Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Keep It Classic Part 2: German Gangs

Germany, 1931. Only three years after the first full length 'talkie' film is opening into a whole new world of sound and languages. The foreign film becomes a fully fledged genre with the necessity for subtitles - or commonly shudder inducing dubbing - and today's film is one of these early spoken pieces of cinema that remains highly regarded by critics worldwide. But is it the masterpiece they all believe it is? This is M.

In a German city, children are going missing and turning up dead later on. The police have absolutely no leads to follow in order to capture the killer and they show no sign of being able to stop the killings. The city is getting more and more anxious every day. Parents watch their children intently and riots break out in the streets whenever someone is accused of being the child killer. The criminal underworld are also disgusted by the actions of the killer. They decide to conduct their own investigation, with access to a lot of options the police cannot use - and, of course, the police would not provide a harsh enough punishment for such a despicable human being, leaving the criminal boss Schränker (Gustaf Gründgens) feeling that justice needs to be taken into his own hands.

'My daughter is lovely, nein?'

Peter Lorre, the villainous killer, is a stand-out performance. Being little more than ominous footsteps and a whistle for around half the film, Lorre creates an undeniably menacing presence. But in glorious juxtaposition, he performs with a gentle softness that raises all kinds of questions of morality. Can such a disgusting murderer actually also be a victim and should he have a chance at redemption. Similarly, mob leader Schränker, played by Gustaf Gründgens, suggests that those who live through crime also have an ethical principle that they stand solidly by which is, arguably, more honest than the law enforcement as Schränker is not held back by protocols and rules. Despite this more humane view of criminals, Gründgens is definitely the most intimidating figure in the film. Dressed in a large leather coat and bowler hat, Gründgens looms over the crime underworld and even over Lorre, again raising questions of who the real antagonist: the constant crime underworld or the short term true evil that brought a city to its knees.

'Oh man, my Westside symbol went all wrong...'
A revolutionary film in so many ways and is still an inspiration to this very day for crime thriller around the world. Firstly, it is incredibly well written despite having no real antagonist or protagonist. The film forces the audience to engage with the failed efforts of the police, the investigation conducted by the criminal world, and the experiences of the murderer himself, creating a constant feeling of suspense as the three words overlap and the manhunt becomes a race as well. Then there is the technicality of the whole thing. Techniques of M are used commonly in almost all genres. Playing with shadows, jumping to silence, relating a single character to piece of music - in this case 'In the Hall of the Mountain King' from Edvard Grieg's 'Peer Gynt Suite No. 1', to introduce the killer. It is all so wonderfully created and incredibly ahead of its time. Also, as previously mentioned, it pressures the audience to consider their stance on crime, morality, and issues such as the death sentence. Do you side with the criminals and believe that such a gruesome killer should be executed, or do you agree with the notion of him claiming insanity and being locked away for life? Or is there a middle ground? M encourages you to think about these things.

A wonderful thriller that leaves you fully engaged until the very last second. It revived Fritz Lang's career and influenced generations of films for decades to come. It is worth the hype, having made it very rightly to #212 in Empire Magazne's Top 500 and #50 IMDb's top 250 #. A must see for all.

Best Bit? Watching the criminals track down the killer to a single building and the tense section of the film that follows as the criminals run ow on time to find him as the police rush towards the scene.