Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

My Favorite Films - #8

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on October 30, 2010 at 7:31 PM

Catch up with the previous two entries here.


10. 2001: A Space Odyssey

09. The Passion of Joan of Arc

Moving forward...

#8   -   M      FRITZ LANG, 1931

        It's hard to decide which is better, Lang's silent sci-fi classic Metropolis from 1927 or his dark, edgy criminal flick M. Both are products of the German Expressionist movement, and each shares a similar sense of brooding modern decay, highlighted by the sharp angles of architecture piercing the sky and the large, disorienting open spaces that house their characters. Both are tremendously integral parts of cinema history, and both are masterpieces. But for my personal Top 10 list, I settled with the brilliantly titled - and brilliant in every other possible way - M.

       Centered with a performance from everyone's favorite creep, Peter Lorre, M is a standout entry in the crime genre. Lorre plays a psychopathic child-killer, the ominous tune of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" sliding off his lips whenever his target is near. He's a sinister presence, and glimpsed in the heavy foreboding shadows of Wagner's master camerawork, he turns into a devilishly slithering monster from beyond. With the whole city in chaos and the police desperate to find the man, the criminal underworld starts to see this as a major deficit to their business; they, too, group up to hunt down the killer stealing the spotlight. This chase to catch a particularly ruthless criminal, a chase led by criminals itself, presents a fascinating world through a muddy lense of moral ambiguity. Made out of a prosperous German film industry at the end of World War I, M, along with other similar works of the time, examines themes of disarray and psychological hysteria with a thematic weight not yet known to Hollywood movies. It is especially unique to watch Lang's film knowing the time it was released during, seeing a fairly straight-forward story but one told in a way where common ethics are purposefully distorted, the law enforcers no less demonized than the criminals. At the end of the picture, Lorre delivers a breathtaking monologue that for the first time lets us see into his battered, distraught mentality. We see the craziness that's swept over him, the rampant conflict and, finally, the effects of a society caught in an escalating loop of distrust. Simultaneously modern and tinged with gothic undertones, M ties together sensational filmmaking with strong relevant themes, boosting an already visually arresting work into one of timeless importance.

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Categories: My Favorite Films

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