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3. M (1931), dir. Fritz Lang

I saw this last night with gillywoo and big_daz over in Wortley (after an unscheduled tour of Harehills which happened because I am still a n00b with the Leeds bus system). I already had a pretty high opinion of Fritz Lang after seeing Metropolis a month ago, but it's shot up even further now.

In essence, a child murderer (Peter Lorre FTW!) is on the loose, prompting mass hysteria and a city-wide police hunt which begins to interfere with the activities of the rest of the criminal fraternity. They decide they've had enough - to get the police off their backs, they will have to catch the child murderer themselves. After cornering Lorre in an office building, they succeed, and then bundle him off to an abandoned warehouse to subject him to their own take on a criminal trial. Meanwhile, however, one of their number, captured by the police during the office building raid, reveals what has happened under interrogation - and Lorre is finally 'rescued' by the police to face a real trial.

So what have we got here? Well, for a start a seminal serial killer movie. Lorre remains a shadowy figure for much of the first part of the film, as we see the social effects of his actions rather than the actions themselves - a bit like Summer of Sam. But later he come into focus as the underworld characters close in on him, while in the trial scene he even gets the chance to offer his own explanation of his behaviour - with some of the listening criminals nodding in sage agreement as he does so! OK, so this is over 50 years after Crime and Punishment, but I'm guessing it must have been one of the first cinematic attempts to portray the 'mind of a serial killer'.

It's also frighteningly full of modern resonances. We see an over-stretched police force rounding up anyone without papers in an attempt to catch the killer, while embarrassed politicians demand that they do more. We see fingers of suspicion pointed wildly at anyone who attracts attention to themselves. And we hear appeals to the pain of the mothers who have lost their children being used to justify laying aside the normal processes of the law.

Nothing ever changes, of course. But how unsettling to see all this being raised in the context of a country swiftly heading towards a fascist dictatorship...

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
themonkeypolice
Feb. 4th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
wow, sounds like my kind of film!!
No joking, I was about to come post asking for a film with an accessible court room scene. I'm doing a mock jury exercise with classes over the next two weeks. I want to show them a trial scene (easier than getting them to prepare one) and then pretend to be a jury looking at the evidence. Do you think there would be a ten minute scene is this film that could be useful?
Bet this is the last thing you thought you'd get asked!
themonkeypolice
Feb. 4th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
either way, there are numerous copies available in the library and i will have to watch!
strange_complex
Feb. 4th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
Hmm - I don't think this would really work for class exercises, because only the 'mock' trial held by the criminals is shown - not the real one held later by the state. I think it would be a bit too off-the-wall for that reason.

Do get it out for yourself, though. I'm sure you'd enjoy it.
themonkeypolice
Feb. 4th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC)
ah ok. sorry. i misread that in my excitment!
a_d_medievalist
Feb. 4th, 2007 08:21 pm (UTC)
Judgement at Nuremburg, Spellbound, and Anatomy of a Murder all come immediately to mind -- as does To kill a mockingbird -- of course those are all (I think) US courtrooms.
mr_flay
Feb. 4th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
Let Him Have It? (UK)
First ten minutes of The Shawshank Redemption? (US)
Twelve Angry Men? (US)
Or make an episode of Rumpole Of The Bailey (UK, obviously) required viewing prior to the seminar? Come to think of it, Rumpole... should be required reading for, well, everyone under all circumstances.
ex_lark_asc
Feb. 4th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC)
Frankly, I'm seriously concerned that *this* country is heading towards a neo-fascist dictatorship, based on the absolute enforcement of political correctness for anyone who is *not* a "terror suspect" and the complete denial of rights to anyone who is. 'Terror suspect', for the avoidance of doubt, actually means 'anyone the police don't like the look of'. The surveillance society is already uncomfortably close to being a reality given the dozens of laws this government has silently passed on the subject, and there are some disturbing upswings in the willingness of Fleet Street to ignore these horrifyingly abusable law changes - not to mention the outrageous level of misdirection and scapegoating Gordon Brown is attempting over the whole Labour party corruption thing - in favour of shrilly trumpeting yet more terror scares. I feel like I'm living in an Alan Moore comic.
the_lady_lily
Feb. 4th, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)
M kept on coming to the surface in the discussions for my German film course last semester; it was amazingly influential, especially the shot at the end where the murderer is protesting his innocence spotlit against a wall. That image keeps on creeping into German film for - well, ever, really.
strange_complex
Feb. 4th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm not at all surprised to see that. As with Metropolis, I got a real sense while watching M of finally seeing where so many other films I'd seen before it were coming from.
gillywoo
Feb. 5th, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it. M really is a seminal film and as I said on friday, even more frightening that the same arguments are still around today. I think not showing the murderer's actions makes it much more effective - though I did find summer of sam very hard work. It's a very disturbing film, not least because I find it makes you question your own concepts of 'justice'.

We should definitely do it again sometime with Tod browning's Freaks and The Elephant Man on the agenda and another film of your choice perhaps? :)

Oh and by the way, if you're interested I've now got all the released episodes of jericho so if you want to borrow the first few, you'd be very welcome.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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