Other than Citizen Kane (1941) is there any film that shaped modern cinema more than Fritz Lang’s M (1931)? M is not only magnificent for it’s terrific use of sound but for the gripping story that comes along with it.
The subject matter, child murder is still a controversial and disturbing topic to cover in film. M addresses it through themes such as the morality of man, through the questioning of what to do with someone such as the antagonist of the film, Hans (Peter Lorre). The streets of 1930 Germany could not look more authentic than they do in M. The camera pans to a birds-eye shot as we look at the empty barren streets. Emptiness gives M it’s perfectly eerie vibe. It provides suspenseful buildup whenever Hans is near any children or when other characters chase him through the city of Berlin. The very look and feel of M is what inspired the film noir of the 40s. The long trenchcoat and fedora became a staple for movies like Double Indemnity (1944) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Not only was the look of M influential in cinema, but also Lang’s use of sound. M was Lang’s first film with sound. Rather than to be used gimmick, Lang used it as a way to build atmosphere as well as a way to deliver important lines of dialogue. The chilling whistling of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” let’s you know a child is about to be murdered by him. Through this technique, Lang demonstrated that sound was not just a way to deliver exposition in cinema, but opened up a whole other dimension for artists to experiment with.
Fritz Lang’s M is simply one of the greatest films ever made. Every person interested in cinema needs to watch this movie, especially if you want to make movies. The movie also couldn’t look any better thanks to the Criterion restoration of it in 2000 which means there is no reason to not be watching Fritz Lang’s M.