I don’t like foreign movies–foreign things really. More to the point, I don’t like things that aren’t in English. How parochial! No, it’s just that I have an instant distrust for something that has to be translated for me. To translate is to interpret and to interpret is to adapt. I don’t like that. If the original language is half as expressive as English, then it’s almost a waste of time to read a translation. You can get structure and a general idea, but you won’t know exactly what they meant. If you disbelieve that, you disbelieve the power of your own words. And then there’s the subtitles. I realize that complaining about subtitles ranks up there with “it’s black and white,” but to me it’s like trying to read a magazine while the movie’s on.
There’s a murderer on the loose and his victims are children! Things go absolutely wild in this German city. Petty vendetta’s are paid out using this crisis. He is a murderer! As time goes on, more and more intrusive tactics are used. Raids on harems and bars. Things get so bad that the criminal syndicate feels the pinch. They’ve got to do something. But what? They’re in the same pickle as the police–how do you catch a psycho-killer that probably acts just like the rest of us (when he isn’t chopping children into mince)? They make use of the beggar’s network (a la Sherlock Holmes) to keep watch over the city’s youth.
M (1931) is the best oldest movie I’ve seen. Maybe the US had something going on that was this serious and this deep, but I’m not aware of it. The oldest movies I’m aware of are comedies from Chaplin, Keeton, or the Marx Brothers–and Chaplin’s British. That is, other than the other Fritz Lang directed film Metropolis (1927).
Those who don’t like old movies will probably be pretty shocked by how much they like M. If it were in English, I’d have loved it. I wouldn’t have had to read the dialogue, I could just sit and enjoy it. They did an adaptation in 1951 setting it in LA (when any normal person would know it obviously belongs in New York) that wasn’t well received. Looking at this clip, I can see why. It’s too busy and talky. Hollywood, why must you ruin such dark treats!
There are some things that need work. The exposition is nowhere near perfect. One phone conversation does the work of explaining the investigation and the work that went into it. That’s pretty rough going. Also, the juxtaposition of the police and criminals planning out their response to the murderer could use some friendly amendment. Outside of that, though, this movie is terrific.
Peter Lorre as the murderer is unbelievable for the time. Both in the content of the part and in his performance. He makes the movie worth watching to begin with. What really makes it near-great is the inclusion of the criminals in the search and then the final major scene. I’m not going to tell you what that is, you’re going to have to check it out for yourself. But believe me when I say, it’s worth it.1
If you’re a classics lover, you can buy it. Apparently it has an English version–damn library! I’d just rent it, myself (too expensive).
Oh, and it’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, by Grieg.