2. A black and white film: M (1931)
List Progress: 4/12
What is justice and who gets to dispense it? Fritz Lang’s 1931 magnum opus, M, puts this question in the center of its story. A city is gripped by terror and hysteria in the wake of a serial killer murdering children, and the police have taken the opportunity to crack down on the entire criminal element of the population. A committee of gang leaders and mobsters come together to make a plan; they are repulsed by the killings, but even more than that, they are angry that the added police scrutiny is getting in the way of their businesses. In order to return things to the way they were, they need to find the killer on their own; but what will they do when they get him?
M casts a long shadow over film history. It is considered one of Lang’s best works, alongside 1927’s Metropolis, it was a star-making role for Peter Lorre, and it codified many staples of film language for decades to come: the killer whistles “In the Hall of the Mountain King” while on the prowl, and this is arguably the first use of a musical leitmotif in film history. But this isn’t a film that is simply notable for doing things first. Ninety years later, this still holds up as a tense, powerful crime story, full of real people and real communities. And the questions raised about guilt and culpability are as relevant today as they were in the Weimar era.
There are places, especially in the third act, where it can run a bit long, and it’s understandable that different, shorter edits existed over the film’s history. But this is well worth the time. All physical violence is kept off-screen, so the squeamish can proceed, but enough societal violence is on display as to be harrowing. Harrowing, but essential to confront.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely.