“M remains Lang’s most universally admired film. The complexity and originality of its structure and the power of its images and sound guarantee it a place in film history.” Tom Gunning, The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity, 2001
Fritz Lang’s silent epics of intrigue and iniquity had all but invented the crime genre on film, and with M he laid the blueprint for every serial killer film that followed in its wake.
While the opening scenes – when a schoolgirl is ominously presented with a balloon by a stranger in silhouette – create an atmosphere of dread, daringly the director later establishes the killer Hans Beckert as a figure of pathos.
Lang is more concerned with a clinical examination of the cross-section of Berlin society – the politicians, the businessmen, the organised criminals – whose self-serving interests are compromised by Beckert’s freedom.
Lorre’s creepy, bulging-eyed performance as the killer who can’t help himself quickly attracted the attention of Hollywood, where he made a career playing sinister desperados.
An American remake was directed by Joseph Losey in 1951, but M’s DNA is detectable in everything from Peeping Tom (1959) to Zodiac (2007).