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Movie Review – M (1931 – Germany

Updated on April 24, 2012

Possibly the best film of its era

There are classic movies, and there are classic movies, and then there is the astonishing M , Fritz Lang’s 1931 psychological thriller, the film that is the direct precursor to about 50% of all the movies and TV ever made. If you doubt that assertion, just take a quick look at your cable guide—how many of tonight’s offerings are crime stories? What percentage feature deranged, compulsive bad guys driven by inner demons to hurt, to terrorize, to kill? Are there any shows about organized crime? What about police dramas, stories about the investigation of crime, the criminal justice system, the success or failure of society efforts to protect the innocent and punish the guilty?

Watch this terrific movie right now:

Watch the original 1931 trailer:

M is on every Best Movies list for a number of sound reasons, and the fact that it wraps up every one of the plot points I just listed inside one terrific story line is one of them. A child murderer is on the loose in Berlin; the city is in the grip of a paranoid panic. The civilian hysteria is mirrored by the determination of the police to catch the killer, and their intense scrutiny has set the underworld on edge, as well.

In one of the film most famous passages, Lang cuts adroitly back and forth as police and gangsters both develop strategies to identify the murderer, and by doing so he shows us the similarities between the two seemingly disparate groups. M is filled with such flashes of story-telling genius, and Lang also uses the very new technology of cinematic sound as a very effective plot device as the tune whistled by the killer (Edvard Grieg's In The Hall of the Mountain King , from the Peer Gynt Suite I Op. 46 ) gives him away.

Peter Lorre created one of film’s most memorable villains by imbuing Franz Becker with an unsettling, childlike quality that provides an undercurrent of conflict, especially when the gangsters subject him to a kangaroo court trial. His performance raises M into the highest level of psychological drama as we ponder to what degree the deeply damaged should be held responsible for the damage they, in turn, do to others—another very modern theme that Lang places at the core of his story.

M was an international sensation when it was released and was widely respected in the burgeoning American film industry, paving the way for Lang’s successful repatriation after he fled Germany in 1934. It remains an astonishing film, one whose impact has not been diminished in the many decades since it first asked the question with which it begins, "Wer ist der Morder?" (Who is the murderer?)

Very highly recommended.

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

You might also enjoy these other classic Fritz Lang films:

In which film was Peter Lorre the most memorable? (Is your choice not listed? Please enter it the Comment box )

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    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Thank you The Finance Hib--yes, I have been reading and enjoying your articles, very good work!

    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Thanks! M is one of the handful of films I try to watch at least once a year. I see something new to be amazed by at each viewing. I'm going to go read some more of your great reviews at

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

      I watched this again recently, classic movie. Good review.

      Voted Up.