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M Movie Review

fritz lang lorre peter

M made Peter Lorre (1904–64) immortal and rightly so; by humanizing a monstrous killer, he changed forever how we would perceive such characters. There really was a child murderer; his name was Peter Kurten (1883–1931), and he had not yet been executed at the time of M's release. Unlike the tormented Hans Becker played by Lorre, Kurten felt no remorse for his many crimes, only a clinical fascination with them afterward. Otto Wernicke (1893–1965) gives a superb performance as Inspector Lohmann, who tracks down Becker. Fritz Lang, who had spent considerable time at Berlin Alexanderplatz closely observing the police in action, used his in-depth knowledge of their methods to add to the realism of the narrative. There actually were criminal characters among the thugs who judge Becker for his crimes, one of whom asked Lang to speed up the shooting as the police were expected in an hour. Gustav Grundgens (1899–1963), who played Schranker, the underworld chief, was the real-life model for the central character of Klaus Mann's Mephisto. Mann (1906–49), who was Grundgens’ brother-in-law, killed himself because he couldn't publish Mephisto. Grundgens, whose career flourished during the Third Reich, was unable to achieve real professional acceptance after the war, and he, too, killed himself. M seems like a different movie every time you see it. There is the horror of knowing what victim Elsie Beekman is too young to realize, and then there is deep empathy for her mother. Even so, there is intense compassion for her murderer. You cannot hate him, because of Lang's and Thea von Harbou's exceptionally written address to the underworld, and because of the deep complexity of Lorre's interpretation of a man who kills because he must. Peter Lorre explained his approach to his most famous role by saying, “My only concern was to understand WHY. I did understand.” Unsurprisingly, M is Fritz Lang's own favorite of all his films.

1931 99m/B GE Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Gustav Grundgens, Otto Wernicke, Ernest Stahl-Nachbaur, Franz Stein, Theodore Loos, Fritz Gnass, Fritz Odemar, Paul Kemp, Theo Lingen, Georg John, Karl Platen, Rosa Valetti, Hertha von Walther, Rudolf Blumner; D: Fritz Lang; W: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou; C: Fritz Arno Wagner, Gustav Rathje; M: Edvard Grieg. VHS, DVD

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