyard of an apartment building in Berlin using a chant about a child murderer. A woman sets the table for dinner, waiting for her daughter to come home from school. A wanted poster warns of a serial killer preying on children, as anxious parents wait outside a school.
Little Elsie Beckmann leaves school, bouncing a ball on her way home. She is approached by Hans Beckert, who is whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg. He offers to buy her a balloon from a blind street-vendor. He walks and talks with her. Elsie's place at the dinner table remains empty, her ball is shown rolling away across a patch of grass, and her balloon is lost in the telephone lines overhead.
In the wake of Elsie's death, Beckert sends an angry letter about his crimes to the newspapers, from which the police extract clues using the new techniques of fingerprinting and handwriting analysis. Under mounting pressure from city leaders, the police work around the clock. Inspector Karl Lohmann instructs his men to intensify their search and to check the records of recently released psychiatric patients to look for those with a history of violence against children. They stage frequent raids to question known criminals, disrupting Organized crime business so badly that Der Schränker
("The Safecracker") calls a meeting of the city's Boss (crime)es. They decide to organize their own manhunt, using beggars to watch and guard the children.
The police discover two clues corresponding to the killer's letter in Beckert's rented rooms. They wait there to arrest him.<!-- This use of this image does not have a corresponding rationale on the image's page. Please read Wikipedia:NFCC#10c } -->
Beckert sees a young girl in the lection of a shop window. Following her, he is thwarted when the girl meets her mother. When he encounters another young girl, he succeeds in befriending her, but the blind beggar recognizes his whistling. The blind man tells one of his friends, who tails the killer with assistance from other beggars he alerts along the way. Afraid of losing him, one young man chalks a large M (for Mörder
, meaning "murderer" in German) on his hand, pretends to trip and bumps into Beckert, marking the back of his clothing.
The beggars close in. When Beckert finally realizes he is being followed, he hides inside a large office building just before the workers leave for the evening. The beggars call Der Schränker
, and a team of criminals arrives. They tie up and torture a guard for information. After capturing the remaining watchmen, they systematically search the building from coal cellar to attic, finally catching Beckert. When a watchman manages to trip the Burglar alarm, the crooks narrowly escape with their prisoner before the police arrive. One, however, is captured and eventually tricked into revealing the purpose of the break-in (nothing was stolen) and where Beckert would be taken.
The criminals drag Beckert to an abandoned distillery to face a kangaroo court. He finds a large, silent crowd awaiting him. Beckert is given a "lawyer", who gamely argues in his defense but fails to win any sympathy from the "jury". Beckert delivers an impassioned monologue, saying that his urges compel him to commit murders that he later regrets, while the other criminals present break the law by choice. His "lawyer" points out that the presiding "judge" is himself wanted on three counts of totschlag
(a form of Murder (German law)). Beckert pleads to be handed over to the police, asking, "Who knows what it's like to be me?" Just as the enraged mob is about to kill him, the police arrive to arrest both Beckert and the criminals.
As the real trial passes, five judges prepare to pass judgment on Beckert. Before the sentence is announced, the shot cuts to three of the victims' mothers crying. Elsie's mother says no sentence would bring back the dead children, and "One has to keep closer watch over the children." The screen goes black as she adds, "All of you."<></>
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Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert. M was Lorre's first major starring role, and it boosted his career, even though he was typecast as a villain for years after in films such as Mad Love (1935 film) and the film adaptation of Crime and Punishment (1935 American film). Before M, Lorre was mostly a comedic actor. After fleeing from the Nazi Germany, he landed a major role in Alfred Hitchcock's first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film) (1934), picking up English language along the way.< name="Lorre"></>
Otto Wernicke as Inspector Karl Lohmann. Wernicke made his breakthrough with M after playing many small roles in silent films for over a decade. After his part in M, he was in great demand due to the success of the film, including returning to the role of Karl Lohmann in The Testament of Doctor Mabuse, and he played supporting roles for the rest of his career.< name="Wernicke"></>
Gustaf Gründgens as Der Schränker ("The Safecracker"). Gründgens received acclaim for his role in the film and established a successful career for himself under Nazi rule, ultimately becoming director of the Staatliches Schauspielhaus (National Dramatic Theatre).< name="Gründgens"></>
- Ellen Widmann – Frau Beckmann
- Inge Landgut – Elsie Beckmann
- Theodor Loos – Inspector Groeber
- Friedrich Gnaß – Franz, the burglar
- Fritz Odemar – Cheater
- Paul Kemp (actor) – Pickpocket with seven watches
- Theo Lingen – Bauernfänger
- Rudolf Blümner – Beckert's defender
- Georg John – Blind balloon-seller
- Franz Stein – Minister
- Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur – Police chief
- Gerhard Bienert – Criminal secretary
- Karl Platen – Damowitz, a night-watchman
- Rosa Valetti – Innkeeper
- Hertha von Walther – Prostitute
- Hanna Maron (uncredited) – Girl in circle at the beginning. She later immigrated to Israel, became a famous actor and passed away at the age of 91 on May 30th 2014.
