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M

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 08-09-2010

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A simple, haunting musical phrase whistled offscreen tells us that a young girl will be killed. “Who is the Murderer?” pleads a nearby placard as serial killer Hans Beckert, played by Peter Lorre (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon), closes in on little Elsie Beckmann. In his harrowing masterwork M, Fritz Lang (Metropolis, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) merges trenchant social commentary with chilling suspense, creating a panorama of private madness and public hysteria that to th… More >>

M

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Comments (5)

I’m sorry for those who already own the former 1999 Criterion DVD of M (including myself, of course….) but this one is a must-buy item.

After more than 7 decades since its making, Fritz Lang’s M remains a poignantly modern film; a striking portrait of the contemporary human world as we live in.

Fritz Lang, who always regarded M as his best film and the one by which he would be remembered, used to call it “a documentary”. It is one of the first films about serial killers, and already Lang goes beyond depicting the pathology of such criminal; what M examines is the pathology of our contemporary society of urbanization, mass politics, and mass media: it’s also a film about a 20th century metropolis of mass society and mass media culture.

The former Criterion DVD edition of M was made of the best available material back then– a print restored from many different sources, re-establishing as close as possible, Lang’s original release cut. It was also a good transfer for a standard, NTSC digital medium.

But what sometime happen in the world of film restoration is, some materials that have been considered to be lost are suddenly be re-discovered. This new edition of M is created (for the most parts, expect for one reel which was missing) from the original camera negative, and transferred to HD video master. The result is-more details, less scratches, finer grains, and more subtleties.

The earlier DVD was a bare one. This new edition presents Lang’s portrayal of social pathology of the 30’s also with an audio commentary by Anton Kaes and Eric Renteschler. Kaes’s book about M published as part of BFI classics series had already revealed Lang’s freighting vision, pointing out how much of M was based on real events and real details of Berlin, including some underground figures played by actual underground celebrities of Berlin. With audio commentary, his points can be more articulately appreciated.

The supplements on the second disc can be seen as a testimonies of how many filmmakers and critics regarded M as a their contemporary film, how much inspiration M has been provoking in film history. But they have seen the film in far less complete versions than we can do now; for M has constantly victim of censorships, banning, alternations and mutilations over the years. The DVD also includes that history, including the Nazis who banned the film using segments of it in a propaganda film accusing “decadent art”.

Watching M again on this new DVD was again a real inspiration. Though it is an early sound film, with very limited resources compared to the modern sophisticated technologies…well, it testifies how much one can do with the medium of cinema.
Rating: 5 / 5

“M” has everything you could hope in a great film. The acting by Peter Lorre, Gustaf Gründgens, Otto Wernicke, and the rest of the cast all perfectly convey the different personalities in this complex story. The use of black & white and shadows is very moody and haunting. The use of sound is very important since it will tell you things the camera isn’t showing. The camera work itself is amazing. I especially love the long shot in the beginning of the scene of the beggars are signing up to watch the streets where the camera moves back and forth, up and into a room through a window without a cut.

“M” offers so much for the viewer — thrills, suspense, humor, terror! I enjoy it more and more with every repeated viewing. Fritz Lang does more than just give ideas on insane criminals. He compares and contrasts the police and the underworld criminal systems. You learn about the “state-of-the-art ” systems of that time. And the last words harken a most important message that unfortunately is still true today. Also, if you look deeper, you can even sense Lang’s anti-Nazi sentiments.

It’s a Criterion Collection DVD, so I had high expectations. I was disappointed with a lack of extras, but I happily noticed scenes that weren’t on my VHS version. The picture was mostly clear with white lines rarely popping up. There were long passages of no sound at times, but it’s possible it’s supposed to be like that. (I no longer have my VHS version to compare.) The subtitles were clear and easy to read. There’s interesting details on the film in the liner notes. And not like this would influence anyone’s buying decisions, but I also loved the design on the case and the disc.
Rating: 5 / 5

Having seen most of director Fritz Lang’s wonderful films noir, I finally decided to get a copy of his famous “M” from 1931. After seeing it I readily agree with previous reviewers who call this one of the true masterpieces of German cinema. And, as many film noir historians have written, “M” paved the way for the entire genre in terms of style and cinematography. Peter Lorre, despite playing a dispicable character, gave the performance of his career. Oh and in case you haven’t seen the film, the movie’s title refers to the letter that’s used to identify Peter Lorre as the murderer when he tries to escape.

Peter Lorre plays a psychotic child murderer in Berlin who kills “because he can’t help it”. The police have looked everywhere for the elusive killer but can’t find him. The crime leaders of Berlin are fed up, not because there’s a child killer on the loose, but because his murders are causing the police to interfere with the underworld’s business activities as they bring in and question virtually every criminal in sight. The crime leaders organize their own searching party and they finally catch up with the now terrified murderer after a relentless chase (which takes up a large portion of the film). Next the underworld leaders set up their own trial and the child killer trembles in fear as his life is in the hands of these mob leaders. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say it’s classic Fritz Lang.

I’ve seen some truly awful prints of “M” released on vhs but was very relieved to discover that Criterion had carefully restored the classic masterpiece. In short, you won’t find a better print of “M” anywhere else! The image is sharp and clear and the sound quality is superb. I only wish many other classic films could get the same high-quality restoration. The bonus features are also wonderful and are furthur proof that the Criterion special edition of “M” is THE one to buy. Highly recommended!
Rating: 5 / 5

Another reviewer here has covered the plot of the film and how good a film it is quite well, so I will concern myself with the merits of the DVD itself. The transfer is very good for a film that is nearly 70 years old. It is clear and reasonably free from defects. There is one small place in which the film appears to fold over on itself, but this lasts for only a moment. It is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the standard at the time the film was made. The soundtrack is mono and presented entirely trough the center channel. The dialog is easily heard and understandable (if you speak German) and the subtitles are well done. The whistling of the piece from Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite is a bit high and tinny at times, but that merely adds to the jarring effect that it is meant to (and does) have on the viewer. This film is a masterpiece from the earliest era of sound motion pictures, and it holds up well to this day. The presentation is not perfect, but it is pleasing and given the age of this film, I don’t know that it could be done any better.
Rating: 5 / 5

This movie sounds VERY intriguing to me and I will probably purchase it… however, in fairness to the complaints about the Criterion transfer specifically, the lines at the top of the frame, I sent an email to Jon Mulvaney (who responds nearly immediately to ANY questions you have about Criterion releases) and I quote his reply:
“The line that you are referring to was caused by the optical printer during the creation of the original film elements of M. Most video versions have cropped out the line, therefore deleting almost 25% of the picture. We choose not to, making our decision in consultation with the restoration group who did the work from original film elements in Germany. We’ve tried to correct the problem as much as possible, but no matter what, it can be distracting. Even Fritz Lang knew about this.”

As you would expect from them, Criterion did the best they could do (as ALWAYS!).
Rating: 3 / 5

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