Amber alerts. Babies gutted from pregnant mothers. To paraphrase Dylan, you don't need no weatherman to know an ill wind blows.
There's neither necessity nor room for sentiment or anger when reviewing post German Expressionist director Fritz Lang's first native talkie about a serial killer (a leering, chubby Peter Lore at his most primal) stalking an impoverished Berlin's young-girl population. There's no need for mob-mentality emotion. Even though, within its Threepenny Opera-like tale of streetwalking grifters and homeless hobos beating the cops to the criminal, there are deeply entrenched feelings of remorse and revenge toward its killer and an ending whose justice is meant to morally nullify the vigilantism of its kangaroo courtliness.
"M" stands for "murderer," a chalk-posted demarcation placed upon the hunter Lorre (killer Hans Beckert) by other hunters more concerned about their own enterprises than about child-rearing tenderness. But it's best to think of "M" in reference all levels of monster circa 1931.
M was released the same year Universal Studios were forced to trim child murder from Frankenstein and a year before the Lindbergh kidnapping, shows the earliest 30s were ripe with high-level anxiety. Who best to essay paranoia than Lorre, with his baby-fat childishness turned sour and sullen?
Before becoming the lean, churlish prig of Maltese Falcon, the larcenous weasel of Casablanca or the hopeless character hack tackling goofball fright-fare like Beast with Five Fingers and Mr. Moto's Gamble, Lorre was Brecht's baby, a Weimar-era stage actor renowned for mouthy social rhetoric. To remain mostly silent in this, his debut movie, shows a pent, caged provocateur ready to spring. A flubby buddha with buggy eyes and a baby lizard tongue licking his porcine lips? A piggish prole with a battered brim hat and big hampering coat buying candy and balloons for curly-q'd little girls on walks to and from school and shopping errands for single mothers?
Once you see those lost balloons adrift in trees and mid-air wires and imagine the mass of flesh and bulging eyes that is Lorre fucking and assaulting kids within the solace of the post silent-film-era's hollow pit of a soundtrack-the effect is devastating. Only Lorre's slow uneasy whistle and the call of moms screaming for their children break the silence.
Questionably perhaps, for some the age of the psychological thriller starts here. So, too, do the roots of film noir come forth from M's hollow horrors. Delusional obsession, dank sexuality, inferred disgusting violence painted with backgrounds as bleak as the foregrounds? Everyone from Hannibal Lecter to John Wayne Gacy is in debt to Lang and Lorre.