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Sunday, June 19, 2016

"M" (1931)

This justifiably famous proto-noir broke so much cinematic ground upon it’s first release that it still looks fresh all these umpteen years later. A serial killer preying on young little girls is terrorizing a large German city. Taking the form of a police procedural, the film follows detectives and departmental brass methodically pursuing the psychopath before he can kill again. What gives this basic premise more stylistic heft is the concurrent effort of the city’s underworld denizens as they also hunt down the culprit. With so much police presence on the streets it’s cutting into their livelihood, this sicko is bad for business. Exacting director Fritz Lang cross cuts both groups’ efforts with the murderer, the “M”, as he creepily stalks more children. But by portraying the villain (a career defining performance by Peter Lorre) as a victim himself to psychological inner demons and not purely a monster, Lang broke new territory. Wrap it all in a pervasive depiction of a festering, fear filled German society and you get a uneasy glimpse into how this Depression saddled era could bring rise to something as pernicious as Nazism. A must for Film History 101 students of any age. 

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