In some ways, it’s hard to believe this film was made 75 years ago. Many of the themes and conflicts in the film are as relevant and important today as they were at the time of production.
M is a sober, deliberate, and chilling look at a child killer and society’s reaction to his crimes. The real strength of the film, aside from Lang’s restrained style, is the stunning performance of Peter Lorre. At once sickening, frightening, and pitiful, Lorre’s portayal of murderer Hans Beckert is one of his most memorable in a long career of outstanding character work. It’s no surprise Lorre went on to re-surface again and again in similarly sleazy roles, though perhaps none so effective as in this film.
Though M was one of his first sound films, director Fritz Lang essentially delivers a silent film, with long stretches in the film having no sound whatsoever. The silences are very noticeable and, looking back through nearly 80 years of sound cinema, a little distracting.
The real strength of this film is its ability to create sympathy and pathos for such a despicable character, thanks to the technical skill of Fritz Lang and the compelling performance of Peter Lorre. M reminds us, even 75 years later, that everyone in society deserves dignity and respect, whether a murdered child or a deranged killer.