M (1931 film)

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M (German: M - Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder) is a 1931 German drama-thriller directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. It was Lang's first sound film, although he had directed more than a dozen films previously.[1]

The film has become a classic which Lang himself considered his finest work.[2][3]

Contents

Plot

The action opens with a group of children playing a game involving a song about a child murderer in the courtyard of an apartment building in Berlin. (While the location is never mentioned in the film, the dialect used by the characters is characteristic of Berliners, and a police inspector's map labeled "Berlin" and a policeman's order to take a suspect to the "Alex", Berlin's central police headquarters on the Alexanderplatz, make the venue clear.) This foreshadows the appearance of Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a serial killer — and, it is implied, a pedophile — who preys on children. Initially the audience does not see Beckert's face; they merely see his shadow, shots of his body and hear him whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Grieg as he buys a balloon from a blind man and gives it to a little girl named Elsie Beckmann (Inge Landgut). Tension gradually builds as her mother (Ellen Widmann) waits for Elsie to arrive for lunch, culminating in her frantically calling for Elsie out of the window, as the audience sees Elsie's ball rolling away through long grass and then the child-shaped balloon ensnared in telephone lines, and subsequently floating away.

Meanwhile, the police, under Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), pursue the killer using then state of the art techniques such as fingerprinting and handwriting analysis. They also stage spectacular raids and question known criminals. This affects underworld business so badly that some of the top crooks decide to get rid of the killer themselves so they can resume "business". After an all night brainstorming session, the criminals enlist the help of the city's beggars to divide up the city "metre by metre" and keep watch over the children to intercept the killer. At the same time the police are holding a similar meeting and Lohmann hits on the idea that the killer may have a previous psychiatric record, and orders the compilation of a list of recently released patients with a history of offenses against children.

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