M

For his first sound film Fritz Lang turned to the story of a child killer (Peter Lorre), who is hunted down by police and underworld alike.

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Introduction

“M remains Lang’s most universally admired film. The complexity and originality of its structure and the power of its images and sound guarantee it a place in film history.”
Tom Gunning, The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity, 2001

Fritz Lang’s silent epics of intrigue and iniquity had all but invented the crime genre on film, and with M he laid the blueprint for every serial killer film that followed in its wake. While the opening scenes – when a schoolgirl is ominously presented with a balloon by a stranger in silhouette – create an atmosphere of dread, daringly the director later establishes the killer Hans Beckert as a figure of pathos.

Lang is more concerned with a clinical examination of the cross-section of Berlin society – the politicians, the businessmen, the organised criminals – whose self-serving interests are compromised by Beckert’s freedom. Lorre’s creepy, bulging-eyed performance as the killer who can’t help himself quickly attracted the attention of Hollywood, where he made a career playing sinister desperados.

An American remake was directed by Joseph Losey in 1951, but M’s DNA is detectable in everything from Peeping Tom (1959) to Zodiac (2007).

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