Saturday, March 26, 2011

M (Lang. 1931)

"I can't help myself! I haven't any control over this evil thing that's inside of me!"

Have you ever known someone with a mental instability? If so, then you are already well versed in the trials of understanding. In 1931, Frtiz Lang released a film that was simply titled M. His goal was to develop a character like nobody had ever seen before in film. In doing this, Lang created Hans Beckart- cinema's first serial killer (and hinted child molester). The 1077 Films to See Before You Die is filled with police thrillers, but none had a bigger impact than the first of its kind. M is a subtle exploit of the disturbed human mind.

Though Lang is still best known for his work in silent films like Metropolis (1927), he also had a lasting career in talking pictures. M was the first film that Lang made with audible dialogue, so you figured he would use it in abundance. But this is not the case. The German actors and actresses all have very limited speaking parts, and the film thrives off of crafty camera manipulation and technically astounding shadow casting. Lang practically wrote the book on how to make a suspense thriller.

This is a film that boasts the very first serial killer in cinema. This is a significance that should not be taken lightly. Almost every single thriller or murder flick owes everything to this monumental picture. But unlike a lot of the murder flicks these days, M is a mature take on an idea that was fresh at the time. This is not a slasher film. It digs deeper into our nerves with an unsettling political message.

M questions the morality and effectiveness of the legal system in Germany. After the police spend several unsuccessful months trying to catch the child killer, the heat and paranoia on the streets pick up to an unbearable level. This frustrates the usual crime syndicates of Berlin because it makes their everyday dealings much more difficult. So, they gather together and hire the beggars of the city to try and track Beckart down. Once he is captured, Beckart is put in front a court of criminals; he is on trial for his life.

This leads to one of the most damaging speeches in the early days of film. Beckart (Peter Lorre) gives a blood curdling speech where he begs for our forgiveness. He explains that he lives a constant nightmare. He does not want to kill. But he has to in order to stop the voices in his head. Lang did not add this scene to make us forgive the acts of a killer, but he wanted us to see how quickly we lose our ability to understand. Is Hans Beckart really evil? Or is he a victim of his own mind?

I have seen several films from the 1077 Films to See Before You Die that were made in the 1930's. But few of them have had the same impact that M has had on me. Lorre's performance is brilliant, Lang's directing is skillful and the overall look of the film is gloomy and mysterious. I loved this movie.

M: A

My Next Film.....No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers. 2007) *Perfect Movie

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