M (1931) B/W 118m dir: Fritz Lang
w/Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Grundgens, Theo Lingen, Theodor Loos, Georg John, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur, Paul Kemp
Suspenseful psychological crime-drama about a pitiable, disturbed child murderer in Berlin. The film offers an intriguing delineation of the painstaking methods employed by the police and the underworld, both out to trap the killer.
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "The story was based on a news story about a real murderer in Dusseldorf. It was to have been called Morder unter uns (Murderer Among Us) but this title was abandoned when a Nazi thought it might dishonor Germany. The film, produced almost entirely in a studio, has no music but a very expressive sound track. Peter Lorre (who was a stage actor trained by Bertolt Brecht) became world famous for his portrayal of the murderer, an outwardly gentle man who is trapped by his mental sickness and afraid to discover himself. He is characterized best by his whistling of the theme from Grieg's Peer Gynt whenever his desires overwhelm him, but otherwise he hardly says a word until his final despairing cry of protest at the end, 'I can't help it.'
"The stylized realism of the sets, the sense of destiny overshadowing the characters, the use of symbols (a balloon offered to one of the victims, the glinting blade of a pocket knife, the sexuality of some of the ads) owe more to Kammerspiel than to expressionism.
"'A Town Hunts a Murderer' was one provisional title for the film, an appropriate title since the town is one of the main characters in the drama. M is a film in which buildings play a major role, especially in the best sequence, where the thief drives the murderer into a deserted building, and traps him as though he were locked in a vault. The climax, where the thief 'squeals' to the police, seems to have been influenced by Brecht and Threepenny Opera .... The band of beggars and thieves in the film included some real criminals. M also offers a portrait of the profound troubles that gripped Germany in the years immediately before Hitler came to power."