Feature Film Showcase – M (1931)

Welcome to this week’s “Movies… For Free!” column, where we showcase classic movies freely available in the public domain (with streaming video!). Read the article and watch the movie right here!

Fritz Lang's M
M, Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder
, 1931.

Directed by Fritz Lang.
Starring Peter Lorre and Otto Wernicke.

M is the first sound feature from acclaimed Expressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang – described by the British Film Institute as the “Master of Darkness” – and is a highly influential masterpiece of the thriller genre. Written by Lang along with his wife Thea von Harbou, a Nazi sympathiser who would later join the NSDAP, M is a powerful, cold and brutal piece of cinema that explores themes of morality, justice and hysteria.

The film stars Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert, a German child killer and presumed paedophile whose brutal crimes are terrorising Berlin. When the police investigation headed by Inspector Lohmann (Wernicke) fails to identify the murderer, members of the underworld join in the manhunt in order to protect their business interests in the city. This leads to a race between the police and criminals, who eventually trace and capture Beckert and subject him to a kangaroo court that serves to explore the twisted and tormented mind of the killer.

Considered by Lang to be his finest work, M was a success upon release and helped to launch the international career of Peter Lorre, who would often return to the role of the villainous psychopath (see his turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much). It also served as a breakthrough for Otto Wernicke, who reunite with the director and the character of Inspector Lohmann in Lang’s next movie, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933).

The film is rumoured to be inspired by the real life case of “The Vampire of Düsseldorf” Peter Kürten; a suggestion denied by the director.

Embed courtesy of Internet Archive.

Click here to view all previous entries in our Movies… For Free! collection.

Related:

The Cabinet of Dr CaligariNosferatu