M (1931)

This review contains SPOILERS.
There is a murderer on the loose, a child murderer to be specific. Someone is hunting down children of a Germanic town and killing them. It becomes a huge media event. Parents are scared to leave their kids in the streets and adults are suspicious of each other. Police activity is increased but somehow children still manage to disappear.
"M" is a rare movie from Fritz Lang, the man who pretty much dominated film for the early part of its history. His debut film came out in 1919, that shows you how long this man was in the business. It would be another decade before the first Academy Awards show and another eight years before the first true speaking picture "The Jazz Singer".
But "M" is way ahead of its time because of its dark tone. Monster movies have always been made but none of them in the way that "M" is.
A group of robbers and thieves are suffering because of the crackdown of the police enforcement. They decide to take matters into their own hands and capture the child killer themselves. It becomes a race for the villain and two sets of people are after him, the police and the thieves.
The people of the the German town and really starting to panic, they suspect random strangers and tackle them on the streets. The police are beginning to get their hands full with the amount of people that are piling up in the cells.
But then, the thieves stumble across a great idea, have the beggars of the city help them. The poor and down-on-their-luck see everything in the streets so the thieves enlist their help.
It comes down to one man, a blind beggar selling balloons, to identify the killer. He knows this because he remembers the killer whistling Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" when he bought a child a balloon. He hears the whistling again and helps find the killer, a certain Hans Beckert. This is mainly because of sound technology in that era, the scene was used to boast of the technological achievements or the day.
So the chase is set and the thieves and the man enter into a cat-and-mouse game. Eventually they catch him and try him in a court of average people. It's an underground scenario and this is where the movie takes a surprising turn.
Peter Lorre, of "Casablanca" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" fame, plays the role of Hans Beckert and it must have taken a great deal of courage for him to play this character but I can see why he chose it. After they catch him, through various circumstances, they kill him. But before they do, he gives a moving speech about not being able to do anything different. He is who he is and he hates that he's a killer but he can't help it.
The movie closes on women crying after his death and saying, "This won't bring our children back."
There are several moments in the movie that are quite stunning, the way that the letter "M" is significant at all is one of them. Others include a rapid chase through a dark building and then, of course, the speech itself that Hans gives. The ending is very haunting and will stick with you.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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