- Klaus Pohl (actor) – Witness / one-eyed man (uncredited)
is supposedly based on the real-life case of serial killer Peter Kürten, the "Vampire of Düsseldorf", whose crimes took place in the 1920s,< name="Gary Morris"></> although Lang denied that he drew from this case.< name="Crime Library"></> "At the time I decided to use the subject matter of M
there were many serial killers terrorizing Germany — Fritz Haarmann, Carl Großmann, Peter Kürten, Karl Denke," Lang told film historian Gero Gandert in a 1963 interview. Lorre's character whistles the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt (Grieg)
. However, Peter Lorre himself could not whistle – it is actually Lang's wife and co-writer Thea von Harbou who is heard.< name="Falkenberg Classroom Tapes"></> The film was one of the first to use a leitmotif
, associating "In the Hall of the Mountain King" with the Lorre character. Later in the film, the mere sound of the song lets the audience know that he is nearby, off-screen. This association of a musical theme with a particular character or situation, a technique borrowed from opera, is now a film staple.< name="Leitmotif"></>
was Lang's first sound film
was later released in the U.S. in 1933 by Foremco Pictures. After playing in German with English subtitles for two weeks, it was pulled from theaters and replaced by an English version. The re-dubbing was directed by Eric Hakim and Lorre was one of the few cast members to reprise his role in the film.< name="Jensen. pp. 93"/> As with many other early talkies from the years 1930–1931, M
was partially reshot with actors (including Lorre) performing dialogue in other languages for foreign markets after the German original was completed, apparently without Lang's involvement. An English-language version was filmed and released in 1932 from an edited script with Lorre speaking his own words, his first English part. An edited French version was also released but despite the fact that Lorre spoke French his speaking parts were dubbed.
A Variety (magazine)
review said that the film was "a little too long. Without spoiling the effect - even bettering it - cutting could be done. There are a few repetitions and a few slow scenes."< name="Jensen. pp. 93"/> Graham Greene compared the film to "looking through the eye-piece of a microscope, through which the tangled mind is exposed, laid flat on the slide: love and lust; nobility and perversity, hatred of itself and despair jumping at you from the jelly."< name="Wakeman. pp. 615"/>
In 2013 a DCP version was released by Kino Lorber and played theatrically in North America< name="McLanahan"></> in the original aspect ratio of 1.19:1.<></> Critic Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times
called this the "most-complete-ever version" at 111 minutes.<></> The film was restored by TLEFilms Film Restoration & Preservation Services (Berlin) in association with Archives françaises du film - CNC (Paris) and PostFactory GmbH (Berlin).<></>
Lang considered M
to be his favorite of his own films because of the social criticism in the film. In 1937, he told a reporter that he made the film "to warn mothers about neglecting children."</>
The Restoration of "M" (2003) from TLEFilms.com
M: an interpretation
Criterion Collection essay] by
- Trial movies
- List of films featuring surveillance
Category:1930s thriller films
Category:Films about capital punishment
Category:Films directed by Fritz Lang
Category:Films of the Weimar Republic
Category:Films set in Berlin
Category:Films shot in Germany
Category:German Expressionist films
Category:German thriller films
Category:Paramount Pictures films
Category:Police detective films
Category:Psychological thriller films
Category:Serial killer films