Based on an article by Egon Jacobson
Screenplay by Fritz Lang & Thea Von Harbou (Spies)
Directed by Fritz Lang (Metropolis, Ministry of Fear, Testament of Dr. Mabuse)
Plot: Hans Beckert is a serial killer who has left the Berlin townspeople in terror after several girls are murdered. His calling card is when he whistles Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King,” A mistake that eventually costs him dearly. The local crime bosses are none too happy with the murders as it is hurting their own criminal efforts. However, when a blind street beggar recognizes the tune Hans is whistling, Hans becomes hunted by local beggars and criminals.
Personal Thoughts: As this was Peter Lorre’s first starring role, it would typecast as a villain. He spoke little English at the time this film was made but he started to speak some by the time he worked with Alfred Hitchcock in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). His performance here is absolute brilliant. His facial expressions show a man tortured by his illness, not to mention his nervous actions when he fails to capture a victim. Being Lang’s first sound film, it is used in limited fashion but Lorre’s whistling is a prime example of how effective sound could be in the early days of film when done properly and creatively. Beautifully filmed and a gripping story, M is a true classic.
- Fritz Lang reportedly cast real criminals for the final climatic scene.
- The film was banned by Adolph Hitler in 1934 and remained “lost” until 1966.
- Reportedly based on real-life serial killer Peter Kurten, despite claims to the contrary by Fritz Lang.
- The segments filmed without sound was originally done to save money but has since become recognized as one of the key elements of the film.
- Otto Wernicke would play Inspector Lohmann again in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933).
- Remade in 1951 starring David Wayne.
- Watch the movie on YouTube.
- The Criterion Collection Blu-ray is an absolute must for anyone’s collection.