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Reviewed October 7th, 2001 by David Nusair


M is one of those so-called “classic” old movies that has a few good things going for it – in M’s case, some decent acting and surprisingly contemporary camera moves – but on the whole, it never quite comes together and winds up a boring mess.

Peter Lorre (who would later go on to become a well-known character actor, appearing in mainstream Hollywood flicks like Casablanca) stars as the titular M (which stands for murderer), a fairly sick and twisted serial killer that preys solely upon little children. All of Germany is in an uproar, and this small town has virtually been turned into a police state. While this does make things difficult for the murderer, it makes doing business impossible for regular, hard-working thieves. They band together and decide to capture the man themselves, if only so they can go back to work.

The pervading flaw that prevents M from being anything more than (presumably) the first movie about a serial killer is the complete and utter lack of a leading character. The film spends a little time with M himself, but other than that, it’s consistently shifting focus from one character to the next (I’m not sure if it’s even fair to call them characters, since we never really get to know anyone beyond their class description). We spend a few minutes with the chief of police; then a few minutes with the head of the criminals; then a few minutes with the mother of a victim; etc. This style – a style that obviously didn’t last too long – completely prevents us from becoming engrossed in the flick, and we’re left watching a pseudo-documentary.

But there are a few things to recommend about M. Lorre’s performance, for one. Though given to over-the-top histrionics on occasion, Lorre plays this guy as appropriately creepy. And there are some directorial flourishes that one wouldn’t expect from a flick made in 1931. There’s an uninterrupted shot inside a pub as the camera wanders from one end of the establishment to the other. This was impressive. Ditto other equally ambitious (and equally unexpected) stylistic camera moves.

But really, it never adds up to much. Without a single character made available for the audience to have some sort of a vested interested in, it’s impossible to become engrossed in the movie.

Audio: M was one of the first non-silent movies to emerge out of Germany (and in fact, was legendary director Fritz Lang’s first talkie) and as such, is presented with a 1-channel German track. It goes without saying that there’s nothing special about this track. Dialogue is occasionally muffled, but is on the whole clear enough.

Video: According to the back of the box, this is a “digitally” remastered print, which leads me to wonder – if this is the remastered print, what must the non-remastered print look like? There are scratches, lines and faded spots a-plenty in the image, but considering the age of the movie, I suppose that’s to be expected. Just don’t expect anything even approaching the clarity of the new Citizen Kane transfer.

Extras: Nada, unless of course you consider “color bars” to be an extra.

Conclusion: Many film critics and scholars consider M to be a masterpiece. Judge for yourself.


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