Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Noir-a-Thon: M (1931)

The second review from our Noir-a-Thon is Fritz Lang's M; another great piece of proto-noir from 1931.

Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Peter Lorre
Year: 1931
Country of origin: Germany
Language: German

Synopsis: There's a child killer on the loose in a nameless German city; the police manhunt is disturbing the regular workings of the criminal underworld so they join in the hunt.

Unfortunately Leah from What Indie Nights? has university assignments due and couldn't find the time to share her thoughts on this one so I have asked Brian from Brian vs. Movies to share some thoughts after my main review. If you've not been to his blog yet, he is a new LAMB who reviews everything he watches, no matter how bad, which leads to some entertaining reviews of seemingly random movie choices.

Blahblahblahtoby review

Being ranked at #53 on the imdb Top250 you expect the film to be good from a historical point of view or something that people feel the need to say they loved. In the instance of Fritz Lang's M however the accolade is thoroughly deserved from both a film history and a film enjoyment perspective.

Peter Lorre puts in a powerful performance as the child killer and is the only name I recognise from the cast list but in no way is he the main character of this ensemble piece. Fritz Lang chooses to tell the story from a multitude of perspectives, the child on the streets, the worried parents, the police, the gangsters, the mob and finally the killer and in so doing you are taken on a journey of mixed emotions including, quite incredibly, sympathy for the killer.

This truly is masterful film making and superb visual storytelling from Lang. At times we were quite shocked at how advanced some of his techniques were, making last weeks Blue Angel seem positively simplistic in comparison. The three act structure is divided in to what would become melodrama, police procedural and heist movie signifiers as we are treated to montage, dual narrative, scientific explanation, social commentary, the first use of a leitmotif in association with a killer and more.

Looking over Dugnant's noir signifiers I think this one manages to touch on 9 of the 10 points without really being about any one of them. Crime as Social Criticism and Blacks and Reds are accounted for by the final message "this won't bring back our children, one has to watch over the children" taken to be an anti National Socialism message in the years before Hitler's rise to power. Gangsters and On The Run are featured aspects with the fearful killer running from the gangsters arriving to kill him en masse. The theory that it is the fate of the killer to kill, it's in his DNA, leads you towards Hostage to Fortune whilst the fact that he is a sexually deviant child killer covers Psychopaths and Sexual Pathology and of course the constant use of reflections in mirrors and windows covers Portraits and Doubles. All early examples of the key notes of the film noir style finding their feet in this movie made decades before it's time. There's little surprise that Lang would go on to become a major film maker in the noir movement.

It really is a masterpiece worthy of the name, if you haven't seen it then you really should. For pure enjoyment it's worthwhile and from a film history perspective it's invaluable. I would rate this as a 9 without any hesitation at all. Not many films are as good as this.

Brian vs. Movies capsule review

Greetings, Blahblahblahgay folks! I am Brian from Brian Vs. Movies. Some of my favorite movies are film noir, but I have never delved too deeply into the waters of noir. I wanted to start with one of the originals, but I was a little apprehensive about watching M. Sure, it's famous, but it's old. And German. I don't know what you know about 1931 Germany, but they weren't famous for their humor; this promised to be a viewing that was full of capital-A "Art" that I would write off as being educational and nothing more.

I'm happy to say that my presumptions were way off base. M may be eighty years old, but some aspects of it are strikingly modern. Most critics will spend their time on Fritz Lang's excellent cinematography --- and with good reason --- but the scenes that captured my attention belonged to the star. This was future noir all-star Peter Lorre's big dramatic break, and he delivers a great monologue toward the end of the film about evil as a choice or compulsion that is years ahead of its time. He didn't get a whole lot of screen time, but this is a great showcase for Lorre's talents, particularly his ability to look genuinely panicked. The story has lost some of its shock value over the years as the story elements have been recycled over and over, but M is still a film that stands the test of time, both as Art and as entertainment.

You can read Brian's full review here and for further reading check out the Big Thoughts From A Small Mind review, Andy Buckle's review and this piece from Matt's Film Reviews. The most indepth appreciation I've read outside of a textbook came from Brent at The Silver Screen.

And that's all we have time for this week, we had hoped to watch Shanghai Express this week but with assignments due in I decided not to pressure Leah. Leave some blah below and if you have anything you want to contribute to the Shanghai Express or Pepe Le Moko posts let me know.

I went to the cinema for the first time in forever this week and saw some trailers and it reminded me of the scene in Brief Encounter where the two leads watch some terrible 'Coming Attractions' for what would be screening in the following weeks. So here are some coming attractions for the Noir-a-Thon.


  1. M is one of my top 50 favourite movies of all time; it's definitely a realistic, powerful portrayal of the mind of a serial killer. I love the way the 'protagonists' and the 'antagonist' almost seem to swap places by the end. Fantastic work from Lang. 10/10.

  2. Tyler - so I assume I'll find it in your top 100 post when I find the time? It really is an incredible achievement in cinema.

  3. It's a movie decades ahead of it's time. It's a true classic.

  4. Chip - if you hadn't said that I wouldve been worried about you!

  5. M is a truly great masterpiece. Way ahead of its time. For me it ranks above most of the universally revered classics like Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

  6. I am really loving this series. I am learning so much. As we ALLLL know I am an utter novice when it comes to anything that isn't warm and squishy. BUt I read, I learn.

    Thanks Toby and welcome Brian

  7. BT - I think you could have a very good argument for that, CASABLANCA might only win from a pure enjoyment perspective and KANE may win a technological advancement competition. I do have a strong appreciation for it but initially I was a little bored by KANE

  8. SL - I'm happy you're getting something from this, these movies are fascinating and entertaining as well as historical documents. Next weeks is the first american movie SHANGHAI EXPRESS and is much more accessible for a casual viewer, if you have time to watch and add a little something like brian did this week we'd love to have you over next tuesday

  9. No one missed me, I see. *sulk*

    Our viewing experience was pretty much a constant stream of 'OMG! That's how they make films NOW! BUT IT'S SO OLD!'
    Perhaps it's our ideas of film that are out of step, rather than the films themselves?

  10. First of all, I think I need to have the "We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children" framed and on my wall. Nice find!

    It is funny just how modern this movie feels at times, especially when compared to the next 20 years of Hollywood output.

  11. Brian - first, thanks for taking part and filling the leah shaped hole. If you ever want to add a review for future articles you know where to find us.

    The image is a simple screenshot from the dvd but there was so much strong imagery that it was difficult to narrow it down to a manageable number.