M: A film by Fritz Lang
two disc set

Starring: Peter Lorre and Otto Wernicke
Eureka Video
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available now

A series of child murders takes place and the citizens are in a state of panic, publicly condemning the police for their lack of progress. While an inspector follows his first solid lead in the investigation, the city's underworld decides to take matters into its own hands, the heightened police presence being detrimental to its nefarious business practices and street crime. The murderer is finally cornered within an office building, but the villains of the underworld are obliged to wait until after dark to break in and systematically search for their prey. Succeeding just before the police arrive, they drag him off to an abandoned warehouse where they conduct a kangaroo court, with the intention of issuing out their own brand of vigilante justice...

Although a decent enough film for its time, M, unlike Metropolis, certainly doesn't deserve the 'classic' label attached to it by many film historians. This is a fictional piece said to be based on Peter Kurten, the real life 'Monster of Dusseldorf'. Made in 1931, it was subsequently banned under the Nazis and didn't resurface until 1960. The running time had been reduced from 117 minutes to only 99, and the movie was released under the titles M - Your Murderer Looks At You, and M - A City Hunts a Murderer.

Viewing the film now, it comes across as strangely unbalanced; at one moment frantic with movement, and the next fixing for an eternity on one frame. There is so much rushed dialogue that it is virtually impossible to keep up with the subtitles, requiring you to scan-read the text. As you would think, this somewhat mars the comfortable enjoyment of watching a movie. And when white words occasionally appear on a light background, you might as well give up hope.

The visuals make their point well, and the themes explored are brave and inventive for the period. Condemnation of the police and mob rule tactics were probably what led to its ban. Peter Lorre is... well, Peter Lorre: creepy and strange. Having said that, the film is still average in my eyes. What really deserves special mention is the extensive restoration work. The massive cleanup of both picture and sound from the original 35mm print is nothing short of miraculous. Judging by the documentary, The Restoration of M - Peter Campbell, it was a painstaking process using the latest technology. This was undoubtedly a labour of love. The comparisons show that the recovered film prints were practically unwatchable, plagued by multiple scratches, creases and all manner of white blotches, as well as sound marks. Seeing evidence of the damaged goods you would never have thought the finished product was possible. I can't praise this marvellous work enough.

Other extras in this two-disc set, aside from the aforementioned, include an interview with writer and director Fritz Lang; a documentary on the man himself; a visual essay from film historian R. Dixon Smith; animated biographies, photo gallery, set designs, and an interesting feature commentary (for example, the nasty rhyme sang by the children at the start of the picture, was made famous by M, but actually evolved a decade earlier when a killer terrorised Munich).

Obviously, this release will not appeal to many casual film-buyers; however, if you're a collector of old movies (and there are plenty around) this will be an indispensable purchase. The remastering, plethora of extras, and packaging alone deserve more points than the film itself.

Ty Power

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