In 1931 Fritz Lang produced a German language film Noir called M. The 1931 version starred Peter Lorre as the demented, whistling child killer, Hans Beckert. The movie running almost two hours is a thriller and has a certain perfection about it that could never be reproduced. The story of a simple demented man, holding a entire town hostage brings forth a panic that certainly could happen in real life. He commits murder after murder of young girls with the police unable to come up with any clues to where he will strike next.
The police having no luck, but cracking down severely on all the criminals and bad elements in the city cause the mob to join the manhunt for this schizophrenic killer. The mob unites all their forces in a frantic effort to help the police so that things will go back to normal in the city. This murdering psycho is very bad for them putting them under intense police scrutiny and making normal business very tough.
M 1931 is a classic well before it’s time a psychological thriller that keeps the viewer on the edge of the seat. We see the frantic city, the frantic mob, the frantic police, and every mother’s fear that their daughter will be next to be murdered. I have so wished that someone would try to reproduce this film in this modern era evidently no one feels up or capable of doing so. M 1931 came out in an English speaking version, but this seems to be lost and is not available for viewing. The film was recently done by Criterion with English subtitles and is a must see If you are a noir fan. I would advise anyone that has not seen it to see it as the 1951 version falls a little short of this one. We will discuss the 1951 version now.
In 1951 twenty years after the original Director Joseph Losey attempted a remake set in America and the murders are being committed in Los Angeles. Although this film does not have the bite or create the terror of the original, the movie is very excellently made. David Wayne stars as the schizophrenic killer who must kill little girls to save them from the evil of men.
The story opens as we see a little girl getting out of school bouncing a ball and headed on her way home. A man stops her and takes her by the hand and buys her a balloon from an old blind man selling on the corner. From here the little girl goes with him quietly and the next scene we see is the ball lying silently in an alley. The balloon is flying up in the sky and no little girl to be seen. The scene shifts to her frantic mother waiting patiently for her arrival from school as the clock ticks quickly minute after minute causing her to become more frantic. She hears some school kids coming up the steps and she runs out to meet them. Her daughter is not with them and the other children have not seen her. She runs frantically into the street calling for her child little Elsie, but her child is dead and the first murder has been committed.
Murder after murder continues to be committed until there are six dead little girls all with their shoes missing. The city is in a panic and begins to attack even innocent people with little children. One man arguing with his daughter grabs her and is punched in the face by another man. A man is attacked by two men for helping a little girl he passes that falls and sprains her ankle. The police are cracking down on every criminal in the city and this includes the mob’s illegal operations. This has the mob bosses highly upset and they hold a meeting, unite all their forces, in an effort to bring the child killer to justice. His being out and about the town is bad for business and they need to eliminate him very quickly.
The police meanwhile have learned that a schizophrenic man Martin C. Harrow has been released from a mental institution and was living in the city. They find the room he is living in and at first find no clues that he is the murderer. Then by luck they find an area in a closet with a storage space underneath and upon opening it see all the little murdered girl’s shoes.
The street men for the mob have also spotted a man with a little girl and the old blind man tells one of them that he is the man that bought the balloon for little Elsie. They follow him and he goes into a building with several floors. They are just about to follow him in when a night watchman stops them and refuses their entrance. They call the mob bosses who quickly ascend on the area and break into the building taking the night watchman hostage.
Martin Harrow and the little girl with him were accidentally locked into a storage room by the night watchman before the mob arrived and he and the little girl are trying to escape. A full search of the build by the mob finds him and the mob takes him into their custody. The plan is to turn him over to the police, but some of the street people are angry and want to kill him.
We now get the story of the inner thinking of Martin C. Harrow as the mob bosses let him speak hoping that what he says will prevent the street people from murdering him before the police arrive….. Will this plan work?
M 1951 is a fine movie, but no way installs the fear that one feels from the 1931 original version. Running 86 minutes the film is much more compact although quite effective in telling the story much like the original.
David Wayne is great in the leading role of child murderer Martin C. Harrow and pulls off the role about as well as Peter Lorre did in the 1931 film. The movie is not widely known and will certainly be very hard for the average film lover to find. There is no DVD release and no vhs either. The only way to get the movie is by, or from, someone that has recorded it from a broadcast on tv. I haven’t seen it on tv in years, but know the movie is available in some inferior quality as I managed to get a copy a couple years back.
M 1951 is worth seeing mainly for people who don’t like to read subtitles and would still like to see a version of the story. I highly recommend all noir fans watch the original 1931 version, but if you for some reason fail to do so the 1951 version is a fine movie also. If you run across this movie, I highly recommend noir fans to take a look. I don’t think you will be disappointed.