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[video] Fritz Lang - M - 1931

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Fritz Lang - M - 1931

Fritz Lang in the 1950s

M is a 1931 German film directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. It was Lang's first sound film, although he had directed over a dozen films previously including Metropolis. Over the years the film has become a defining classic that rivals Lang's other works for the title of magnum opus. Lang himself maintained that this film was his finest work.[1][2] The lead, Peter Lorre, was typecast for years after the film's release as a villain for his portrayal of a child murderer. M also pioneered the use of leitmotif to give the film score a more intense feel.

The film opens with a circle of children playing a game that involves a rhyme about a child murderer. This foreshadows the appearance of Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a serial killer who preys on children in 1930s Berlin. Initially the audience does not see his face; they merely see his shadow and shots of his body, hearing him whistle "In the Hall of the Mountain King" (ger. In der Halle des Bergkönigs) as he buys a balloon from a blind man and gives it to a little girl named Elsie Beckmann. In the next scene her mother searches frantically as the audience sees the balloon flying up into the telephone lines.

Meanwhile, the police, under Inspector Karl Lohmann, pursue him using such modern police techniques as fingerprinting and handwriting analysis. They also stage raids and round up the usual suspects.

As the police do their work, the criminal underworld of Berlin becomes increasingly concerned about the murder spree. Not only is it bad for business to have the police sniffing around, but it is insulting to be lumped into the same category as a child killer.

Eventually, a race develops between the police and the criminals to catch the killer, who is completely unaware of what is happening. He makes the mistake of whistling again near the same blind balloon salesman. The salesman tells one of the criminals, who tails the killer and, desperate for a way to track him, manages to mark a large letter M onto the killer's coat in chalk.

Now able to track the killer, the criminals pursue him and, after a lengthy search of an office building, finally catch him, bringing him before a kangaroo court. There, Beckert delivers an impassioned monologue, saying that he doesn't want to commit these crimes, and that he should not be punished for being insane. The monologue ends with the line (delivered by Lorre in a near scream) "Who knows what it's like to be me?"

As the criminals are on the point of killing Beckert, the police arrive, snatching him from their grip.

The final image of the film is that of five judges about to give Beckert his sentence. Before the sentence is announced, the shot cuts to three of the victim's mothers crying, with Elsie's mother delivering the moral of the film: that killing the murderer will do no good, and that parents must watch their children more closely

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