M (1931) | Fritz Lang’s influential masterpiece remains the greatest psychological thriller of all time

Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's M

For many cinephiles, the name Fritz Lang is synonymous with the futuristic 1927 silent classic Metropolis. For the director himself, however, his finest work can be seen in the 1931 German thriller, M (Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder). Written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou (who also wrote Metropolis, the superb Dr Mabuse series, and the sci-fi epic Woman in the Moon), M was a landmark in cinema. Not only was it Lang’s first sound picture (he started back in 1919), it was the sophisticated way he used the camera, the lighting, and the editing that proved film was more than just a new entertainment medium – it was an art form.

Peter Lorre in M

A spate of child killings has the citizens of Berlin terrified. Peter Lorre (long before he became a parody of himself in Roger Corman’s Vincent Price-led Poe vehicles) gives a powerhouse performance as the murderous Hans Beckert, who is chased by the authorities and a vigilante mob before the city’s criminals capture him and put on trial in their own court of law.

Peter Lorre in M

Whilst not the first film to deal with the hunt for a serial killer (Alfred Hitchcock did that in 1927’s The Lodger), Lang’s film is so multi-layered, the result is more than just a thriller. Part horror (Lorre’s Beckert whistling ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King‘ whilst luring an innocent into his web still chills); part procedural crime drama (the police use the new technique of fingerprinting in their investigation); part social drama (the city’s tenement dwellers turn vigilante mob); and part Brechtian (the guild of beggars judge one of their own), M remains one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time and, 80-plus years on, is still a refreshing sight to behold today.

Peter Lorre in M

The original German version of Lang’s M was released in 2010 in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series in a special dual format release. The bounty of special features are superb, and includes the original 1932 British release, featuring alternate takes and Lorre’s first performance in English. Fritz Lang + Peter Lorre + A masterclass in the art of film = A must-have.

From tomorrow, 5 September 2014, Fritz Lang’s M also gets a limited run at the BFIn Southbank in London as part of the Peter Lorre season.

Click here for more info


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on September 4, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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