Fritz Lang became one of the earliest masters of filmmaking. Known mostly for such classic silents as Metropolis and Spies, Lang delivers a startling film definitely ahead of its time with M. This is also the very first film for the talented Peter Lorre who would later shine in Corman’s Poe series, and of course, along-side Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. M is a disturbing film that constantly assaults the viewer with stark images of a city’s underworld life. Th… portrayal of a child serial killer was incredibly bold for the time and is unsettling even today when audiences are almost numb to horrific acts of violence on our movie screens.
A serial killer of children is stalking the streets of 1930 Berlin. When public outcry forces the police to roust all criminal activity the city’s underworld unites in an unlikely alliance with the law to apprehend the criminal. When they finally corner the social monster a court is held. The criminals of Berlin must decide whether to kill him or turn him over to the law.
The film is presented in mono audio. This is a 1930’s film and one of the very first “talkies”. The dialogue is in German with English subtitles. Criterion performed an admirable job in creating a soundtrack remarkably clean for its vintage. Loud and high-pitched sounds are prone to distortion but the dialogue is very clear. Lorre’s maddening whistle is no less disturbing for the limitations of the 1930’s recording process.
M is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (full screen). The print had been restored in the mid 1990’s, but a lot of damage had been done by then. Criterion certainly did a handsome job with the DVD, and it is better than I would have expected. Most of the picture is clean. While there are plenty of scratches and score marks, overall the mood of the film survives intact. The shadow detail is as remarkable as it is vital to the film. There is a noticeable discoloration on the upper 1/3 of the screen for about 15 minutes in the middle of the film.
There are absolutely no bonus features on this disc.
If you have the patience to watch a black and white film in less than pristine condition, then M will be an experience you will not soon forget. It is very easy to imagine the story being told on more contemporary grounds. It isn’t hard to understand how Peter Lorre would become a true legend when you watch him whistle and sneer as we stalks another young girl to brutalize. A must have for students of early film M answers the fatal question: “Who is the murderer?”
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