Fritz Lang's first sound film, his most chilling and provocative work, features Peter Lorre's greatest performance as a child molester and murderer. As the film opens, Berlin is gripped by terror: a child molester is killing little girls, while the police's frantic search has so far turned
up no clues to his identity. Frenzied citizens inform on their neighbors; police raids net scores of criminals, but none that can be linked to the killings. To stop this trend, the underworld's leading members resolve to catch the killer themselves, ordering the criminal community to find the
murderer and bring him to a tribunal--and the trap to catch the desperate man is set in thrilling motion. Lang tells his grim tale in murky, expressive shadow, and (keeping the murders offscreen) achieves chilling effects through brilliant cinematic strategies: distorted camera angles; expressive
shadows; innovative use of sound; and meticulously designed claustrophobic sets. Lang succeeds in conveying the increasing frenzy of various strata of Berlin life as he cross-cuts between wildly different environments to suggest their mutual fear. One particularly interesting and effective
manuever was Lang's decision to visually link the police search for the killer with that of the criminals, thereby suggesting a parallel between the two. Lang also makes inspired use of the city of Berlin, its antiquity and squalor, to suggest a deep-seated corruption.
While M offers a truly creepy image of its psychopathic killer, it is all the more effective for its psychological subtlety as it conveys his guilt, despair and compulsiveness. At that point in his life, Lorre was a rather roly-poly fellow; his plump child-like features add a poignancy and pathos
to the character. The child murderer appears to be a child himself. Lorre was so effective in this role that he would be cast as grotesque psychopaths for the bulk of his long career.
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- Review: Fritz Lang's first sound film, his most chilling and provocative work, features Peter Lorre's greatest performance as a child molester and murderer. As the film opens, Berlin is gripped by terror: a child molester is killing little girls, while the police'… (more)