M (1931) Review

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If you read my review of The Hollywood Canteen, you know I’m a Peter Lorre fan. If you haven’t read it, go check it out. You might discover a new favorite, or at least something that will entertain you for a few hours. Anyway, enough about that. Peter Lorre was in one scene. Today I’ll be taking a look at a masterpiece of a film, M. It’s one of those you always find on the “you have to see this before you die” lists. This was Peter Lorre’s breakout role. I’ll warn you now, there are subtitles. I avoid movies with subtitles like people in front of stores trying to sell stuff. To every rule there is an exception, and to every exception there is a rule. I think. Whichever situation this is, yeah you know where I’m going.

Don’t worry, it isn’t a silent film. It’s German and released in 1931. Two years before Hitler took over and Peter Lorre (real name László Löwenstein) had to flee. Perhaps it doesn’t bother me because I have German ancestry and hearing the language triggers something. It could be because this is a great film. I understand that foreign films, or films with subtitles aren’t for everyone. I’m in that majority most of the time. This film is different. It’s dark. It’s a theme not expressed often if ever in films of this era, regardless of the country of origin. It uses language that would never appear in an American movie in the same era. The theme would never appear either.

Fritz Lang directed a true classic with this. It receives the highest rating I can give. This is a film I want to add to my collection. It belongs on all those “greatest of all time” lists. I hate spoilers. I don’t want to give anything away in my reviews. I want to make you want to watch, not tell you every last little detail. What’s the fun in that? Why would you watch if you know what happened in every scene? I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t either.

This is a film about murder. Serial murder. Child murder. Taboo subjects for 2015. Think about what those subjects were in 1931. Many have said this film is based on the true story of Peter Kurten, “The Vampire of Dusseldorf.” Lang always denied this, though it’s easy to see the comparison and hard to deny the similarities. Once again, it’s 1931. Keep the time in mind. In my opinion, Kurten is in there. The period, the country of origin, the subject. There’s too much here. It’s not a Kurten bio, but he’s here. He has to be. If nothing else in spirit.

Peter Lorre made a name for himself in this film. It’s his breakout performance. The one that made him a star. Fritz Lang had Lorre in mind from the beginning. He didn’t disappoint. Lorre doesn’t have many lines until the end, but he has great facial expressions. During the final part of the film, his mannerisms enhance his speech and made it so much more.

Watch it. Watch it once, just to say you did. Maybe you’ll find a new movie you’ll fall in love with. Maybe you’ll find a movie you have to add to your collection. You might discover a new favorite actor. How about all three?

Copyright © Drew Martin 2015

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