“Who knows what it’s like inside me? How it screams and cries out inside me when I have to do it! Don’t want to! Must! And then a voice cries out, and I can’t listen anymore. Help I can’t , I can’t!”
‘M’ is a 1931 German Movie directed by Fritz Lang in Nazi Germany. The movie revolves around a psychopath who kidnaps children and murders them. It is considered as a classic in world cinema and the best movie directed by Fritz Lang. This is Lang’s first sound movie and he uses sound only where it is needed unlike many of his contemporaries who thought that the characters needed to talk all the time when the movies took that gigantic leap from silence to talkies.
A number of children are kidnapped and murdered in the city of Berlin. The police force is under tremendous pressure from the press, the government and society as a whole to nab the killer. The killer leaves no trace. As a desperate measure the city police unleashes the entire force under its disposal on a manhunt. This leaves its impact on the criminal underworld whose nefarious activities come to a halt due to constant police patrolling and increased vigilantism.
The underworld decides to pursue the killer on its own through their well formed network. Information is passed on to the beggars in the city to keep an eye on anything suspicious. A blind begger identifies the killer while he was preying on his next victim. The killer escapes the pursuit and takes shelter in a building.
Fritz Lang tells the story in such a way that both police & underworld are on the trail of the killer and ultimately the underworld gets the killer first. The killer is subject to a sort of Kangaroo court hearing of the underworld. The underworld has its own court, judge, prosecutor and defense counsel and its own principles. Majority of them want the killer to be sentenced to death while the defense counsel pleads for his release because the accused is mentally unwell and needs medical attention. The killer presents his side of the story by saying that something inside him forces him to do the killings and he cannot help it.
Peter Lorre did a clean act as the murderer, ably supported by Otto Wernicke as Inspector Lohmann, Gustaf Grundgens and an whole bunch of excellent actors.
The script written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou is excellent. Fritz Lang knows how to tell the story. See how brilliantly he has pitted the psychopath between the underworld and the police. The director manages to get into the psyche of the serial killer as well as the underworld criminals and poses the question of morality, whether the criminals have any right to try the murderer who is mentally sick. The theme is relevant even today and has a universal appeal. The shots are brilliant and the camera work by Fritz Arno Wagner is top class which could give todays movie makers a run for the money.
All in all the movie stands tall even after 89 years of its release, not only as a pioneer in serial killer genre but for the brilliance of the director who could pull it off with limited technology available during the era.