Movie Review: Fritz Lang’s M

Producer: Seymour Nebenzal
Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, Paul Falkenberg, Adolf Jansen, and Karl Vash
Cast: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, and Gustaf Gründgens

Plot: A child killer stalks the streets posters every where warning that he has murdered eight children and parents are to keep their children inside. But outside children play a game where they sing of a man in black coming with his cleaver to kill you. And in erie response to the children playing another young girl is murdered.

The papers receive a letter from the killer telling the police to stop him or he will kill again. The uproar in the city has caused the police to make daily nightly sweeps in the town nabbing anyone without papers. This has put a serious dent into the crime bosses money flow and so they have gotten together and enlisted the beggers of the town to guard the children and look for the child killer.

And the beggers find the man! And the hunt begins for him as the criminals block every avenue of escape. Even as the police have discovered who the killer is and wait for him in his rooms. Who will get him first?

This was the first sound film that Lang ever did. In it he created some techniques that have become standard. One was that whenever the killer appeared he would whistle the music from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King. So audiences would associate that song with the presence of the murderer, which is now the standard of villians, they have their own music theme. Also this was the first starring role for Peter Lorre who was perfectly cast as the obsessed tormented killer unable to control the compulsion that rules him and makes him despise his life. One of the best scenes in the movie is his monologue before his accusers.

Here Lorre expresses his hatred for himself, for what he does, for the thing that torments him and his inability to stop

I think of this scene when I read Roman’s seven where Paul says:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

This is not what I would call a family film. Even though you never see the murders of the children the psychological effect is there and in some way more intense than actually seeing it. However, adults who appreciate such directors as Alfred Hitchcock will enjoy this film.

I give this film five stars.



3 Replies to “Movie Review: Fritz Lang’s M”

  1. I watched this film a few months back for the first time. I would love to discuss it with you. There are several civic questions that arise from the final scene of the film. Is Lang making a statement or simply granting us occasion to ask more questions? Is Lang, in this movie, advocating for psychological rehabilitation of serial killers, or is he showing the insanity of a nation that treats capital crimes too lightly? Does Lang expect the audience to empathize with the villain (a la Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, etc.), or to pity him and the society that deals too lightly with him?


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