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M (1931)

Reviewed on 2011 March 23

I remember when MTV used a stylized bit from this German classic as a bumper. I think Jersey Shore and the like buried those days forever but so far YouTube preserved it here. It’s sad that they went from something that obscure, or even, you know, just the music videos themselves, to stuff like Cribs. At least we still have the movie, faithfully preserved on Criterion DVDs and the like. Mine isn’t the full 117 minutes but it has nice crispy white subtitles. This Fritz Lang creepfest from 1931 is as upsetting today as it was when it was released. Even the opening titles are sinister.

Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is, for lack of a better term, a monster, a child-murderer loose in pre-World War II Germany. The citizens turn on each other in their fear and anger, and accuse the police, who are reduced to chasing every lead the way a dog chases its tail, of not doing enough. Beckert is taunting the enraged town with letters to the paper. The criminals are as fed up with the murderer as the regular townspeople, because they’re tired of the police hassling them and just because they think he’s scum too, and decide to take their own measures to catch the pig.

The set design is incredible. Even the balloons and other toys are nasty-looking in this thing. It’s interesting to see a slice of old Germany that doesn’t exist any more, and look for the Mickey Mouse with the pie eyes in the candy shop. The acting also moves it along and seems light years from the over-emoting of silent movies from just a few years earlier. Peter Lorre, from what I’ve read actually a pretty nice guy in real life and someone who smarted off to HUAC, used to be a comedian. His bug-eyed, evil persona in this set his career on another track, and the first mother waiting for her kid to come home broke my heart.

Four chocolate morsels.

Shukti

morsel morsel morsel morsel

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