M (1931)

M is a 1931 film directed by Fritz Lang.  The movie is set in a Berlin terrorized by a child murderer.  It has been months since the cops have been on the hunt for this man, but they have failed to find him.  As a result, people in the city are constantly afraid for the safety of their children.  Not only that, the police’s crackdown is so extreme that organised crime in the city is unable to operate properly.  So, the criminals decide to take matters into their own hands and start a search for the killer.

The killer is revealed early on in the film to us, the audience.  It is Hans Beckert, played by Peter Lorre.  Are his killings premeditated, or does he act out of compulsion?  If so, what is justice for such a man?

M 1931 - A drawing by Karthik Abhiram

For the most part, I found M a very nicely done movie.  Peter Lorre’s acting was very good as Beckert.  The story kept one’s attention, and some of the elements (the killer writing to the press, how the crime syndicate actually implements their search) reminded me of later movies.  The scene with the cops deciding to intensify their search and the crime syndicate discussing their plans to apprehend the killer is intercut in an interesting way.

The movie has some nicely designed, very artistic shots.  As is common for older movies, most of the shots are deep focus ones (I think the practice of using shots with a shallow depth of field started much, much later).

There were certain parts in the film that tended to drag and some of it was over-dramatized (one scene in the beginning where the crowd panics and almost lynches an old man).  Does every lawman in Berlin smoke cigars constantly?  The ending I thought was a bit abrupt.

I guess when one watches an older movie in the present day, one tends to approach it with a jaded mind, having already seen elements from it in later movies.  I couldn’t avoid this bias.  Still, the movie holds up very well and does pose some interesting questions.

The aforementioned scene in which the killer sends a note to the press reminded me of David Fincher’s Zodiac.  Also, Hans Beckert whistles the tune of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg, which Fincher used in The Social Network.  This made me think, what would it be like if there was a remake of M directed by David Fincher, with music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross?  Or a moody remake by Nicolas Winding Refn.  If there was an Indian remake, I guess Anurag Kashyap would be a good fit to the material, and he’d do it in a gritty style like his That Girl in Yellow Boots.

Rating: 7/10

More info on the IMDb page and the Wikipedia article.

I drew the above image with black and red gel pens and a black marker.  You can click that to see a larger image.

You can watch the film below:


The above video is available in HD (720p) and a great way to enjoy the movie.  It appears to be ripped from a BluRay source (I guess the uploader could do this, since the movie is in the Public Domain).  It’s a 110 min restored version in German with English subtitles.

If you use Mozilla Firefox, you can download the video if you have a plugin called DownloadHelper.  Apparently, on Google Chrome there’s a YouTube downloader in built.  Alternatively, you can use an online downloader like SaveYouTube (where you copy the YouTube URL and just replace the youtube.com part with saveyoutube.com).  That’ll give you some other options, like downloading the WebM encoded version (which at 1.69 GB is smaller in size than the MP4 file).

While you may be able to get the video using any of the above methods, you’ll still need to download the subtitles.  You can search online for subtitles that match this video, or you could use a program called Google2SRT to get the subtitles.  This is a very handy program to have, since it’ll allow you to rip subtitles from any YouTube video.