"Just you wait, it won’t be long. / The man in black will soon be here / With his cleaver’s blade so true. / He’ll make mincemeat out of you!"
When “M,” Fritz Lang’s first sound film, opened in 1931, it was clear that Lang already understood how to employ sound to his advantage in telling his story. Unlike many early ‘talkies,’ “M” isn’t wall-to-wall talking; instead, Lang used it as a sparse tool to help catch a killer. He balanced quiet moments with abrupt sharp noises. He brought in off-screen noises that affected those on-screen. He had voiceover. And of course, there is the murderer’s whistling of Peer Gynt’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Lang was a master of his craft, and certainly not a director who would be held back by the advent of sound.
Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our Lang series with “M.” We talk about the story of the film, the influences from the time on Lang, and what Lang may have been trying to say about the rise of Nazism. We chat about Peter Lorre in his breakout role and why his child murderer character is so compelling and, yes, sympathetic. We look at the way that Fritz Arno Wagner moved the camera and lit the scenes to capture Lang’s story (once again written by his wife at the time Thea von Harbou). We deliberate on von Harbou’s script and how well it worked in creating a fascinating police procedural but also how Lang’s research into killers may have affected some decisions in the character of Beckert. We talk about the sound and the lack of score with this movie and how the sound actually affected the frame size. We start a new segment called First Shot/Last Shot and look at how the director decided to start and end his story. And we discuss how the rise in Nazism helped some of the actors while hindering others.
It’s a film noted as a masterpiece, the best of German cinema, Lang’s finest film. We certainly see the quality here and have a great time talking about it on this week’s show. So give this one a watch – it deserves it – then tune in!